As far as I'm concerned, there are two types of people in this world: those who went to sleepaway camp, and those who didn't.
I'm only half kidding. Camp was that formative an experience. My mother dropped me off at my bunk at the ripe old age of five, I chose a cubby, and neither of us looked back for a minute.
Now, before you go calling Child Services, it should be said that she didn't go all that far – she worked there, and my brother and I reaped the benefits. For the next 12 years, long after my mom had gone, we counted the days until June, dreaming of bug juice and baseball, lanyard key chains, and Capture the Flag.
Camp was where I learned to kick a ball, where I learned to do a judo flip, where I learned to sweep a floor, and where I learned that even vegetables can taste good when they're stewed over a campfire. At home, my mom did my laundry, but at camp, I sorted my own whites and colors. I made my own bed and I budgeted my own canteen quarters. It was my first taste of real responsibility and my first taste of independence.
School, especially these days, is all about preparation and evaluation. With all the pressure to make sure that No Child is Left Behind, there's little time for kids to pause for a dabble, little time for the "unartistic" to pick up a paintbrush, or the brown thumbed to plant a seed. There are few places left where doors remain unlocked and solo stargazing is worry-free.
As parents, we want to give our children everything, and struggle not to give them too much. With summer approaching, think about the ultimate gift of childhood. Think about the gift of Nothing. No homework. No nagging. No over-scheduling. Just a canoe, drifting in the middle of a lake. A kickball. Institutionalized food and a paper plate chore wheel. Give your kids s'mores. Give them the chance to figure out who they are, and who they want to be. That's what camp is all about.
Picking the Perfect Camp
There are all kinds of camps - theater camps for little Ethel Merman's (www.stagedoormanor.com), camps for budding marine biologists (www.whalecamp.com), and just good, old fashioned, sleepaway camps. There are also Family Camps, where you attend with your kids - a wonderful way to get their feet wet while they're young. The best place to start your research is at www.acacamps.org, the website of the American Camp Association. The website lists information for 2,300 accredited members. In order to be included, camps need to meet 300 standards for health, safety, and program quality.
Wondering how much it will cost? Click here for The Bottom Line On Camp Costs