Why Sleepaway Camp is an Essential Childhood Experience

Sleepaway camp: an essential childhood experience

Later today I will pick up Elena from Girl Scout Camp.  This is her second, and final, week at camp this summer.

For 11 days and 10 nights we had absolutely no contact with her.  We could send bunk notes (essentially email), but she couldn’t email back.  I sent her with enough stationary and stamps for a trip to Europe, but she’s been too busy having fun to send home more than one postcard.

My husband and I didn’t grow up going to sleepaway camps.  I tried sleep away camp lite once and hated it.  It was a day camp that culminated in sleeping outside on the last evening.  I was 5 miles and only away from home for 24 hours, but don’t think I didn’t try every trick in the book to get my mom to pick me up before the day was over.  Elena, on the other hand, really enjoys camp.  Every year we offer her the chance to buddy up and choose a week with friends.  She brushes us off and instead chooses her weeks based on the theme.  This year it was Harry Potter one week and the Hunger Games (Kamp Katniss) the next.  Every time she went without knowing a soul.

Why do we think it’s important for her to go away to camp, when neither of us have good memories to draw upon?  For so many reasons that I think are essential to growing up.  It’s often a child’s first experience of pulling away.  I want her to learn how to be away from us, and to have fun while doing it.  I want her to start building that treasure chest of memories that don’t include us.  I want her to have that sense of pride of doing something on your own.  I want her to be able to survive for stretches of days without apps and texting and TV and be okay without it.

She comes homes with the smelliest laundry and the best stories.  The 90-minute ride home is full of chatter about all the amazing things they did during the week.  Any parent of a tween or teen would tell you they would gladly pay whatever the camp fee is just to get a kid that wants to talk to you uninterrupted for 90 minutes.

I hope the summer camp turns into a camp counselor.  I hope the camp counselor turns into an eager college student.  I hope the eager college student turns into a world traveler.  And I hope she is never too homesick and she sends more postcards.

Do you send your kids to sleepaway camp? How did you know they were old enough to go? If you went as a kid, what were your favorite memories?



  1. Brandon says:

    I loved going to away camp when I was a kid and I’m sure we’ll have ours going when they reach a good age. I’ve also read somewhere recently that there are “family camps” around where the parents get to go with the kids and it’s a mix of family time doing camp stuff with some breakout time (for kids to interact with kids and for parents to have a drink, perhaps). Like an all-inclusive beach vacation, only at summer camp.

    • I’ve heard about Family Camps and would love to go sometime. I’d love to see Mike and Elena survive a week without wi-fi!

  2. In two days Anna will be going to Flat Rock River Camp for the fifth time. This year and her first year are/were one-week journeys but the other times have been for two weeks. She LOVES it and has since 10 seconds after we arrived the first time. She was 10YO for her first sleep-away camp experience and the moment she returned home she asked if she could go back next time for twice as long. Quite frankly, the only people worried about her spending that time at camp were her parents. 🙂

    • It definitely gets easier (meaning I fret less) every time she goes. The first year she went was really hard … for me! I kept stalking the flickr page in search of photos, and if she wasn’t smiling I worried that she was miserable. Now I know she’s having the time of her life and making great memories.