The Benefits of Sleep-Away Camp

The Benefits of Sleep-Away Camp


Although winter is having difficulty loosening its grip on our city, summertime is right around the corner. While many people feel summer is the greatest season, parents of children and adolescents can find it challenging to figure out “what to do.” Many children and adolescents attempt to convince their parents that staying at home, hanging with friends, and attending a few different week long day camps will occupy their time. In reality, this isn’t the greatest option. The truth is, much of what is learned in school is lost during the summer months, making it that much more important for there to be ongoing activities during the summer months.

Children and adolescents do best with ongoing structure to help them continue fostering important aspects of development which may not be the primary focus during their academic year. The months off from school offer a great opportunity to learn, develop and utilize unique skills which an academic setting may not be able to provide. As a former sleep away camper, and a current child and adolescent psychologist, I often encourage many parents to find a sleep away camp that will be a good fit for their child. Here are a number of reasons why:

1. Health: Summer camps can offer health (physical and emotional) benefits in a number of ways. The obvious reasons include fresh air, increased exercise, a break from technology, and timed meals (usually without unhealthy snacks, candy and drinks readily available). Additionally, the routine and structured time combined with fun and sometimes unstructured activities offer a nice balance, and teaches effective time management.

2. Independence: Independence and autonomy are words used often in child and adolescent development…and for good reason. Independence is an importance aspect which allows children the opportunity to grow into resilient and confident individuals. Camp allows children and adolescents the opportunity to make choices, suffer the consequences (both positive and negative) and do so in a safe environment. Along with their self-esteem, their self-efficacy can begin to develop and serve as a foundation for experiences later on in life.

               a. Home-Sickness: This seems like a good place to mention                           the feared “home-sickness.” For many children this is a very typical and common response, at any age. With that being said, it eventually and inevitably goes away. Camps are prepared for this and sometimes have protocols to help children and adolescents cope with the short-term blues. While this may be your first time sending your child to camp, remember it is not the camp’s first time having a new camper who has never been away from home for an extended period of time. Finally, while parents may fear that their child will be home-sick; sometimes, as you probably already know, parents’ feelings can affect their children’s feelings, thoughts and behaviors. Be aware of your own anxiety about having your child leave for an extended period. Be mindful of how you may affect your child and this great opportunity.

3. Relationships: Some of the relationships your child and adolescent will make at camp may last a long time, possibly throughout their entire life. Other friendships may only last the summer session. Some will be with peers their age. Others will be made with trusted adults. Regardless, progress is inescapable. There will be fun exciting peers from places much different than your own neighborhood. There will also, definitely, be difficult and even exasperating peers that your children will be forced to learn to deal with. First signs of companionship, both platonic and romantic may surface. Understanding differences, similarities, how to be a leader, follower and team player are all aspects of life they will learn. Due to the numerous peers of all ages and the intensity of interactions at camp, this development will surely blossom. And it is a great place, without parents, for this to happen. There is nothing like sharing two bathrooms and three showers with ten peers and three counselors to teach you the values of respect, cleanliness and privacy.

4. Opportunities: Many camps offer opportunities which home life, day camps or week long camps just cannot offer. Whether it is canoeing, hiking, wakeboarding, rock climbing, ropes, boondoggling, glass blowing or archery. By trying numerous activities, children and adolescents develop mastery and a sense of accomplishment. Their imagination, abilities and repertoire are subsequently expanded but the multitude of options presented.  

5. Community: At camp there are many different communities. Upper camp, lower camp, boy cabins, girl cabins, cabins in the same age/grade and cabins assigned to support each other (e.g. big brother, big sister programs). Children and adolescents learn a sense of community in a different way than school, as many of the achievements, goals and rewards are based on collaborative efforts. Learning songs and chants in the mess hall, uncovering inside jokes, and sharing a discontent to the waterfront director who makes them get in the water early in the morning teaches them that we are more alike than different and as a group, working together, life can be easier and sometimes even sweeter.

These are just a few reasons why a sleep away camp is good for children and adolescents and certainly many more reasons exist. So when it comes time to figure out what to do this summer, think about sleep away camp. Turn off the TV and the video games, close out Instagram and Facebook and put away make-up and junk food. Allow your child the unique and important developmental experience of leaving home, to a safe and secure environment, where the can learn aspects of life only a sleep away camp can offer.

You can find resources about different camps in your area