© Godfer | Dreamstime.com
From whitewater rafting and creative arts to cooking and paint ball, today’s sleep-away camps appeal to a wide range of interests while still providing the long-term benefits summer camp is known for.
According to the American Camp Association, 75 percent of camp directors report adding new activities to accommodate popular trends. The top three activities camps are integrating into their more traditional fare of swimming and horseback riding includes performing arts, adventure treks, and more recently, culinary skills.
“Culinary is the hottest and newest in terms of camps investing in building kitchens and bringing in specialists to teach the kids. The other part that goes along with the culinary is the whole, farmed table — taking things from the gardens and cooking them,” says Jill Tipograph, a camp consultant and author of Your Everything Summer Guide & Planner.
Traditional vs Specialty Focus
Specialty camps are designed for kids interested in pursuing a specific interest, such as music or sports, while traditional camps offer a wider range of programming. Children who attend Deer Run Camps and Retreats in Franklin, Tennessee, can experience wall climbing and horseback riding. For some, it’s a first, notes Fred Reyes, director of camps and recreation. “Such activities help kids overcome fears and build self-confidence.”
At Victory Ranch, Camp Director Dennis Smith says the strong counselor/camper bond that forms during the week enhances their program, which includes water sports, laser tag, and a zip line. “Counselors never leave their group, so they’re engaged the entire week participating in events. That enhances the mentoring process.”
“I feel that if children start their camping career on a purely specialty track, (parents) are really missing what camp can do for their child,” says Tipograph. The advantage traditional camps offer is they are all about the child holistically.”
Benefits of Camp
In addition to learning new skills, children learn how to collaborate and live in community while gaining self-confidence and independence through problem-solving and teamwork. “All those things are life skills and assets that every parent wants for their child,” says Tipograph.
Next Generation of Foodies
One example of a traditional camp that offers a variety of specialty tracks is Hidden Valley Camp, located in mid-coastal Maine. The camp attracts kids ages 8 and 14 from all over the world. Camp director Peter Kassen finds that culinary classes are especially attractive to campers, thanks in large part to pop culture and a greater interest in eating well.
“This idea of being a foodie has really permeated the culture. Being involved in producing your own food and eating good food has become more central not just with adults but with children as well,” Kassen says.
Through culinary classes, campers acquire a valuable life skill, learning to prepare quality, healthy meals from specialists in the food industry, and tasting foods from all over the globe.
“Last year, we had a group of 10 Korean campers accompanied by a woman who brings them over. She cooked a Korean meal for the entire camp. It was spectacular,” Kassen says.
But cooking is only one aspect of the camp. Whether they try windsurfing, horseback riding, or tennis, Kassen hopes campers leave camp with a sense of confidence.
“At any good camp, campers . . . get excited about an idea, and they pursue it from beginning to end without an adult telling them they had to do it in the first place,” he says. “That’s why people value time at camp. Children can learn and grow.”
ACACamps.org – Details on accredited residential camps nationally TheMaineCampExperience.com – Residential camps in Maine everythingsummer.com – Summer camp consultant, Jill Tipograph victoryranch.com – Residential camp in Bolivar, TN deerrunretreat.org – Residential camp in Franklin, TN
— Christa Melnyk Hines is a freelance journalist and author based in Kansas. • christamelnykhines.com
Considerations For a Successful Sleep-Away Experience:
Most kids are ready by age 9 or 10, but consider your child’s physical and emotional maturity first.
If possible, start researching camps a year out. Research online, talk to friends and family for recommendations and visit prospective camps. Many overnight camps offer family weekends in the fall.
Length of camp.
How long do you want your child away at camp? Camps offer both short- and long-term sessions.
Size of camp.
Decide whether your child would do better in a large setting or a smaller gathering.
Choose from a single-sex or a co-ed camp. Not sure which? Consider whether a younger sibling may eventually join your older child at camp.
Determine the types of activities you want your child to experience. Because of their geographical location, some camps offer better outdoor or adventure activities than others. Also, camps in a well-known adventure destination are more likely to have access to experienced adventure specialists.