As parents who have been to sleepaway camp, the term invokes many mixed emotions and memories, running the gamut from magical and amazing to awkward and traumatic.
I recently led an icebreaker at a woman’s Shabbaton with an overnight camp theme. I was surprised at the positive and engaged responses I received when I asked the participants to share one camp memory, either treasured or regrettable. That one question kept approximately 30 women involved and entertained for close to two hours. The ladies, ranging in age from 14 to 70, were open about their memories, and we bonded beautifully over our camp stories. Several women raised their hands and were eager to tell us more about their camp days. A forty-something friend of mine still attends camp reunions and has taken her teenage daughters with her. My treasured memory was preparing for Shabbat – getting all dressed up for Shabbat dinner and going to shul on Friday night.
I especially loved “Lecha Dodi.”
Camp Memories – A Mixed Bag
Research has led many psychologists to conclude that the memories we have from overnight camp are unique. They are not associated with family or school, but are most often about growth experiences. Children try new things in camp such as camping, boating, or a new sport such as horseback riding. The range of activities offered to our children is extensive, and children can become skilled in swimming, tennis, crafts (such as ceramics and woodworks), graphic arts, and more. Your son or daughter may be more inclined to stretch themselves and get out of their comfort zone in a new environment such as sleepaway camp. These fresh experiences and skills also boost their self-esteem.
Acquiring new skill sets and being away from home can benefit your children in gaining more independence. Most camps allow campers to call their parents weekly (before Shabbat) as opposed to daily calling or texting. This cultivates a healthy separation. Your children won’t have Mom and Dad on speed dial, thereby encouraging them to think things through on their own, reach out to their counselors, and empower them to become more independent.
These no-technology rules also allow your son or daughter to unplug from all that computer and cell phone noise and pings. They will talk face to face with their peers, get away from those screens, and have time to create new and genuine relationships.
Many campers form lifelong friendships and connections in camp, and can enjoy an active social life. Most children become part of a distinctive camp community, meeting new people and building new bonds with children from all over the country and perhaps even from outside the United States. There is so much we can learn when we meet people from outside our local neighborhood or school.
Our sons and daughters pick up camp traditions including specific zemirot and tefillot as well as camp games. They can play in inter-camp sports competitions and meet up with new peers with similar interests. I still have my camp song book, believe it or not! And what about the unity that takes place during color war?
Sleepaway camp affords our sons and daughters time to be outdoors in nature and fresh air (after ten months of sitting in a classroom), away from all those unhealthy noises – no traffic, sirens, alarms, or subways. And let’s not forget the city pollution. Nature can boost their physical and mental wellbeing, allowing them to recharge their batteries after the long school year.
Mendy Kaminker and Mordechai Lightstone of Chabad.org beautifully articulate the paybacks of Jewish summer camp:
“As the summer approaches and school ends, a world of seemingly limitless possibilities for enrichment, education and entertainment present themselves for our children. . .countless studies have shown that the informal, experiential education provided by summer camp is critical to forming lasting Jewish bonds and beacons of Jewish identity for young children.”
Is There a Downside
to Overnight Summer Camp?
The key to answering this question and to your child having a positive and healthy camp experience is their emotional readiness to go to sleepaway camp and be separated from Mom and Dad.
As a parent, it’s also valuable to assess whether or not you are ready to be apart from your child for an extended time. Sending one’s child to overnight camp involves giving up a good amount of control. Are you willing to do that? Are you ready for an empty nest?
To determine if you and your child are ready for sleepaway camp, do your due diligence and research the options carefully
Is There a Perfect Age for Your Child
to Try Sleepaway Camp?
Age is a strong factor in assessing sleepaway camp readiness. Most camps accept children who are seven years old. That doesn’t mean that your child will be ready at seven years of age, or that you as a parent will be comfortable sending your child away for three weeks or a month at that age. There are factors that need to be taken into consideration, such as: Can your child get ready for bed by themselves and get ready independently every morning? Can they take care of their clothes and other personal belongings? How does your child manage when they are away from you? Consider how your son or daughter handles sleepovers at their friends’ homes. Do they look forward to a sleepover birthday party, or attend with hesitation?
Do they call you at midnight and ask that you pick them up and bring them home? I remember hosting sleepover parties and phoning parents because their children wanted to go home.
A sleepover or a weekend away at a friend’s can be a useful test run.
It’s best to talk to your child, collaborate, and make the decision together as to which camp to attend and for how long to stay.
Involving your child in the decision-making process will allow them to have ownership and skin in the game. Find out why your child wants to go to a particular sleepaway camp. Visit the camp together if possible or participate in an open house. Interview the director or head counselor. Speak to campers who have enjoyed this camp (and their parents). Determine if the camp’s Mission Statement resonates with you.
Be honest with yourselves and think about your reasons for wanting your child to go to sleepaway camp. Is it because you enjoyed camp? Or do you want your child to become more independent or athletic? Please keep in mind your child is not necessarily the same type of person you were at that age. Support them in developing their interests and strengths, not yours.
Different children have different camp experiences.
Think About the Following
Other factors to think about include: how does your child deal with competitive sports? Is your son or daughter willing to follow instructions? Do they enjoy making new friends or do they need to go to camp with a few close friends? Would a small or big camp work better for your child? How does your son or daughter function in a group environment? Is there a medical issue that requires someone to be your child’s accountability partner?
If this is your first time sending a child to sleepaway camp, is there someone at the camp who you can check in with and receive feedback on how your child is doing? What will you do if your child gets homesick?
Our children often surprise us. When we visited my 11-year-old son at sleepaway camp, our then
8-year-old daughter declared she is never going to overnight camp. A few months later, she came home from school and said she wanted to go to a certain camp with two of her friends.
She attended that camp from the ages of 9 to 15.
If you and your children decide to enroll him or her in sleepaway camp this summer, please remember to stay positive and see camp as a gift and a privilege, not a punishment.
And let’s not forget that camp is simply fun!
Ellen Geller Kamaras, CPA/MBA, is an International Coach Federation (ICF) Associate Certified Coach. Her coaching specialties include life, career, and dating coaching. Ellen helps people find their passion, purpose, and positivity in life and relationships. Ellen can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org