The Case for Sleepaway Camp—From a Former Camper and Counselor

Source: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

One of the best things my parents ever did for me was send me to sleepaway camp. I am eternally grateful for the experience and lessons I learned each summer. My time at overnight camp has left me with countless memories and important values that I carry with me today.

While this was an incredible gift that my parents gave to me, I recognize that the decision to send a child to sleepaway camp has many factors to consider. And I also recognize that summer camp may not be for every child. As a former camper and camp counselor, here are some pros and cons to consider as you think about summer camp for your child.

The Benefits of Sleepaway Camp for Kids

Getting Out of Their Comfort Zone

From the second I arrived at camp, I was exposed to new experiences, activities, and routines. Being thrust into uncomfortable situations forced me to adapt and try new things. While I’m not an innately silly or creative person, camp encouraged me to participate in skits, sing songs at dinner, and dress up for costume days. I tried new activities and began to find out new things about myself.

While activities vary at every camp, it’s an experience that I think speaks to the larger concept of getting out of one’s comfort zone. It’s good to try new things and be exposed to feelings of discomfort. At camp, your child can try new things in a safe environment where everyone is in the same boat.

Building Their Community

Speaking of being in the same boat, all campers need new friends. While some people come with others from home, most people don’t come with an entire community. At camp, children will create new friendships with children of varied interests. I adored having my camp friends. When friendships got tough at home (which seems to be inevitable), I was often comforted by knowing I had another group of friends and a different community waiting for me at camp. Expanding your child’s support systems can help your child through difficult times.

Learning New Responsibilities

My mother often commented about how much my siblings and I matured over a week or two at camp. I remember her talking about how we were more independent and seemed to have really grown up over the course of a week. While at camp, you learn how to be more responsible for yourself. While your child will likely have a counselor, they’ll have to decide what to wear, what to eat, and how to generally care for themselves. They may also have to decide on participation in different skills, games, and activities. It’s a safe environment where children get a taste of responsibility and independence.

Facing Adversity and Learning New Coping Skills

This idea of independence and having more responsibility can be scary. But I think it was good for me to learn how to make choices and take care of myself. I felt more confident about choosing what I wanted to do on the outside of camp. So often, I think that children learn to go with what their friends are doing or rely on what their parents tell them to do. But during your child’s time at camp, they will learn how to make small choices for themselves.

They’ll also learn how to tackle new challenges, like feeling homesick, learning a new skill, or overcoming a fear, like a high ropes course or rock wall. While these experiences can exist outside of camp, a week or two at camp can expose your child to opportunities that will teach them new coping skills in a safe environment in a short amount of time.

benefits of sleepaway camp for kids
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Leaving Technology and Status Behind

One of the best benefits of sleepaway camp was that there was no technology and very limited status symbols. Phones were not allowed, and nice clothing/jewelry/shoes were discouraged. In a world that is dominated by technology and “Keeping up the Joneses,” camp is an opportunity to be the most organic version of yourself. You were stripped down to your core, and you had to learn how to make new friends based solely on your personal interactions and interests.

“Camp is an opportunity to be the most organic version of yourself.”

It was beyond refreshing to be closed off from the outside world and exist only in your small little camp world. You didn’t worry about what someone was posting on social media or what someone else was texting across the room; you didn’t worry about what someone would think about your clothes or if your phone was the most updated version—camp put everyone on a level playing field. When it comes to the benefits of sleepaway camp for kids today, it’s one of the few places kids can truly disconnect and be free from digital distractions.

Sleepaway Camp Considerations for Parents

Of course, the financial investment for summer camps is not lost on me. The high cost of camp may not be something every family can afford. However, there are often scholarships available. I have friends and family who worked during the winter to help offset the cost of camp.

The idea of sending your child away to be cared for at a summer camp can be hard for parents, too. And while I cannot speak for every camp, I can personally say that my own experience of training to be a counselor is intensive. We were required to attend multiple training sessions throughout the year, and we prepared at camp for a week before campers got there. I felt very well prepared to be able to care for the campers and keep them safe.

Aside from physical safety, we are also trained to care for the emotional well-being of each camper. Feeling homesick and fearful to try new things are very real emotions, and counselors are trained to help support those kids. Parents are encouraged to send care packages and letters, which can help a child still feel comforted by parents from afar. However, the decision to send a child to camp has to be right and comfortable for each family. 

Final Thoughts From a Camp Kid and Counselor

I will be forever grateful that my parents sent me to camp, and I will always think fondly of my experience at my summer homeland for those few precious weeks of each year. It molded me into the person I am today, and I hope that sharing my experience allows for more children to experience the magic of summer camp.

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