Summer Camp – Right or Privilege?

This time of year the great North American summer rite of passage starts. Mothers pack up their kids duffle bags with 20 pairs of everything, all labeled and neatly folded. Parents drive their kids to the bus stop and watch as the kids all play cool and ignore their parents as they board their buses for a month or two of fun away from the family. The parents pay through the nose for this camp – but most parents say it’s worth it. My eldest two have been to sleep-away camp once or twice, and thoroughly enjoyed it, but that was years ago.

Those who aren’t old enough to go, or those who wish to stay closer, they can go to day-camp. 8 hours a day of fun and sun, a little bit of learning thrown in – but it’s a way to keep the kids occupied during the long break from school. (and a way to keep parents from going totally mental having their kids home for 10 weeks complaining they are booooored). And yes there is a cost involved, but day camp is significantly cheaper than sleep away camp. But when you add up the trips they go on, it gets expensive. But if you need to work and keep the kids occupied this is an informed choice.

Neither of these two options are MANDATORY. Kids can stay home and many do. There has been many a summer that my kids did ImaCamp because there was no money for day camp, certainly not for sleep-away camp. OR you can hire a local teen to watch your kids. OR there are local kids that make little camps in their back yards. OR you can switch off with friends, if you have to work, or have errands you want to do without kids in tow.

Seems to be from watching the FaceBook pages of numerous friends and associates, that the majority of Jewish / religious kids go to a summer camp of some sort. I happen to know that many of these parents are not wealthy and are probably still paying off school tuition for the year. How the heck do people afford to send numerous kids away or to day camp all summer long? There is a recession on, no one has money, yet these kids almost expect to be going to camp, and probably don’t even think about the cost. I guess if they go year after year, they come to expect it. Which is what begs the question – is summer camp a right or a privilege?

My kids have very low expectations when it comes to sleep-away camp. They know it’s not an option, and they aren’t so thrilled about day-camp either. If I send them they will go, but they love hanging out with me. The local day camp is at their school – for them that’s a good enough reason not to go. They would prefer to sit around all day Wii-ing and DVD-ing and going to the pool occasionally. But if they stay home, they have to help with the laundry, the housework, the shopping, the errands, etc and it teaches them what it takes to run a house. We do fun stuff too, but only after other stuff is done.

My kids, due to circumstance, know that when I send them to camp they are privileged to be able to go, and they appreciate it. They don’t expect it. And if I were to tell them, sorry kiddos, but no day camp this year, they would totally be ok with it. No tears, no tantrums, no kicking and screaming. Yes, most of their friends are going either to sleep-away or to day-camp. Yes they would love to have gone away, but they also know that there are limits to what they can have. They also know that we are to be moving soon, and that will be a HUGE adventure in and of itself. One that most of their friends won’t have.

So, my point, or my question, to you, dear reader, is as follows. Do you send your kids to day camp or sleep-away? Do they appreciate the financial sacrifice? Have you had to cancel a summer of fun? How did they take it? Have you kept the kids home in the summer, even it meant not being able to work? How did that work? Do they see camp as a privilege or a right? I want all your thoughts on this. Tell it to me straight….I can take it.

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  1. It is a privileged. If a child feels differently, I think that perhaps the parent needs to try and do a better job of teaching their kids priorities — food, shelter, schooling (home or otherwise), safety, these are rights. Torah is essential. Everything else is a privilege and we should teach our children that this is the case, IMO. (Or try to teach them; they don’t always learn the lessons we want to teach!)

    Growing up I didn’t go to camp, nor did any of my friends. I have no idea how most of those families survived the summers, as most had two parents working. My father worked from home (although he gave us total freedom; the benefit of living in a rural area). Another friend had a grandmother at home who watched her and her brother. It was only when I joined the Ortho community (and the middle-class, which we weren’t growing up) where it seemed that summer camp was *essential* for every child.

  2. Yonit says:

    Ha! I never went to a sleep away camp that was more than just a weekend (once) and only 3 day camps that I can think of in my life and I survived my adolescence. On top of that, any vacation we took was travelled by driving (gasp!) and involved staying with relatives or in cheap motels (swoon!). Did I mention this was 3 kids in the back of a car, not a van? And I thought I had it great! Well except for when my brother was looking out my window! We have been to more states than most people I know and visited more random places.

    But my parents can take it one step further. My dad remembers clearly every restaurant he ate in as a child, because they went so rarely. My baby has already gone to more than he had by the time he was an adult! Conspicuous consumption is this generation’s dragon to fight.

  3. batya says:

    it certainly is a priveledge nowadays both for the campers & for the parents to be able to send kids away for the summer. personally, i have 3 kids & have never sent more than 1 kid at a time to sleepaway camp per summer. also, my oldest has been working in day camps over the past 5 years which has certainly helped my budget! in addition, i try to send my kids to the most affordable yet decent day & sleepaway camps i can find. for example, my son who is off for 2 months to sleepaway camp tomorrow, is going to a “federation camp” which means that it is subsidized by the UJA & thus less costly than other camps that are not subsidized (but it is nonetheless an awesome camp)! also, i find that sending him for 2 months there is cheaper than sending him 1 month there & 1 month to a local day camp which is what he did his first summer there. regarding my youngest, i am sending her a day camp in monsey which offers transportation from my community but is not the “in” place to go to (although it is much less costly than the “in” places) & i am concerned for her b/c she doesn’t really have any friends there. however, i can’t deal with the prices of the other camps where most of her friends do go to.
    i will add though, that as a kid i was shipped off to sleepaway camp year after year to a camp that i thoroughly disliked & it was definitely NOT a priviledge for me to go to that camp but it certainly gave my parents a break from their darling daughter (not that i can understand why they even wanted a break from their wonderful little sweetheart-lol)! anyhow, b/c of my less than enjoyable experiences at sleepaway, i have never enforced it on my kids & have always waited until they approached me about it & seemed very ready & willing to go b/c i did not want them complaining to me about “shipping them off to camp” as i still complain to my parents even after all these years! i know, maybe it’s time to get over it already at 40!!!

  4. tysdaddy says:

    My kids work for their summer camps.

    The youngest boy is in Boy Scouts, so he hits the streets, selling popcorn. He generally makes more than enough money for his week away.

    My youngest daughter does the same with cookies for day camp.

    My oldest daughter did something different this year. She wanted to attend a week-long arts camp to work on writing and art projects. So she got some info on the camp, wrote a wonderful letter asking for a scholarship, got her teacher to write a recommendations, and she ended up getting a full ride to a quality camp that normally is over $500.

    There are ways to make it happen, and if the kids take the initiative, it means that much more . . .

  5. Chanief says:

    Privilege for sure. One I sometimes wish my kids would want to take advantage of ;o)

    I’m blessed with kids who do not want to go to day camp and are absolutely horrified at the thought of going to sleep away camp.

    The first year they decided they didn’t want to go to camp I was unprepared and had many projects due that summer, so I hired a local teen to work as a nanny. The second and third summer they stayed home but I knew in advance so I cleared my schedule and was home with them. I enjoyed being with them so much that I homeschooled them for the year in between those summers. All of my friends thought I would go insane but it was the most amazing experience and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

    This summer I am working again, but part time, so I hired a local teen again to nanny them while I work in the morning and the afternoons are all ours to do with as we choose. We have the town pool membership and go every other day or so, and we go to whatever kids’ movies that come out, museums, parks, the library etc. Just hanging out at home and playing with Barbies or Legos is fun too! We sometimes have the best conversations when we’re not doing anything at all.

    As far as the expense goes, I pay the nanny about what I would pay for day camp for one child, and whatever I spend entertaining them is probably another month’s worth so I break even or come out ahead which is great for my pocketbook!!

    Growing up we went to daycamp when there was the money for it and we didn’t go when there wasn’t. I never wanted to go to sleep away camp, but the siblings that did want it only got to go when there was money for it. I don’t recall really feeling deprived though, but then again I have always loved to sleep in and then spend the rest of the day harassing my sisters ;o)

  6. ladylockandload says:

    I think there should be camp for the adults and the kids should stay home and work/cook/clean. Not fair!

  7. I think for many working parents it is cheaper/less of a hassle than finding a reliable source of child care, especially if their kids are too young to be home all day long. If the choices are a private babysitter or day camp, which will turn out to be less expensive? Probably the camp.

    I went to day camp (Ma Tov) and sleep away camp (Sternberg) and for two summers i went to a dorky (non-jewish) camp for gifted students where we did math puzzles and dissected small animals in the morning and then swam and played sports in the afternoon. :) I liked that one the best…HATED sleep away camp, but my parents kinda bullied me into going because they didn’t want me sitting around the house all summer. When i got too old for camp my parents made me volunteer at a local hospital so I would also be out of the house. They both worked from home, so they probably wanted me out of their hair so they could get work done.

  8. Yonit says:

    Abandoning eden has a point about childcare, if both parents work, what can be done? I work from home and can say comparing costs that a camps is much cheaper ($3.33/hr per kid vs $13-15 for babysitting). I guess I should have mentioned that my mom is a teacher, so summer we were with her instead of camp. If she had worked during the summer we would have done day camp, not sleep away as it’s so much more expensive.

  9. The first post is correct really, the moment they begin to expect things that would be considered luxuries to others is probably the first signs that parents are doing something wrong. My kids attend a day camp in Suffolk County and they understand that it’s not always an option, but when it is, it’s an amazing week. The summers at home I’ve done, and I find myself recreating their favorite experiences from camp the year before!

  10. kisarita says:

    A right or a privilege? Neither! I hated camp but was forced to go, as per the right/ privilege of my parents.

  11. Daniel W says:

    In the Orthodox world, 100% privilege (though I remember some articles a few years ago about people getting day school tuition assistance that argued that the immense expenditure on summer camp shouldn’t be counted against them).

    However, in the non-Orthodox world I think it’s much more of a necessity (right? maybe not, but pretty close). For those who are not in a dual-education program, summer camp is often the most Jewish exposure they’ll get all year. These kids live for these few weeks. They certainly don’t get Jewish immersion at home, so this is really their one chance a year to feel 100% Jewishly connected.

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