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Parenting Advice

Yay Or Nay? Summer Sleepaway Camp

Written by Kate MacLean

Photography by Photo Via The Parent Trap (1961)

There exists a woman who once was a little girl, and at the age of 11, her parents sent her to a two-week-long sleepaway camp in Maine. The girl’s best friend had been to this camp every year for the past five years. She loved it with her whole heart, and so the girl and her parents thought she, too, would love it. She did not. She hated it with her whole being. She wrote three letters a day to her mother telling her as much, and was angered further when she only received one light-hearted letter back in response.

The question of sleepaway camp is not as simple as “childcare for the summer”. There are many factors that go into deciding if it is the right choice for your family. It is a major economic and social decision, and we wanted to collate the yays and nays as we see it, then solicit your opinion.

Summer Sleepaway Camp—Yay
It fosters independence. Sleepaway camp puts a primacy on independence and self-reliance for young kids. Kids are taught many a new skill—from sailing to dishwashing—that empower them. Their confidence carries forth when they return. Many parents site epic transformations in their kids when summer-at-camp is done.

It helps kids unplug. While there does exist technology-based options, most sleepaway camps are in very rural areas. No matter how intentional you are as a parent to mitigate screen time, it very often finds a place in a child’s everyday life. At sleepaway camp, most children are free from phones, computers, televisions, and video games. It is a rarity in their lives that will serve as a welcome break from the constant bombardment of stimulation and distraction.

There are many diverse types of camps. There still exist many a sleepaway camp on the edge of various bucolic lakes in Maine. Here kids live in army-green tents and spend the summer canoeing and playing team-building games. But, nature-based camps are just the tip of a very diverse iceberg. There are camps for virtually every kid interest, from video-game-building camp to theater camp to motorsports camp and fashion camp.

Summer Sleepaway Camp—Nay
It can be pricey. Camp is not cheap and is thus the summertime privilege of the wealthy. In fact, some camps can cost upwards of a $1000/week. For many families, this is a prohibitive barrier. Day camps at community centers can be much more affordable and often even free. If you are able to afford a sleepaway camp, consider this: you will be sending your child into a economically-homogeneous summer where all kids are likely kids of privilege. This isn’t necessarily a reason to not go, but a worthy age-appropriate discussion for you and your child.

Are they ready? For some kids as young as seven, they can bounce out of the house for five weeks without any familiar surroundings and barely blink twice. But, for other kids (even teenagers), this can be an emotionally difficult and fragile time. They may feel a sense of obligation to go to sleepaway camp, or they may truly not like the experience at all (like the aforementioned woman-who-used-to-be-a-girl). If your child is showing resistance to the idea, start first with some similarly themed day camps. It will completely undo any of the benefits of sleepaway camp if you break their trust by forcing them into something they aren’t yet ready for.

Are you ready? While not nearly as important as the preceding question, it is one to consider. If you won’t be able to respect the camp’s rules about visitors or calling, then you’ll need to start yourself with baby steps, too. Maybe four weeks away from your kiddos will drive you softly—but wholly—insane with worry. Start with a week-long day session and see how you both do. They aren’t moving off to college, but going from constant parenting to a quiet (and clean!) house can be disorienting.

We want to hear from you, dear mothers and fathers. How have you handled the “camp question”? What have you found to be its benefits and its drawbacks? In short, sleepaway camp: yay or nay?

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