Children’s summer camps and wilderness programs for boys and girls in the United…

August 29, 2014

The Debate over Summer Preparations: Sunny Side and Structured at Camp or Free Range

Summer campers in meadowSummer pecking away at your sanity? Camp is not just for the kids

Many parents want to offer kids an unstructured summer and more family time in lieu of a structured summer camp. One such parent is New York Times mom-blogger KJ Dell’Antonia, who published a debate with fellow columnist and summer camp advocate Bruce Feiler. Yet inevitably, sometime between two and ten days into summer freedom comes the exasperated whine of a bored pre-teen.

As Bruce points out in the debate, “all those sports and arts camps aren’t just there for enrichment; they’re there to make parents’ lives easier.” It can be super challenging for any parent to accommodate a free-range kid for a whole summer. Having half or even a few weeks of that time in a structured camp gives a much-needed respite for kids and parents alike…not to mention the amazing summer camp experience itself.

“Camp for camp’s sake”

Even if parents could balance daily their lives and entertaining their kids for an entire summer, summer camp offers its own entirely unique experiences. While KJ makes a solid point that the free-range model feeds kids’ self-determination, Bruce defends “camp for camp’s sake”: “Campfires, songs, ghost stories, canoe races, color war. They can’t get that in our neighborhood and even if I took the summer off, they can’t get that from me.”

Summer camps create instant belonging to a flock

Of his own experience, Bruce explains that “summer camp has deep roots in the experience of American Jews. Largely trapped in cities and with few places to teach their kids how to swim, sail, play tennis, etc., Jews dispatched their kids to sleep-away camp…It was social; it was cultural; it was tribal.” This sentiment extends far beyond the Jewish identity to a wide variety of American families. Religious camps of all varieties bring kids together in a shared identity and focus. The same goes for secular campers in traditional summer camps who attend year after year for the sheer joy of being out in the wilderness, testing their boundaries, and reuniting with close friends from previous years.

The quarreling columnists ultimately smoothed ruffled feathers and mutually concluded that the best way to look ahead at the summer was to address the decision as a family. If your family decides that camp might be a great way to spend the summer, you can peruse our directory of arts, sports, traditional, specialty, overnight, and day camps at