It’s not too early to plan for next summer’s sleep-away camp


DR. RICHARD LAZAROFF, Special to the Jewish Light

Can you afford to send your child to camp next summer? Can you afford not to?

Winter is almost upon us. Most kids have moved most of their after-school activities into gymnasiums, indoor soccer parks or perhaps the living room with a musical instrument. Next summer seems a long way off, but now a good time to start planning and looking for open houses that sleep-away camps will be holding at schools and places of worship.

Perhaps as a child, you attended a sleep-away camp. If so, I imagine I do not have to persuade you to send your own children  as they approach their preteen years.

If you didn’t attend as a child, you might assume that parents who did send their kids away were just trying to get rid of them for the summer so they could enjoy some free time. Perhaps they wished they could have sent their kids but were unable to afford it, as these opportunities are expensive.

Attending a sleep-away camp presents children with unlimited opportunities for personal growth. Many parents remark on how after even just a few weeks away, they hardly recognize their own child.

Sometimes the children develop a new skill or interest or even better table manners. But more importantly, it is often an internal developmental asset such as integrity, empathy for others, responsibility, friendship skills, self-esteem, personal power or an optimistic view of their future.

We all wish for our children to develop self-confidence. What better way than to test themselves and their emerging value system without a hovering, helicoptering parent nearby.

When attending an away camp for the first time, many kids prefer to go with at least one buddy. That’s fine. But making new friends is often the best part of camp. In my case, I am fortunate to have maintained lifelong friendships with several guys I met at camp despite living in other cities.

Most summer camps have activities to which city kids have little exposure. Camps that are on or near a lake may offer canoeing, sailing and fishing. Inland camps might offer archery, riflery and campouts combined with wilderness skills. Specialty camps emphasize music, theater and specific sports. These can represent a great opportunity to further develop a specific interest but might also mark a significant departure from any of the skills a child has been pursuing at home.

If I have a concern about the modern camp experience, it would be about efforts made to document a child’s experience. Many of the camps send parents a virtual play-by-play account — daily pictures, videos, etc. — of what the kids are doing each day. I’m old-fashioned; I’d rather see all of the camp’s efforts and resources be devoted to the face-to-face time they have with our children.

I would recommend doing the research to find a good match for your child and then trust the camp director’s philosophy for your child’s personal growth while at camp.

Richard Lazaroff is a retired pediatrician who practiced in St. Louis County for nearly 40 years. Married for 42 years, he is the father of two, grandfather of four and the author of “Some Assembly Required, A Guide to Savvy Parenting.” His latest book is the novel “Illumination.”