Where Every Family Matters

Sleepaway Camp: Is it Right for Your Kid?

Summer camps are ready to keep children safe with all kinds of protocols in place. So is your child ready for a sleep-away camp adventure?

PHOTO CREDIT: Riverview Camp for Girls in Mentone, Alabama

Despite COVID-19 — or maybe because of it — overnight camp directors are reporting that 2021 enrollment is up from previous years, and it’s no wonder. Never before have parents been so eager to give their kids a chance to run and play like kids rather than spend all day in front of computers and TVs.

“We are planning for a more normal summer,” says Paul McEntire, chief operating officer of YMCA of the USA. “Normal,” because last summer 75% of the YMCA’s overnight camps didn’t open in person. At Camp Widjiwagan in Nashville, the 2021 enrollment for both day and overnight camps is up, according to Marketing Director Jayne Burnett, and the American Camp Association (ACA) reports that while only about 18% of accredited overnight camps in the U.S. were open last summer, the  majority of camps are planning to be open this year, albeit with COVID-19 guidelines in place which include:

  • Pre-arrival and post-arrival testing followed by another test four to 10 days later
  • No parents allowed on campgrounds at drop-off or pick-up
  •  A reliance on outdoor activites allowing for physical distancing

For many kids whose parent watched them dea — and sometime struggle with — the shifting uncertainties wrought by the pandemic, heading to summer camps will bring some semblance of normalcy once again … and relief. Many overnight camps open enrollment this month, and demand is expected to be high.

The truth is, the pandemic has closed your child off more than any other time in his life and he will be thrilled to have an adventure away from home.

Child psychologist Michael Thompson, author of Homesick and Happy: How Time Away from Parents Can Help a Child Grow (Random House; 2012) knows a thing or two about the subject of kids spreading their wings away from home.

“Deep down,” he writes, “all children want to have their own adventures with no apparent safety net.” Thompson uncovers the secrets behind why resident camp is so special for kids. Not only is it being away from parents, it’s also getting to develop relationships on their own and experiencing a private world without their parents inserting themselves every step of the way.

Thompson describes eight things that parents cannot do for their children — think about your own kids as you read them:

  1. We cannot make our children happy
  2. We cannot give our children high self-esteem
  3. We cannot make friends for our children or micromanage their friendships
  4. We cannot successfully double as our child’s agent, manager or coach
  5. We cannot create the “second family” for which our child yearns in order to facilitate his own growth
  6. It is increasingly apparent that we cannot compete with or limit our children’s total immersion in the online, digital and social media realms
  7. We cannot keep our children perfectly safe, but we can drive them crazy trying
  8. We cannot make our children independent

Consider these ideas as you think about whether or not you should spring for sleep-away camp for your child, and know that some camps offer scholarships.

Camps let kids experiment without a parent breathing down the neck. Imagine the freedom kids feel when they get off the bus or when Mom and Dad drive away. They get to instantly begin making decisions for themselves. They get to take more risks, make judgement calls on their own and experiment with what works and what doesn’t. They go through a period of thinking, “Oh, I have to ask Mom,” and then, “Wait! I don’t have to ask Mom, I just have to mind my counselor!” It’s incredibly freeing.

The skills that kids learn at summer camp without hovering parents helps them to build character, Thompson says. Camp helps them build resiliency and pushes them out of their comfort zones. Kids learn about taking jumps and celebrating with others outside of their home safety net.

More great things about sleep-away camp:

  • No cell phone policies. Social skills get strengthened and they eat meals without a screen while actually talking to one another.
  •  Camps provide downtime so kids can get their summer reading done or write a letter home on the stamped postcards you provide, only don’t hold your breath. They are probably really chatting away in their bunks or playing cards or some game somebody pulled out of their trunk.
  • Kids learn to think for themselves. They will run and play and get messy and eat what they want all in a safe environment where the camp knows your child’s needs.
  •  Your kid is going to grow up a little. When you go an pick him up after a week or two or three, he’ll have moved from a size 10 to a size 12. He’ll also look a little different in the face. You know that thing that happens when you don’t see someone for awhile? It happens now.
  • For you: As soon as your child’s tucked away at camp you will miss him instantly. This is good. You gain perspective. You go through your days feeling love and missing in your heart, thinking of him, adoring him. Then you go out on a date with your spouse and you think, “How wonderful summer camp is!”



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About the Author

Susan Swindell Day

Susan Day is the editor in chief for this award-winning publication and all-things Nashville Parent digital creative. She's also an Equity actress, screenwriter and a mom of four amazing kids.