The brochures are arriving in the mail. Flyers fall out of newspapers. Schools send home information. Ads pop up on the Web. The marketing for sleepaway camp is everywhere. Your child and his friends may be talking about it. Should you send your child this year?
Do remember, please, that nowhere is it written that a child needs to go away to camp. Kids grow up just fine without it. Still, there are many good reasons to think about sending your child to overnight camp. You’ve probably thought of most of them. But in case you are concerned about whether these are legitimate reasons to send your child to camp, yes, they are.
- Your child may have a special interest that can’t be adequately fostered at school or nearby. There are camps for almost any interest you can think of: sports, arts, science, computer programming, horseback riding, oceanography — you name it. If you think your child has a special talent or interest that you want to support, you can give him the gift of some intensive experience where he can explore the field in depth. He can hang out with kids who are as passionate about the subject as he is.
- Children develop self-esteem by having opportunities to feel good about themselves and becoming confident that they can be contributing members of a community. Camps aren’t charged with following an academic curriculum, so they have the freedom to provide lots of other ways for a child to be successful. If you are concerned that your child’s self-esteem isn’t what it should be, overnight camp may provide just the boost she needs.
- As a working parent, you need to know your child is well-supervised every day.You may not be able to patchwork activities and oversight for the full eight weeks of school vacation. When your kid is at camp, you have every reason to believe that she is safe and having a good time. You can relax and focus on your job. Your child can have fun and perhaps develop some new skills and more self-confidence.
- Your neighborhood may not be the safest place for a kid to hang out. Those of us who grew up in 1950s and ’60s suburbia, in safe city neighborhoods or out in the country, didn’t worry much if at all about roaming far and wide. We were what is now known as “free range” kids. I used to joke that I didn’t know what my home looked like in daylight. We were sent outdoors after breakfast and weren’t really expected home except for a bathroom break or a quick snack until dinnertime.These days, there is more reason to worry. We can’t keep our kids locked up in the house, but many parents don’t feel safe letting their kids out of sight for long stretches of time. Camp gives kids the experience of freedom and lets parents have some weeks free of worry.
- Your neighborhood may be safe enough but it may still not be ideal to have the kids at home for eight weeks. You might want to get your children out of the hot city and into fresh country air. You might want to crowbar them away from their video games and into the woods. Or you may want to get your child out of a rural environment where he is isolated and into a situation where there are lots of kids his own age. Overnight camp provides the opportunity to explore a different environment and to interact with different peers.
- Time away at sleepover camp can separate children from people who aren’t good influences. Camp can be an opportunity to meet different kinds of people and to make new friends. Your child can also try out being a different kind of person. She can learn what she needs to do to fit in with a different kind of friend group once she gets home.
- Does your child have special needs? Whether gifted, disabled or chronically ill, the opportunity to hang out with others who share the same issue can be very comforting to a child. She doesn’t have to explain herself. She will be accepted for her inner self rather than rejected for her difference. The experience is likely to give her more inner strength and resilience to bring home along with her crafts projects and trophies.
- Camp can serve as protection from family stress. If a parent is sick or needs surgery, or if the parents are going through a rough patch in their relationship, camp gets the kids out of the midst of the adult crisis. The parents then can focus on taking care of the issue without concerns about exposing their children to things they aren’t ready to deal with.One important caution: Children do know if there is trouble at home. It is important to be sensitive to their need for reassurance that the people they love are okay; that they aren’t being abandoned or shoved to the side during a family crisis; and that there is no need for them to feel guilty for having fun while the adults handle difficult issues.
A well-run overnight camp can provide fun and new opportunities for children and some time off from active parenting for their parents. Done well, the separation is a chance for both children and adults to relax, stretch and grow in new ways. For many kids, sleepaway camp is a positive, life-changing experience.