Parents of previous generations knew something about sleepaway summer camp that too often today’s parents aren’t in touch with. That is, that sleepaway summer camp is one of the keys to a healthy, happy, and resilient childhood for kids but that it’s also great for parents and families in general!
Summer Camp Benefits
In previous blog posts I’ve written about the many benefits of summer camp to kids, that it’s an outdoors educational augment to the academic year, that it helps build grit and determination, that it helps your child gain important life skills, and that it fosters healthy independence at each developmental stage. So I won’t get into all that again (though I do encourage you to go back and read some of those posts as well as another one on readiness and Mini Camp).
But I do want to talk again about that aspect of sleepaway summer camp that is all about…your child going away from home ALONE…and how that is actually one of the best things that could ever happen for her and for you.
Parents in the past knew this. To them it was a no-brainer that a child should get away from the hubbub of the daily rat race getting in and out of cars, riding along for errands, eating on the run, and split-second timing as each member of the family went hither and thither throughout the school year.
Or in the way, way past, when there may have been a less frantic pace, there was still the sense that time in the mountains breathing fresh air, splashing about in the river, and unfolding into a happy rhythm with nature was essential to the human soul — a child’s sensitive soul most of all!
But now with so many camp offerings, especially ones focused on a targeted form of “enrichment” like an art, science, language, or sports, parents feel that in a “competitive society” a child has to be groomed to perform to the nines else they’ll fall behind.
The notion that less is actually more is getting lost in the shuffle.
Day Camp Versus Sleepaway Camp
We still are in that era of a frazzled pace, in and out of cars, in and out of cars, driving first here and then there, hustling from work to school to activities to the store and then home five days a week, with plenty more activities on the weekend to keep the hamster wheel moving.
If we as adults aren’t thrilled with it, think how it must be on kids?
There’s no question that some day camps offer compelling programs that entice us with the creative possibilities. But one thing they can’t do is remove the hectic pace of day-by-day scheduling that too-often defines the school year. The child, while introduced to a new experience, new kids, and new instructors, still must keep up the pace, and still has access before and after the camp day to whatever level of screens — phones, tablets, TVs, handheld games, and computers— that are available in her daily life.
Add to that all the stimuli from a too-commercial world, and day camp looks a lot like the school year but without (usually) pencils, papers, and tests!
But with a sleepaway camp you get a truly different outcome .
In addition to true downtime away from always being on the go, there is a level of independence and personal responsibility gained when the camper doesn’t go home every day, but stays the night and has to (with guidance from her counselor) take care of her hygiene like showering and brushing teeth, and making sure her dirty clothes get in the laundry bag. Then the next morning she needs to make her bed, choose clothing and get dressed on her own, and clean up her space. All of these things are typically taken care of by the parents at home (for younger children of course).
Additionally, so much good work and many fresh life lessons are taught at camp in a way that is best experienced if there is at least a week away from home to let it all sink in. I experienced this to a degree when I was a school counselor. I might be working with a child on confidence, a new skill, or socialization, and they’ll feel so good about themselves and then due to the limited time to keep working on it, the time apart — a nighttime or weekend — led us back to square one the next day. It was difficult to just dig in and stay at it until a lasting breakthrough came.
Sleepaway summer camp, on the other hand, particularly in a traditional and holistic setting where nature plays a central role and screens are non-existent, offers a completely alternative and deeply RESTORATIVE world where the child can breathe into her childhood again free from the overstimulating and demanding sights, sounds, and rhythms of our broken up, too-fast-paced, and over-scheduled days.
She really has time to just dig in!
Wisdom of the Elders
What parents in the past knew, going way back into the 1870s, was that childrens’ hearts, heads, and hands would only be enhanced, strengthened, enlivened, restored, and uplifted by time away at summer camp. Yes, there might be the occasional pang for mom at home, but mostly the camper was too busy chasing down fireflies, making clover chains, paddling in the river, learning how to man that canoe, dressing up for a camp theatrical, lounging with a friend in the tent, and learning to master the art of the backhand swing to pine for home.
And when mom and dad returned to pick her up, there their little camper was, a little rosier for the kiss from the sun, a little stronger for moving her limbs every which way, a little smarter from discovering something entirely new (and all on her own to boot!), a little more capable for having to manage her things without mom’s help, a little more heartfelt for having made new friends and connections, and a little wiser for having come to know her own strength and resilience.
And all this without the distractions of a normal bustling day amidst the throngs of people and schedules.
My own son will be going away for one week this summer at the tender age of six! I do wonder if he’ll brush his teeth every night, shower regularly, put on clean clothing, etc. First of all, I trust the counselors to help with this. But secondly, even if he doesn’t get all this right away, this will be an amazing learning experience for him and I have no doubt he’ll come back as a more responsible young guy, even if it’s just in one or two minor areas in his life. And his teeth will be fine! 🙂
For parents, this time away is no small relief too. In the past, a week — or six — without the kids allowed parents to take care of many things that are too hard to get to with kids underfoot and it allowed for some much needed adult time, too! We still need this today.
Fortunately all this is still available at the kinds of summer camps like Camp Alleghany for Girls where what we’ve been doing for almost 100 years is just as potent today as it was when we first opened our tents in 1922!
In fact if children (and families) needed it then…just think how much more it’s needed today!
In the end a good day camp can help the summer tick along until the school doors open again. But sleepaway camp offers all that and a million times more — it offers it with the stars and the moon and the cooing of crickets and the dew of the dawn on the breezy grass.
And that never goes out of style!
If you’re curious to learn more about summer camp, please, download my FREE e-book, 3 Reasons to Begin Your Child’s Sleepaway Summer Camp Journey Early.
— Elizabeth Dawson Shreckhise, Assistant Director, Camp Alleghany for Girls