I have friends who spent their summers at sleep away camp as kids and I've always been kind of jealous. I went a few times, a week at a time, but the stories I heard from some of my friends who stayed a month (or more) were stories of amazing friendships, learning great skills and enjoying the outdoors in all its splendor.
I want that for my kids. I know there's no guarantee that they'll adore it, but I had high hopes based on how much they enjoy our time at the cottage every summer. This year, we took the plunge and our 8-year-old spent a week at sleep away camp.
He loved it.
He came home glowing and didn't stop talking for two hours, telling us all his stories. Here are a few of my favourite things about his experience.
He got to try new activities
My not-so-particularly physical kid spent every day swimming, kayaking, rock climbing and sailing.
His favourite activities were rock climbing (which he did almost every day) and sailing (which I'm told is SO FUN! and SO RELAXING! and we need a sailboat for the cottage NOW!). Archery, which he was quite excited about, wasn't really all he thought it would be.
They had campfires and they slept in a tent overnight in the woods. They build boats out of cardboard and got to test them out on the lake (apparently the only one that floated was the one that was too small for anyone to sit in.) He tried so many great things I can only imagine what he'll try when he's there for several weeks.
He was completely disconnected
I have no problems with technology for kids in moderation but I definitely think that being disconnected is important too. I was impressed that he had no hesitation leaving his iPod behind and I don't think he missed it at all while he was away. He read paper books and wrote us postcards during his down time.
He had to take care of himself
They may remind you to brush your teeth and put on sunscreen at camp, but even at 8 you're pretty responsible for yourself. He had to manage keeping track of his stuff and keeping it organized (which I think he only did moderately well).
I packed his bag because he had another activity the night before he left and I would definitely make him be more involved in future years, because there were a lot of things that got jumbled up. He had so much stuff in his huge bag that he never ended up using or wearing certain items, because he forgot he had them. I think it was a valuable lesson in being responsible for himself and not having someone to just go to when he couldn't find something.
The camp we chose was based on a recommendation from someone I knew, but my son headed off without any friends or knowing anyone there. The camp was so great at making him feel welcome and all the counsellors made me feel confident that he would be in good hands when I left him there.
Located just outside Smith Falls, it's on a beautiful lake and the amazing variety of activities they have for the kids is quite incredible. All the camp counsellors have to have been campers to get jobs there, and the staff loyalty was clear - they could demonstrate how great a time kids have when they go to camp.
Next year my son wants to go for two weeks and my daughter (who will be seven) wants to go for a week. I'm still waiting to see if I think her twin will be ready at seven as well (here's a great post from Mabel's Labels about figuring out if your kids are ready for sleep away camp). They're already looking forward to it!
Have you considered sleep away camp for your kids? Have they been? Share what your experiences have been like in the comments!