By: Julie Kaiden, Director of Details
I am 40 years old and had never spent a night at sleepaway camp. That’s the truth. I never went growing up (you can read my confession here). And now between my husband having been such a camper, my son going into his third summer away, and my daughter going into her first summer (but she went to rookie week last summer), I was the sole member of my family that hadn’t gone. Add in that I now work at Summer 365 – I am fully aware how much I missed out on.
That all changed recently. I spent Memorial Day Weekend at Family Camp at my kids sleepaway camp. In a bunk. With morning flagpole. And evening activity. And pretty much everything else thrown in between. And I … wait for it…..LIKED it. Me and sleepaway camp. In the same sentence.
To be completely honest, I wasn’t really looking forward to this. I wasn’t not looking forward to it. In fact, I was a little nervous. Isn’t everyone a little nervous their first time? I am not even sure what I was nervous about. I figured it would be worth it based on how excited my kids were. I never in my wildest dreams thought I would actually like it.
It should come as no surprise that camp is a blast. It is pure joy and fun. There is something for everyone. There are zillions of options of amazing things to do. And there are s’mores (I am always highly motivated by food). The extraordinary part is to get a mini glimpse into your child’s world and see something through their eyes. To be able to share in something with them that is so extremely memorable and precious to them is really a once in a lifetime type of opportunity. Yes, I can go into school and see them present a writing sample. I can go to one of their baseball or soccer games and watch them play. But to see these creatures in their most happy habitat – it is beyond. How many times have you wanted to be on a fly on the wall just observing? That is what it felt like! I got to observe them in a setting where they have the freedom and power to be the best version of themselves. And I too experienced the magic firsthand for myself. I got to hear what goes on at Flagpole every morning. I got to participate in a weekly campfire. I got to do a hike with women I had never met before and had a lovely time. I got to watch my kids go tubing and their cheeks hurt from smiling so much. I got to go to arts and crafts (my personal favorite) and woodworking. And really most importantly, I got to go to canteen! These kids are happy and light and live for this.
So imagine my confusion, riding this camp high, when I saw a recent article misrepresenting this magic. Every year, there are pieces written that dramatize some parts of the camp experience. This summer is no exception and there was one published that had potential to shed light on how to find the right one. Yet it chose to discuss the question of “When did sending your kid to sleepaway camp become the most dreaded part of the summer?” It spoke about the stress of finding a camp and likened much of what happens to applying for college and really hyperbolized the whole process and detracted from the phenomenal benefits of camp or educating people on how they come in all shapes and sizes depending on what you’re looking for.
And let’s be clear. Camp is a privilege. Camp is a gift. And you should without a doubt, remind your happy camper of this whenever you see fit. But what camp provides – there is nothing else to compare it to. Kids are being kids. Without the social pressures of today. Without the technology of today. If you are in the same age demographic as I am – and if you have sleepaway camp age kids, you’re close enough – do you remember when we were kids? It wasn’t like this, am I right?! Times have changed and children are having to grow up faster than ever and there is no end to that in sight. But for 7 weeks of sleepaway camp (or whatever length of time you send them) – all of that stops. And they live in the moment. They learn how to communicate without an iPhone, texting, and group chats. They forget about Instagram, Snapchat and Fortnite (the jury may still be out on that one actually!). They learn how to navigate living in a bunk with different personalities. They get to learn about cultures in other countries. They learn how to try new things without the watchful (and sometimes judgmental) eye of mom or dad. They are talked to about important values – and there is nothing they are going to see on TV this time to dispute that. They, so to speak, live in a bubble. A camp bubble and that part is priceless. This is what I wished that article focused on.
I will admit, the main reason I read this article (and not just because I have sleepaway camps set up on my google alerts!) was because my colleague was interviewed for it. And they couldn’t have described her more perfectly. Really. And I know this from personal experience because she helped me find the perfect camp for my family. The article states, “Nearpass, as it turns out, is something of a legend in the business. “You have to work with Lauren. She saved us.”” This was reported by several families. And I swear, she is. Everyday since the article was published, I have called her a legend. Lauren the Legend :) She was my rock and partner in this process, and the whole Summer 365 team for that matter provides that sort of support to all the families they work with.
Can choosing the right fit of a camp feel stressful? Sure. (mini plug here – this is why you call us – because we make it as stress free as possible, and gasp, you may even find it fun!) But everything stresses everyone out these days. I wish the article had a more positive spin. Right? It can feel overwhelming but what camp can provide nothing else can. In the wise words of Anna Morin – you are giving these kids resilience, grit, stick-to-itness, independence, and the safe space to take risks. And at ALL camps (regardless of the price tag), kids are unplugging and engaging and SO much more.
Is camp expensive? Yes. No one is disputing that. But there are camps for every budget. Is this really an investment in their future? Yes but does that mean because they win rope burn or are Color War General they are going to Harvard? Nope. But is that what matters? Because I’ll tell you what matters. Their happiness. Our wonderfully articulate camp director addressed this at campfire, and it really is something I think about often. What really matters? Ask any parent. They want their kids to be happy. Do other things make kids happy? Sure. But that’s not what I am writing about. Camp makes kids happy. So please, do me a favor. No judging these camps until you have gone through the process and have a year or two of sleepaway camp under your belt. We all know the price tag is steep. We all know this world we are raising kids in is a beast. Lets give the camps the accolades they deserve. It’s simple. They are helping in our kids happiness (not to undersell the many other benefits and skills learned). And I got to experience that for a weekend. I get it.
So Camp IHC, thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for my first sleepaway camp experience. It was more special than I ever could have imagined. You never forget your first time.