Sleepaway Camp isn’t Just Something in the Movies
When I tell people that I sent my daughters away to overnight camp last summer for four weeks – yes, four whole weeks that they were at sleepaway camp in Wisconsin – people looked at me sideways.
What was wrong with me? What kind of mother would send her children away for four weeks? Do I hate them?
Quite the opposite.
I won’t gloss over the fact that overnight camp can be a major financial commitment; it’s a priority we save for all year long.
Sending me to overnight camp is one of the best thing my parents ever did for me, and a gift that I always wanted to give to my children.
Overnight camp was the place where I figured out independence; developed a sense of self-reliance; forged true confidence, and discovered deep courage I never may have realized otherwise.
It was also the place where I experienced some of the most important relationships of my life, many of which continue today. It also gave me the tools to navigate tough situations and relationships that might not have been all sunshine and roses.
Camp was a safe place where we could be “our true selves,” as one fellow camper described it. In short, overnight camp was a critical part of my childhood – and my transition into adulthood.
So what is overnight camp? Well, that depends on the camp – but traditionally, summer sleepaway camp typically involves a lot of outdoor activities; sleeping in cabins – or even tents; and being with new people. It may mean one week or multiple weeks. Depending on the camp, that may include multiple waterfront activities such as sailing, canoeing and/or swimming; or tennis, archery; climbing walls; arts and crafts; some even offer horseback riding and water skiing.
And the kids don’t talk to their parents regularly, at least in our experience; our kids wrote us old-fashioned snail mail. It’s a time where our kids can be outside and soak in nature; an opportunity to disconnect, quite literally and figuratively, from many of the pressures of being a kid in today’s uber connected, fast-paced culture.
So how do you find the right sleepaway camp for you child? There’s no question that it’s a giant leap of faith to send your child to overnight camp, regardless of how long or far they go. Although there aren’t many overnight camps in Illinois, there are plenty across the Midwest, the bulk of which are in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan.
Here’s a few tips on finding the right overnight camp for your child.
- Do your research – online and otherwise. Overnight camps get accredited by the American Camp Association, which are listed on the ACA website. They have a great resource on what questions to ask when looking for a camp.
- Don’t know what your child wants in a camp? There is something for everyone, possibly even a special interest area for your child. Many camps specialize in theater, music, fine arts, sports, or even foreign languages. Some are focused on children with special needs.
- Many camps have affiliations with other organizations, such as 4-H, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, or faith-based institutions. Always ask.
- Many camps offer scholarships, some for children from financially disadvantaged backgrounds, or perhaps for first-time campers; apply early for those resources.
- Summer camp directors often travel to visit prospective campers. If they can’t come here, videoconferencing and other tools will be helpful to do interviews (and here are good questions to ask them).
- Living near a college campus provides ample opportunities to engage with overnight camp veterans. If you are interested in sending your child to camp in the Midwest, odds are there may be a University of Illinois student who attended it, so be sure to ask if they know of anyone.
- Start planting the seed for overnight camp years in advance. Check out camps and make plans to visit them (always consult with the camp, of course; some may only be open to visitors on specific days or times.) Or, make a vacation out of it. Many camps offer family camp programs — the perfect time to “kick the tires” at a camp. See the inside of the facilities, taste the food, and experience the activities. Many people who attend family camp programs are camp alumni who want to relive their memories and/or introduce the camp to their own kids.
Want to give your kids a taste of overnight camp but don’t know where to start? There are several popular options among Champaign-Urbana area families, as mentioned on our Facebook page.
Laura Weisskopf Bleill is a proud alumna of Camp Kamaji for Girls in Cass Lake, Minnesota, and would go back this summer in a heartbeat. She’s happy to talk camp with anyone who will listen. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.