While growing up, my brother and I both benefited from experiences at summer camp, both day camps and sleep-away camps, at various points in our childhood. My memories from summer camp have stayed with me, and the experiences have shaped who I am. I first heard Pink Floyd at summer camp, from a counselor playing Wish You Were Here on guitar for the campers around a campfire. I received my first lessons with darkroom photography at camp. I learned how to be a radio DJ at the same camp radio station, as I later discovered, that Bruce Warren, the program director of Philadelphia’s WXPN radio station, got his start in the business. At camp, I (barely) learned how to swim. My first real kiss was at summer camp.
Most importantly, my time at summer camp provided me experience living away from my parents, moving my outside of my comfort zone at an early age. This probably developed into my sense of independence, my comfort with making my own schedule — while there was structure within the camp, I chose my own schedule and appreciated the flexibility — and my wide variety of interests.
These experiences all came at a cost — to my parents. I am not sure what my parents paid to send me and my brother away for eight weeks during the summer, but I know it was not cheap. The camp experience is even more expensive now, more than two decades later. According to a recent article in the New York Times, it’s not uncommon for these summer sessions to exceed $9,000. Participation is dwindling, as parents have more options for their children. Costs for running camps are increasing, and so is the fear of legal action in a society that grows more litigious.
The trend seems to be moving away from the long, all-encompassing camps. Rather than doing everything, new camps are focused on one activity and provide an intensive experience over a shorter time frame, like a week or a long weekend. These camps are challenging the traditional method of attending a camp where several activities are part of the experience over a four or eight week period. More and more, parents want to see results when they spend money — and the results they like to see involve skills that would be impressive on a résumé.
Kids who remain mentally active over the summer perform better at school, so there’s definitely an incentive for keeping students involved in activities during the off-season rather than leaving them in front of the television. Summer camp is worthwhile, but the question is how much to spend. Some camps have reduced rates based on financial need, but even non-profit camps with financial assistance have rates that can turn away many interested families.
Do you or would you send your children to summer camp, either day cam or sleep-away? Do you have any similar experiences?
Published or updated July 10, 2011.