In 1945, my 5 year-old mother traveled 4 hours by bus from New York City to the Berkshires to attend sleep away camp. She was there to spend 8 weeks learning how to play sports, swim, canoe, and get along with other 5 year old girls. She cried for the first few days until the camp director told her to stop. She did. And she spent the next 11 summers playing sports, swimming, canoeing and learning lessons that lasted a lifetime.
In 1977, at the age of 7, I took a plane from Washington DC, to a bus in Albany to a sleep away camp 3 hours from there. I was there to spend 8 weeks learning how to play sports, swim, waterski, make a clay pot and get along with other 7 year-old girls. I cried for the first few days. On other nights my older sister would make me cry so she and I could go home. Eventually we both stopped crying and would spend the next 16 summers playing sports, swimming, waterskiing, making clay pots and learning many of the same lessons our mother did.
In 1978, my mother, my sisters and I all packed trunks and piled them into the back of our brown Suburban Chevy. We drove 8 hours to sleep away camp – sisters and I still campers, mom now a Camp Group Leader. And did I mention my father attended camp from age of 3 to 18?
We are definitely a summer camp family. And if you ask us, we think you should be too!
Sleep away camp was once a way to get kids out of the hot (un-air conditioned) city and into the great outdoors, learning skills that they couldn’t in apartment buildings.
For different reasons, sleep away camp is even more important today. With all the bells and whistles and addictive qualities of computers and video games (not to mention air conditioning) kids are often compelled to stay indoors. Important skills aren’t learned and face-to-face socialization becomes secondary.
At sleep away camp, away from mom and dad and pressures of school, kids develop self-esteem, they learn important social skills and how to enjoy being outdoors. They learn to be independent in a way that just doesn’t happen when they’re home. If you ask my mom and sisters and me what we learned after all of those summers, we’ll say we learned how to paddle a canoe, compromise, use a broom, be a leader, help someone in need, organize our personal belongings, be a good friend, write a song, waterski and direct a show. We also learned that there was a place where we were accepted for who we were, that enthusiasm, energy and an eagerness for fun are happy traits that would carry us through our grown up lives.
And we have a nice collection of clay pots too.