Every summer many Jewish parents grapple with the camp question. Do they send their children out into the woods for the overnight experience or keep them closer to home at a day camp?
What do the experts have to say?
“I happen to be a strong advocate of sleepaway camps,” says school psychologist Israel Kalman.
The opportunity to develop close friendships in a sleepaway camp setting is unparalleled, according to Kalman.
“It’s a very intensive experience,” he says. “It helps kids separate from their parents and learn they can do without them for a month or two. You have all kinds of experiences. It’s terrific.”However, sleepaway camps might not be for everyone, he warns, saying that some kids suffer there.
“The kids who suffer the most are the ones who are overly sensitive, and if they get upset when somebody’s not nice to them, then they’re likely to be picked on even more,” he says, asking to imagine being in a bullying environment a kid can’t cope with for 24 hours a day for a month or two.
Kalman specializes in teaching children how not to be bullied and how not to get upset when picked on.
He says the best option is to prepare sensitive kids for stressful situations so that they don’t get upset when they are around other kids. However, a day camp might be preferable for sensitive kids, because they can go home at the end of the day and be with their family.
For parents, sending a child to a sleepaway camp can be a blessing, says sociologist Hilary Levey Friedman, author of Playing to Win: Raising Children in a Competitive Culture.
“Often parents get time to spend with younger or older children who they might not get to spend time with. So while the one child is at sleepaway camp, there’s more focused family time,” she explains. “On the other side, parents get time to themselves for a few weeks that they had not had before they had children.”
Sending a child to sleepaway camp can be like a vacation for the parents, agrees Kalman.
Nava Silton, psychology professor at Marymount Manhattan College and former director of Camp Givah in Albany, N.Y., says there are strengths to both sleepaway camps and day camps.
“The camping experience just generally is such an incredible opportunity for kids to explore their curiosity, explore their physical strengths, their peer relationships; and there’s a tremendous amount of growth and learning that can emerge from summer camps in general,” says Silton.
However, the advantage of sleepaway camps in terms of social and emotional development is that kids can forge deeper bonds with their peers and live more independently.
For families on a tight budget, day camp is the more affordable option compared to overnight camps. The experts say that for families with financial concerns, day camp is a great option.
If parents want to choose an overnight camp but can’t afford it, they might find it worthwhile to look into financial assistance. Last year, the Foundation for Jewish Camp launched the BunkConnect pilot program that provides discounts to first-time campers from middle- and lower-income families.
Whether sleepaway or day camp, for Silton the chance to experience nature and the outdoors is invaluable.
Says Silton: “Being outside, not being at home playing video games or watching TV, but actually being outside and being with nature, there’s a tremendous amount of growth that can come from just being outside with nature.”