Sleepaway Camp Expert: So Many Feelings about Summer Camp 2021


The Wall Street Journal’s recent article “Despite Covid-19 Outbreak Risks, Summer Camps Are Filling Up Quickly” brings up a lot of mixed feelings about the upcoming summer. Many parents fortunate to afford sleepaway camp for their children are yearning for a return to normalcy for their kids: to allow them to experience the special outdoor and other freedoms that camp provides, especially after a year of being almost literally stuck inside. But even with the vaccine soon to be available for all adults the U.S., parents are simultaneously feeling relief and, validly, a fear of the unknown. Lauren A. Tetenbaum, LMSW, JD checked in with Camp Specialists’ Brooke Sanders, an expert on sleepaway camps who helps connect kids and families with the right camp for them, to explore.


Lauren: What kinds of questions are you seeing from parents as we approach summer 2021?


Brooke: I think the overarching question is: “Will there be camp in 2021?” And the answer is a resounding: “YES!” There are still a bunch of issues up in the air, but most sleepaway camps at this point have tentatively answered them. It sounds like the Camp Directors are comfortable having a full 7 week season of camp. Unfortunately, it looks like there may be no safe way to have family Visiting Day, so it most likely won’t happen at most camps this summer. Inter-camp games and tournaments will also probably have to be skipped this summer. The camps will try to create the safest “camp bubble” environment that they can, which includes: frequent testing, mask wearing where needed, keeping as many activities outdoors as possible, etc. Some camps will still have prospective family tours while camp runs, where others will do the tours only before or after the official camp season. But no matter what, all of the camps are ready for an incredible and much-needed summer 2021 season. And they look forward to all of the future summers to come.


Lauren: How are these questions compared to those from prior years?


Brooke: I think the questions from parents in 2020 were similar, but the pandemic was fairly new, so less was known. But even so, we had a handful of camps able to successfully open and run a 4-5 week program safely by making camp into a “bubble,” testing kids often, and wearing masks as needed. Ultimately those kids were able to have a well-deserved summer away and Camp Directors will be ready for 2021 based on this blueprint. And certainly, with the vaccine, we are starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel. Questions that I would field pre-pandemic looked different. They included: Is my child ready to go to camp? How many weeks do I feel comfortable sending them? Do I want a co-ed or same sex camp? Is the camp very sporty or does it offer a variety of activities? Should I choose a camp with a traditional schedule or an elective-based one? Should I send my child with a friend?


Lauren: I tend to often hear anxiety about whether sending kids away for several weeks is the “right” thing to do. But pandemic or not, there is no one way to do things for your kids. Even in “normal” times, sending your child to sleepaway camp for several weeks can bring up varied emotions for many parents.


Brooke: Of course, the idea of sending your child somewhere to live without you for any period of time is anxiety-provoking. Parents who were campers themselves understand the many huge benefits of giving your child the sleepaway camp experience. But how do you as a parent get there, and have the confidence that you’re making the right decision for your child? First off, there are a number of questions that you could ask yourself about your child. Does your child easily stay overnight at the homes of friends or relatives, do they function well in a group setting, do they ask for assistance when needed, do they enjoy new experiences, do they respond appropriately to people in positions of authority, do they make friends easily? These are just some things to consider if determining whether it is the right time to send your child to a sleepaway camp. Additionally, the parents should feel extremely comfortable with the Directors of the camp that they choose. This is why the process of picking the best fit for your family is an important one. These are the people that will be taking responsibility for your children, and the decisions that they make and the environment that they foster should be in line with your family values. As you indicate, what clicks for one family may not for another. If you or your child is not ready for a long-term camp program (due to COVID concerns or otherwise), there are many options!


Lauren: You and I actually know each other because our sons attended Mohawk Day Camp together this past summer. After school shut down in March and my 4-year-old was completely isolated for months, without seeing even extended family members, it was so clear how much the kids benefitted from the structure, the socialization, and the fun that camp provided. We are so thankful they ran their program in a safe and transparent way.


Brooke: Yes! There are so many amazing benefits to sending your child to camp. In addition to giving them much needed time to unplug, camp can teach kids strong values, and introduce them to a wide variety of new activities and experiences. Children make some of the closest friends that they keep throughout their lives. Camp also teaches independence and respect for authority figures as well as for others in their peer group. Kids have so much personal growth at camp, whether it be in sports, drama, leadership, navigating social situations, improving self-esteem and independence. I think that camp can truly be a gift that parents give their children, no matter if it’s for 1 week or 7 weeks.


Since 1992, Camp Specialists has been a trusted partner connecting camps and families, free of charge. To learn more about camp options for your family, contact Brooke at Brooke@campspecialists.com.