What makes a good summer? The answer differs for everyone but for my kids, the hallmark of a great summer is spending more time sleeping in a sleeping bag than in their own beds. I’ve always known that camp experiences were important for our kids, but there are important life lessons sleepaway camp can teach every kid, regardless of age.
For the past three years, Emily has gone to the same camp in California that my husband attended as a child. As a twelve-year-old, we kissed her goodbye at the airport for a solo flight across the country for two weeks of camp where she left only knowing the stories from her dad’s time there and information she gleaned from the camp’s website. She didn’t know any other campers, the staff, or the routines. It was a big leap for a tween and perhaps a bigger one for us as parents!
This summer, Emily was the camp veteran and her brother was the newbie. For the last two years she’d encouraged us to fly to California and drive to camp to pick her up. Her accounts of camp activities and camp life were so familiar to my husband who imagined that it hadn’t changed since his childhood.
With both kids at camp and a family trip to Alaska planned right after, this was our year to fly out to California and meet them at camp.
Driving our Highlander Hybrid XLE north from San Francisco to Redding and then on the winding road with hairpin turns leading to camp, I felt a sort of nervous anticipation even though the car handled the curves on narrow roads like a champ. I was excited to see the kids but wasn’t sure how they would feel about us infringing on their space.
After spending 24 hours at camp, I got a glimpse of a place that’s special to our family, met their friends, and noticed incredible growth in my kids I might not have seen otherwise.
We put the third road of seats down to give us a luxurious 83.7 cubic feet of cargo space, filled the Highlander with bulging duffel bags and stuffed frame packs, and pulled away, saying goodbye to camp for another year.
During the long ride back to San Francisco, the kids had lots to share during our 6+ hours in the car after weeks apart. They stretched out legs that seemed to have grown even longer in the 2 weeks since we had seen them , settled in, and started to share stories from camp.
The silencing insulation materials along the floor and acoustic-type glass in the windshield that aims to reduce noise entering the cabin provided a nice space in the Highlander Hybrid for uninterrupted conversations which made me realize why sleepaway camp is a great investment in my kids. I also appreciated the car’s fuel efficiency so they could rest and not be woken up by the engine turning off when we stopped for gas. With a 25.2 average miles per gallon, we made just one stop for gas during our 6 hour drive!
4 Important Life Lessons Sleepaway Camp Can Teach Kids
and what I learned about my kids when we road tripped to pick them up
If you’ve been anxiously waiting to hear about your child’s time at sleepaway camp this summer or have been thinking about sending your kids to sleepaway camp next summer, rest assured there are plenty of things for parents and kids to learn from the experience.
I’ve discovered there are many life lessons sleepaway camp can teach all kids but here’s what I learned about my own kids when we picked them up from camp.
Shared Experiences Create Deeper Bonds
Bonds are created through shared experiences and there’s no shortage of them thanks to camp! For years Thomas had been hearing about tales camp life. He heard stories about the delicious food served at camp, gotten to know camp’s resident animals including horses, dogs, and pigs by name, looked forward to daily hikes to the swimming hole, learned the songs played during the Friday dance, and even warned about the possibility of car sickness on the steep windy road that signifies the final leg of the bus journey to camp.
In between listening to favorite songs, snacking, and sleeping in the back of our spacious and comfortable Highlander Hybrid, we heard stories from their two weeks away. It was fun to hear them talk about the traditions unique to their camp.
Before Thomas attended camp, this lingo was almost like a secret language between Emily and her dad but now I can also relate, having shared in the camp experience! There are many times when parents don’t get a glimpse of what their child’s time at camp is like and that’s ok. I’ve always thought that if my kid comes home from camp and continues to talk about it, it was time and money well spent!
Sleepaway Camp Gets Them Outside Their Comfort Zone in the Best Way
If you think about the kids your child is currently friends with, chances are they’re friends with kids they’ve grown up with and have gone to school together. But send your kids to camp, and it’s a new ball game! As East Coasters attending a California camp, my kids were immediately out of their comfort zone because they didn’t know anyone their first year. And they weren’t alone.
Living outside a comfort zone can be scary for shy or confident kids but the best learning happens when we encourage them to leave their comfort zone. We parents may feel anxiety over letting go, but our kids deserve to have independent experiences. Confidence is just one of many life lessons sleepaway camp instills in children at any age.
After all, it doesn’t matter if your child is naturally shy or confident. Even the most confident kid at school can be insecure when put in a new situation.
Independent Experiences Build Confidence
At 13 and 15, my kids are doing plenty of growing physically but independent experiences have a way of changing our kids in ways we can’t even begin to imagine.
Emily and Thomas planned to sit together on the 6+ hour bus ride from San Francisco north but once they got to camp, they went their separate ways. While they existed in the same camp bubble, sharing experiences and getting to know the same people, it was up to each to create their own experiences, have their own fun, and they did!
Emily went on a week-long backpacking trip in the Shasta Trinity National Forest. Thomas spent time at the blacksmith shop forging a knife blade from a piece of steel. Even though Emily had backpacked before, she had never done so in Northern California. Thomas has been watching instructional YouTube videos about knife making but we lack the right equipment in our home.
Camp allowed them the time and space to seek out new experiences while providing support to be successful. Add taking risks and trying new things to the list of life lessons sleepaway camp reinforces!
Confidence Creates Resilience
The confidence that comes from independent experiences isn’t obvious like too short pants during a growth spurt but it’s there. It waits in the wings until your child needs it most and then you’re pleasantly surprised at the level of maturity being displayed.
Thomas bounced from camp to family vacation to Alaska, returned home for just a few days, and now is off at Scout camp. We had planned for him to go to Scout camp with a troop from Philadelphia he met last year but about a week before Thomas was supposed to leave, we got an email from the leaders saying they were no longer able to attend due to low attendance and lack of leadership. This could have thrown Thomas for a loop but after realizing that he could still go to Scout camp, he was fine joining another troop.
For the second time this summer, Thomas was put in a situation where he didn’t know anyone. Scout camp was familiar, but he was going to have to make new friends, just as he did in California.
The night before he left for Scout camp, I asked how he was feeling about joining a new-to-him troop for the week. He looked at me and said, “I’m not nervous, Mom.”
Each summer we’ve given the gift of sleepaway camp to our kids because of the experiences they need to have independently, outside the walls of school. Even though these life lessons sleepaway camp teaches can be learned elsewhere, the time our kids spend away from me and my husband each summer also gives us practice as part time empty nesters.
Huge thanks to Toyota for lending us the Highlander Hybrid XLE for our road trip to and from camp! Emily is taking drivers education this summer and as we look to adding another driver to our family in a few months, we’ve been exploring car options and the Highlander Hybrid has always been at the top of my list!
All opinions are my own and based on personal opinion. All camp fees and related travel expenses were personally paid for. No compensation was received for this post.