My kids just returned from "sleep away camp", this is Emily's 6th year and Lizzies 3rd. I find it interesting how many of my friends are too scared to send their kids to camp, worried that something horrible might happen. Having gone to camp every summer since I was going into third grade, I couldn't wait to send my kids. I don't look forward to them being away, not at all, but I enjoy giving them this most magical opportunity. It is an amazing gift to give your kids a camp experience, I know personally that camp was one of the most important experiences of my life. It gave me an independence I never would have had without it. Here are a few things I have learned about sleep away camp:
1) Kids are forced to work out their squabbles. You can't get away from your bunkmates, you are together 24/7 for a week. If there is an argument, you must face it and work it out. This is something that doesn't happen at home with your school friends. You don't get to go home, talk with your folks, find a new friend etc etc. You work it out. What a great life skill! The roller coaster of being friends, getting on each others nerves, bickering, working it out and being best friends again brings kids closer together in a week than in years of going to school together. I remember truly "loving" my camp friends on a very deep level, which I still have today! School friends, not as deep.
2) Kids learn to be away from their parents, that it's ok to miss them. A whole week away seems like a long long time to kids and I think it's important for them to trust other adults to care for them. I also like that other adults are disciplining them and teaching them new things. It takes a village to raise a kid, I truly believe that! (It's also good for parents to let their kids go a tiny bit too, so hard sometimes!!)
3) Kids learn to follow a schedule, to do their daily activities (like brushing teeth, brushing hair, getting dressed) on their own. They follow the routine which includes meals, activities, getting ready for bed, sleeping... managing their time in a way they don't have to at home. I remember becoming very aware of how long an hour activity is, the time it took to walk down the hill to the lodge, being aware of the dinner bell ringing, watching the sun go down and knowing how much daylight was left. There is something about camp, without parents around, that teaches a kid to pay attention to details they take for granted at home.
4) Kids will look up to their counselors and want to be like them intensely. I remember falling in love with my counselors and I just could not wait to be one too! This is a totally different feeling than loving your parents. It is magical and more effective than being told "this is what you should do when you grow up." They see their counselor up there singing and they want to do that too. It is powerful stuff even though it seems so simple.
5) Last, sleep away camp FEELS so much more exciting than it really is. It is safe, organized and pretty routine, but to a kid it's like a trip to the moon.
Returning from camp energized and happy, priceless!