Portions of this post originally appeared on The Risky Kids last summer. As summer camp season approaches yet again, I thought it would be a good time to revisit the topic of sleepaway camp for kids. If your kids are headed to camp this summer, I highly recommend the Camp Combo label pack from Mabel’s Labels (affiliate link). I’ve used them 2 years in a row now – they’re still holding on strong and we haven’t lost a single thing at camp yet!
Last summer we sent Elena, age 10 (almost 11) at the time, to two weeks of sleepaway camp. It wasn’t her first experience – she’d gone to the same Girl Scout camp for a week the summer before – but it was the longest she’d ever been away from us.
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’d 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 away from home and only gone for 24 hours, but that didn’t stop me from trying every trick in the book to get my mom to pick me up before the night 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. Last 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 came home 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 will 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 that summer camper 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?