Cincinnati Family Magazine

Your # 1 Hometown Family Resource

July 19, 2024

Happy campers at YMCA Camp Ernst, located in Burlington, Ky.

So, What’s Sleep-Away Camp REALLY About?

Residential camp directors talk about what kids will take away from camp this summer.

Ahhh … sweet, sweet summer camp. Many parents and kids anticipate camps to kick off the sunniest time of the year. Just think about it — you can almost smell the sunscreen, feel the warmth of the sunshine and visualize your kids carrying along their loaded overnight bag, hats on, ready to go. This is what overnight camp is all about, right?

Yes, that and a lot more. It’s about friendships, independence and freedom, learning new experiences and overall, coming back home refreshed, revived and ready to tell you all about it.

Experience and Independence

It’s about new experiences and gaining independence. Both of these are strong, concrete skills kids will achieve while away from home, and parents will, too. Not only is it rewarding to know that your kids are learning and growing while away from home, they bring it home with them and we get to witness that firsthand.

Unplugging and Connecting

Not only will kids unplug a little from their daily tech routine, they are unplugging with each other, according to Elizabeth “Eli” Cochran, executive director at YMCA Camp Ernst.

“Overnight camping started in the late 1800s as a movement fresh air of nature,” Cochran says. “In many ways, the purpose is the same today – unplug and connect with each other, oneself, and nature, while building leadership, friendship and confidence.”

Getting Out of That Comfort Zone

This is for kids and adults alike. Of course, you need to first look at the age and maturity of your kiddo before deciding if they are up for the challenge. Once you see they are more than ready to explore and be away from home, it may be time for him to be immersed in a fun camp community.

“Going to camp really is the best way to get out of your comfort zone and into the ‘challenge zone,’” says Cochran.

Kids will not only be supported and surrounded by enthusiastic role models, they get to try and learn new tasks while celebrating their achievements, she continues, and parents have something to celebrate, too.

“Parents, too, need camp — as a break from scheduling, cleaning, driving, etc., and can benefit from the taste of independence their camper gains from camp,” says Cochran.

Learning Communication Skills

Not just learning communication skills, overnight camp is the gateway to communication skills, says Joe Mendes, director/owner at Camp Roosevelt Firebird.

“It’s really the whole package of personal growth and communication skills,” he continues. “Kids develop courage and empathy as they learn to face uncomfortable situations without parental support [emotional, physical, conflict, homesickness.]”

Kids also learn how to deal with these emotions and overcome them, says Mendes. These are skills that they can take with them throughout their youth and even adulthood.

Making Lifelong, Strong Relationships

This is truer than true. Overnight camp counselors have witnessed transformation in kids and the true friendships they built literally, overnight.

“Kids come for the first time for the exciting activities and love to return year after year for the friendship and acceptance,” says Cochran. “I have seen kids grow leaps and bounds in confidence, self-advocacy, leadership, self-awareness, curiosity and so much more!”

Types of Sleep-Away Camps

So what kind of sleep-away camps are out there for your kid? Quite a lot, actually, and for every kind of kid! During your search, make sure the camp is accredited by the American Camp Association first, suggests Cochran.

“Camp is youth development at its finest and camps are ready to partner with parents in this great adventure of raising empathetic, curious, kind kids,” she continues. “Look for a camp that is run by professionals who are trained and up to date with best practices in the fields of child protection, youth development, teamwork, facilitation, mental health, inclusion and social-emotional development.”

Here are some common overnight camps you can expect to come across during your research:

Sports Camps

By far, one of the most popular types of summer camps for kids is sports. If you have a sporty kid who is ready to build up some more skills in the sport he loves, sport camps are a great way to go. Sports camps can include everything from sport preparation to the ability to try an array of great sports including football, basketball, soccer, tennis, golf and more.

Religious Camps

Religious camps tend to be focused on a religious faith. Kids will participate in both religious studies and daily practice, all while getting the most out of the recreational programs the camp offers.

Coed Camps

Made for boys and girls to enjoy activities together, in “real world” familiar and balanced home-life situations — the big difference is that they are at camp! All kids can find joy in interacting together, too. Coed camps provide a great way to prepare your kids for the world they are living in.

Gender-Specific Camps

Boys-only or girls-only camps are generally smaller, more intimate camps. They focus on all of the fun activities you would expect at any camp, just leaving out some of the social pressures some campers may feel.

Fitness Camps

Kids and teens learn to eat healthy and stay active at overnight fitness camps. Some camps will have daily indoor and outdoor activities, a healthy eating menu and education on how to have a healthier lifestyle. It’s not just focusing on a camper’s physical well-being, they focus on emotional and social health, too.

Special-Interest or Themed Camps

Focusing on a specific area of interest including animals, nature, crafting, cooking, technology, art, theater and more, there’s no doubt there is a camp out there meant for your kid. If your kiddo is into a specific hobby, a specialty-themed camp may be right down his alley. The main focus is usually on that interest, plus you will find that the camp counselors have vast knowledge in the camp theme, too!

Special-Needs Camps

For your kid with special needs, these camps focus on activities geared toward camper abilities; have a knowledgeable staff with expertise to understand campers’ challenges; and of course a supportive and fun atmosphere for your curious camper. There are some wonderful summer camps and summer programs out there for kids and teens with physical, learning and developmental special needs, where they can have fun every day in an active and caring summer camp environment. Many private summer camps are designed around the special needs and disabilities of their campers including amputations, or diabetes, autism, and many others with doctors and/or nurses on staff. Other camps have a more “inclusive” approach and provide special access, equipment, sessions or programs for campers with special needs and more.

So before you send him off, Mendes’ advice is to tell your kids you are excited for them but also be frank – there will be moments of adversity but no matter what, they can do it, you will be successful and you and their camp counselors will help them along the way. This can lead to a more positive camp experience for them and you.

Check Out Cincinnati Family’s Summer Camp Directory here while you’re on your search!
PLUS – Mark Your Calendars! Cincinnati Family’s 2022 Summer Camp Adventure Fair Saturday, March 19 at the Blue Ash Recreation Center. Learn all about it here.

About the Author

Amanda Hayward

Amanda Hayward is editor of this publication. She is from Cincinnati, Ohio, and a mom of three with one on the way. If she's not writing for Cincinnati Family, you'll find her running, juggling kids, teaching group fitness classes and cooking up healthy recipes.