Even if you’ve never been to summer camp, you can probably imagine how quickly bonds form when you’re very young and living among your peers in tight conditions. My first sleep-away camp experience was at a YWCA camp when I was seven years old in a magical environment, located deep in the woods near the Kentucky River. I remember songs and smores by the campfire, arts and crafts, and daddy long legs in the bathrooms at night. But mostly, I remember the friends.
Two years later began an annual summer ritual of boarding an airplane with a small group from Kentucky headed for a four-week stint at the Young Judaea camp in Michigan. I spent almost all of the next nine summers as a camper in Michigan and later New York, working half the summers as kitchen staff once I was old enough. Again, what I remember most are the friends and the hot, dusty summer adventures we had together. And some misadventures, which may or may not have involved sneaking out at night, overturned canoes and a roasted pair of Stan Smith Adidas sneakers placed too close to the campfire overnight.
My camp friends lived scattered throughout the Midwest, and later the Northeast. During the 10 or 11 months of the year we weren’t together, we wrote each other lengthy letters and had the occasional long-distance phone call. But our close-knit friendships were almost entirely sustained by our shared experiences and the quality of our time together living in old wooden cabins with squeaky, metal-framed bunk beds set among lots of mosquitos.
I had no idea how many types of day and sleepaway camps there are in the United States until I started researching an article for Boston Globe Magazine a few years ago. By now, it seems you can find a camp to suit almost any interest. Whether you have an outdoorsy kid looking for like-minded wilderness adventurers or an air-condition-only offspring wanting to delve into the intricacies of advanced supercomputing, camp can fill those summer aspirations. Estimates have pegged the number of campers in the United States somewhere in the neighborhood of 14 million before the Covid-19 pandemic, and hopefully those numbers will bounce back to pre-Covid heights this summer.
As a parent now living in the Northeast, I had some homework to do before sending my kids off to summer camp when they began asking for their own summer adventures. Two great resources are the American Camp Association and Kidscamps.com. Other parents in your area can also be a great source of information about local camps.
This week, my youngest child has been packing up his belongings in preparation for his month at overnight camp. To keep the anticipation high, I shared with him a photo of me (above) from my first year of camp in Michigan when I was 9 years old that one of my first and dearest camp friends posted on Facebook recently. We haven’t seen each other in person in ages, but we will always share a sisterly bond from all those years together at camp. You can see how much we loved each other in this photo, despite the newness of our friendship. Thanks for the memories, Arlene!
And at the end of the day, your feet should be dirty, your hair messy and your eye sparkling.Shanti