Years back sleep away camps were viewed as a way to get big city, urban-raised children out of the heat and pollution of the cities and into more beneficial places for the summer. Years back, when a lot more people lived in apartment buildings without any grass or play areas, camps were the answer to a healthy, safe environment. Years back, when disease ran rampant in crowded areas, and children were the most vulnerable, camp was seen as a first line defense. Years back, when air conditioning in private homes was the exception not the rule, camps provided a breath of fresh air. Granted, there were wealthier parents who also liked the idea of sleep away camp. It allowed for all types of sports activities, crafts and supervised living so the parents could have some time off while their kids had a good time.
But what is the reasoning behind those sleep away camps in a time period where many people live in homes with yards? Where apartment complexes routinely build play areas? Where community centers have facilities for swimming and sports? What is the reason and rationale behind sleep away camps when day camps have also proliferated? And what is the rationale for when families go up to a bungalow colony for the summer but send their "older" (read 9 and up) children to a sleep away camp?
And where is the reasoning when camp can cost $3000 to $6000 per camper in these sleep away camps? One "typical" somewhat smaller family of "only" 3-5 children could conceivably be paying from a low of $9000 per summer, without tips to the councilors, up to $30,000 per summer, again without tips. And that is not counting the cost of canteen for the kids or the additional clothing that needs to be purchased because mom is not doing the laundry and more is needed. That is not counting the extra charges for camp excursions. Even subtracting the amount of money spent to feed those children if they were at home, it would come nowhere near what the camps charge.
I tried to figure out if my husband and I had ever spent $3000 each on any vacation we had ever taken. Nope. Not even on our trips to Israel with airfare costing what it does. We certainly have never spent $10,000 on such a vacation. Yet, today parents are asked to spend that much and more for each of their children to have an 8-week vacation.
There is also this: going to sleep away camp has become a "must do" rather than a "want to do" for many families. Schools put pressure on parents to give children the "right" experience and environment for the summer. They want an environment that is closer to school while still putting on a "summer" face. One administrator put it very bluntly: "Children at home run hefker. They lose much of the precious learning we have given them during the school year. Learning should not stop for two months. Parents just can't give their children what a good camp can." I'll spare you my reaction to that statement, but I'm sure you can fill in the blanks.
My children's experiences with sleep away camp have been a real mixed bag. We first sent our oldest when she was past 11 and she hated it sufficiently that she lasted a grand total of two weeks. We registered her in the local shul day camp instead and she had a decidedly better time then she did in the sleep away camp. Our other daughter was much more of a "happy camper" and spent a few summers going. She genuinely liked it, until she was no longer interested. When she said "no more" that was the end of camp. Our son was a case where yeshiva/peer pressure came to bear somewhat. The school suggested that sleep away camp was preferred to day camp for the boys. Suddenly our son's friends were all going to be away in camp for the summer as were our nephews. Our son asked to go to camp so he could be with his friends. We, however, picked the camp, not the school. He was 9-1/2 when he first went. He was 16 when he called it quits, and he got no argument from us. They went to camp only if they wanted to go and they stopped going when they no longer wanted to. We are also not talking about the prices that camps charge today.
Our shule Youth Department runs a very well organized day camp every summer. They also have a teen program as part of it. The teen program takes the campers on trips all over. They have organized sports--and places to play them--and they provide opportunities for swimming. They have arts and crafts. They have learning. What they have is a cost for the teens of under $1000, including the trips, for eight weeks. It's less for the younger campers. The Jewish Community Center here also runs a camping program in the summer. So does one of the yeshivot.
Why are we still assuming that "every" child should be in sleep away camp? And would it be so terrible if they went for only one month instead of two? If ever there was a place to cut down on the budget, sleep away camp is the place. (Note: day camp will work out just as well for working mothers as sleep away camp does.)
My kids are still little so we haven't run into this yet but I see my friends with older kids who have, and older can be 7 or 8. The kids talk like camp is something like school that they are all going to go to and have to go to. And as little as they are they all know which camp too.
It's going to be a real discussion in my house when we get to that point because my husband went to camp almost until he finished college, as a camper and then a councilor. I never went to sleep away camp. He thinks it's great. I am not so sure. I teach so I'm off for the summer and do things with my kids together. When they get bigger I would consider day camp for part of the summer so they have groups of kids to be with. In the end I think the money is going to make the decision.
I agree that children should go out of the city in the summer. But just like everything else I'm advocating, if you can't afford it the common way, find an alternate solution.
Here's what we did. All four of us are working parents. (I, my husband, my SIL, her husband) our children are of similar age. So, we rented a house in Adirondacks by the lake and took turns watching children. Cheaper then camp. More wholesome then camp.
"going to sleep away camp has become a "must do" rather than a "want to do" for many families. Schools put pressure on parents to give children the "right" experience and environment for the summer."
Sounds like seminary.
badforshidduchim, seminary is the ultimate sleep away camp. For lots of parents it is a warehouse to put the girls in until they can be brought out to go into shidduchim. I don't understand how we have come to this point and my husband and I refused to do it, but we are still catching all kinds of funny looks because we didn't.
You make some very good points, but there is an omission of one of the main reasons given for camp attendance now, which is that the way many dress today, esp. in warm weather, it's not proper/wholesome for youngsters to be around in summer.
Another interesting point to consider is if some camps have become cash cows for their owners. In general, there is a wide spectrum among camps, and those that are privately owned businesses can differ significantly from those of institutions.
I was going to say that the expectation that all youngsters go away to camp seems unique to the frum community, but then I thought of the fresh air fund. Nevertheless, it seems more widespread among the frum.
D--if what the kids see in the summer is a problem because the clothing is not "wholesome" then we might as well make camp 12 months out of the year and bury all the kids in the mountains somewhere. They see that clothing all year around because winter clothing today does not seem to cover more then summer clothing does. They walk on the streets to get from place to place. There are advertisements on billboards and on stores and on buses. There are store windows. There is hot weather in NY already starting with May and for sure in June when the kids are still here. There is still hot weather when they come home from camp. Protecting the kids? If that is the intention of the schools then camp has to start in May and go until October. Otherwise they have already seen everything there is to see. And this is where parents talking to children comes in.
Please don't have the schools tell me that it is in the best interests of my child when it is really in the best interests of the school, and that is not always the same thing at all. You know how many schools and school owners also have a chalek in camp ownership? Talk about a cash cow.
Maybe we need to separate out those kids who really do need camp for the reasons you gave in the posting--they are living in situations that are crowded and don't have any space to go out and play in--from those kids who have good other options. And then there is a camp like Camp Simcha which does really great things for its campers which they couldn't get in the city.
D, what I see in those advertisings for the fresh air fund type of camps is that the kids don't go away for the whole summer. They get a few weeks in camp. Maybe we need to be doing the same thing. A few weeks might be affordable where a whole summer is not.
The argument for sleep away camp among the not-so-frum Jewish population is that it is a chance to immerse children in a Jewish community of their peers, so that even kids who don't get a full-immersion Jewish experience during the year can experience it during the summer, to reinforce the idea that Judaism is also fun, and to build social networks. I'm not sure how much I think that it is necessary for these reasons, although I see how helpful it is for some kids. On the other hand- I don't think that most of these rationales hold up for the frum world, unless the kids don't live in an area with a large frum community. I can see how it would be good for frum kids living somewhere where there are few other observant kids around during the year though...
I went to day camp for about 9-10 summers and sleepaway programs for a few summers...but this was also when the domestic programs were less and even the Israel programs didn't cost nearly as much as they do today. My parents said of my first summer (well, month) sleeping away that it probably didn't cost much more than sending me to the local day camp anyway. Not so today, I'm guessing.
Also, for me there was the element of being able to experience a setting in which all my peers were other religious girls; at home, I wasn't going to have that. I don't think my parents think their money was ill-spent. However, neither was it mandatory.
I went to sleepaway camp from when I was 8. I liked camp but I'm not being dishonest by saying that camp was something necessary for me. It was a luxury and it still is for most kids. When money is a question then camp is in the column of things that you want not things that you need, and you cut camp when you can't afford to pay for it and still be okay financially the rest of the year. I've heard all the reasons that people give why camp is a requirement but they aren't really reasons--they are just excuses that people give to make it seem like camp is necessary. When my kids get older if I think camp is a good thing for them and if I can afford it without taking money from other necessary things I'll send them. If it causes financial problems I won't.
"And where is the reasoning when camp can cost $3000 to $6000 per camper"
again, you RWers get off easy
"tips to the councilors"
in moshava it assur to tip (seriously)
"day camp will work out just as well for working mothers as sleep away camp does"
i can't comment on day camp for the older kids, but for the very young (day care age), it does not work out well for working mothers. the hours of many of the camps are as inconvenient as they are during the regular school year
"But what is the reasoning behind those sleep away camps in a time period where many people live in homes with yards?"
all of my friends have left brooklyn for the suburbs and i always make fun of them for this. they (actually not my friends, but their neighbors) have these beautiful and large backyards and still run off to the bungalows "to get out of the city"
(just as a side note, we often visit our friends in the suburbs for shabbat because for us brooklynites it is like spending time in the "country." my 3-year in particular loves going because he thinks they all have a "park" in the back of their house. see here: http://agmk.blogspot.com/2007/06/more-adventures-with-jr.html#links
two great lines in the comments here:
"one of the main reasons given for camp attendance now, which is that the way many dress today, esp. in warm weather, it's not proper/wholesome for youngsters to be around in summer."
"seminary is the ultimate sleep away camp. For lots of parents it is a warehouse to put the girls in until they can be brought out to go into shidduchim."
We sent our kids to sleep away camp for 1 month for a year or two between the time when they got bored at day camp and the age at which they could legally work during the Summer. I was happy to have them hang out with their friends for a couple weeks between camp and school (actually, my wife's annual pilgrimage to friends and family in NY the week before school) but I am not confident they could keep themselves safely busy for six weeks, and anyway, the friends were in camp. My oldest, our only boy, went to Boy Scout camp--at least at the time there was a kosher one in the Catskills, which was both far cheaper than the more usual camps and, in my opinion, a much better experience.
Debka_notion and Scraps,
I was one of those out of towners with not many frum people living in our town. I can relate to wanting to be around frum kids. The kehila in Seattle began running a summer sleep away camp when I was about 9 or 10. But any resemblance between that camp and what is a camp in the NY area is purely accidental.
The Seattle kehila rented space in an old army fort that was no longer used by the military on an island in Puget Sound, a ferry ride from Seattle. There was no swimming pool or lake nor any fancified ball fields. We used the old drill fields for playing sports. Occasionally we got marched about a mile down to the beach area so we could paddle around in the water.
The basic camp functions that were necessary were handled by parents. We had camp mothers (yes, I mean actual mothers of campers who came to camp with us. My mom was a camp mother for two summers, my aunt for one.) who did the cooking and cleaning up and shopping. They also handled any homesick campers or any actually sick campers. We cleaned our own bunks and the toilets and showers in the bunks. Campers came from Seattle and Portland and Vancouver BC and other close areas of Canada and from Denver as well. Every age bunk did not get its own cabin--we slept in the barracks that were part of the fort. The older campers got to sleep on the second floor; the younger ones on the lower floor.
Camp didn't last for a whole summer or even half a summer. The longest we ever got was two weeks. In the beginning we got 8-9 days per summer. We packed a lot into that short time. We hiked and did nature activities. We camped out in the woods. We played sports. We flew kites. We sang and put on skits. We had arts and crafts. We had some learning groups. We even managed color war in that short time. We ate together and sang bentching together and made friends. We got out there are played and played hard. We got dirty every day because that what also part of camp. No one worried about what we looked like. Dirty and camping were synonymous. Designer togs in camp? Parents sent the oldest clothes a child owned so the kids wouldn't be inhibited in getting out there and playing.
I loved every minute of those camping experiences, really loved it. I had a great time. So when we moved to NY and I was the age for working in camp I applied to be a councilor. I managed to last 1/2 of the summer and that was the end of camping for me. I may have gone to camp in an old army fort, but the camp in NY was the one that was actually like being in the army. The regimentation was incredible. It didn't matter if campers were having a great time playing a ball game--when the whistle blew it was time to go elsewhere. I was really in shock to see so many campers being homesick--but then being away for 8 weeks is a lot longer then being away from home for 8 days. So many of the campers didn't want to be in camp but they were there anyway. I had the oldest bunk of girls and getting them to get up in the morning and actually get out for camp activities was a real eye-opener. Have you ever seen what happens when 16 girls all have to shower and blow dry their hair at the same time with only two plugs in the bathroom? And those were the "fun" times in camp.
Based on my personal experience I would say that summer camp in NY is too long and more like school then like the camp and I remember and loved.
People seriously need to understand the difference between wants and needs.
Additionally, they need to work on how to accomodate the needs cost effectively (especially in this economy).
Food is a need.
An extra freezer is a want, but if you can budget for it, you can reduce the food costs by buying things when they are on sale.
Safe things for children to do when not in school is a need.
Spending $6,000 on "the right camp" is a want. And to the extent that the Frum community and the heavy social pressures (don't follow the right chumras, your children won't get into the right school, wear the wrong color shirt, your children won't get a good match) turn this sort of thing into a "need", it is a heavily self inflicted wound.
"My oldest, our only boy, went to Boy Scout camp--at least at the time there was a kosher one in the Catskills"
there is still a kosher boy scout camp (my father has worked there), but i think it is only for a few weeks and not the whole summer (could be wrong).
but in any case, i think a boy scout camp is irrelevant for most families. it is not the sports camp with all the amenities that spoiled MO kids expect, nor is it the learning camp that the RW schools demand.
You make a lot of good points. I went to sleep away camp from ages 10-17 and it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I made incredible friends and I think that it definitely helped me become the well-adjusted adult that I am today. Getting away from parents and school friends for some time is a very healthy thing.
Lion, you think it is only the MO kids who are spoiled? You think only their camps have the fancy amenities? Maybe not gymnasiums with all the professional equipment but how about RW camps with air conditioning in the bunks? Spoiled enough for you? There are lots more examples. And there are those schools "demanding" learning camps--still think that schools don't set up conditions for outside of school because it isn't legal?
Well, yes. That was what made it such a good experience. It was neither a continuation of school, nor a complete indulgence.
My son later worked there for a summer. But I heard a rumor that it was not opening this year. Don't know if it is true or not.
Lion, re "i can't comment on day camp for the older kids, but for the very young (day care age), it does not work out well for working mothers. the hours of many of the camps are as inconvenient as they are during the regular school year" our shul camp has an early drop off/late pick up option for the working parents. They pay a little extra if they want this option.
well i haven't heard my father mention the camp yet, so maybe there is truth to the rumor? i'll ask him.
i think another problem with the boy scout camp is that there are also non-jews there (i think so, as i never actually went myself). or am i wrong?
you're lucky then. my son's current day care/day camp does have extended hours that are good for us. we were interested in sending him somewhere else next year for pre-school, but the 2 places we were interested in simply can't match our needs. we may just end up keeping him where he is one more year.
i know this is going off topic, but . . . in general my impression is that most jewish daycare/pre-schools don't really accommodate families with 2 working parents. on te one hand i can't blame them, as i guess they are responding to what the market demands. but on the other hand i don't understand, aren't there other families where both parents work 9-5? do they all have babysitters on top of paying tuition?
I've heard given as a reason for sending frum kids to camp that well, they don't have tv and movies and computers and all that junk so we can give them camp. It's the same excuse they use for spending so much on clothing and sheitles. It's a bad argument. For one thing, frum includes kids that do have all those things and still get sent to camp. If you look at it only from the money point of view, in no way do I spend in a year on tv and computers and that "junk" what it costs to send the kids to sleep away camp. And I don't send my kids to sleepaway camp. We spend less money and take a longer family vacation together in the summer plus some weekends during the year. We put the money towards family time instead of separate time.
"you think it is only the MO kids who are spoiled?"
of course not, although i think that ON AVERAGE, MO kids expect more materially (if only because more things are permitted to them?).
"You think only their camps have the fancy amenities?"
i have no idea. i've never been to a RW camp. but at the end of the day, RW parents will send their kids to a deserted island if that's what the school demands.
"And there are those schools "demanding" learning camps--still think that schools don't set up conditions for outside of school because it isn't legal?"
my point in the comment you are referring to was that they DO set demands that are probably illegal.
There were certainly Non-Jewish staff, and I believe there were also non-Jewish kids. I seem to recall some complaining about not having meat during the nine days one year. However, there was regular tefilah, kashrut, and shmirat shabbat. There were shiurim for those who wished to attend, as well as instruction in various "Boy scout skills" and swimming, boating, etc. I spent sometime there helping out, and thought it was a wonderful experience for the boys.
In what capacity did your father work there? I wonder if I met him.
That last was me.
I think the comment by Lion-- of course not, although i think that ON AVERAGE, MO kids expect more materially (if only because more things are permitted to them?).--needs to be expanded a little. We talk about the MO and RW as if the only differences are religious ones. They aren't. On the whole, MO families are better off financially then RW families. Not to say that there aren't some rich RW families and that there aren't some really struggling MO families. But on average MO families do better financially. Again, on average, they also have more higher education that helps them to do better. They also do not have, again on average, families as large as those who are RW. Their money stretches further because it has to cover less people.
No matter how you slice it a summer camp is a luxury. Usually luxuries are things that can only be afforded by those who have more money. But in the screwy economic system of the frum if one person or group of people have that luxury then every frum person not only needs to have that same luxury but is entitled to it. If X buys a house in Brooklyn then everybody, money or not, has to have that same house. Or substitute the five towns or Far Rockaway or Monsey and you get the idea. Buying a house is everyone's right no matter the cost.
Schools push summer camp for all their students as if all the students came from the same economic background. They make a requirement out of a luxury. I really wonder some times if the RW schools aren't so pro summer camps because the MO go to them, and how dare they have that exclusively.
"There were certainly Non-Jewish staff, and I believe there were also non-Jewish kids."
i imagine this would be a problem for a lot of people.
"I wonder if I met him."
he was an assistant scout master for religious troops in brooklyn. i'm not sure what his capacity in the camp was. i'm not sure how many summers he actually worked there and how many he "helped out." first name is aaron. we have the same last name.
"That last was me."
yeah, i was very suspicious that someone named ujzykk would comment on a jewish blog, much less on a post about sleepaway camps
unrelated, but this post is related to a comment you left here recently:
I think you have a post ProfK or a couple of posts in notgivingin's comments. Maybe the MO/RW differences in money. Maybe the competition for getting luxuries.
My parents couldn't afford to pay for summer camps even before they went as crazy in price as they are now. I went to day camps and then worked as a councilor in a few. Met some really nice people who were working there. Sure I would have gone to camp if I could have. But my parents put that money towards college for all of us. It was a better decision I think.
"On the whole, MO families are better off financially then RW families."
i don't know if this is true. not one of my friends has remained in brooklyn. this was partly because of communal issues, but also because there is no way they could ever to hope to afford a house here. yet RW families seem to have no problem overpaying for the houses in flatbush and then sinking in even more $ for improvements. same story in KGH and from what i understand in the five towns as well.
"Again, on average, they also have more higher education that helps them to do better."
plenty of RW professionals out there. (it is the younger generation that will have a problem in this regard.)
"They also do not have, again on average, families as large as those who are RW. Their money stretches further because it has to cover less people."
this is easily offset by the tuition differential. i laugh when i hear people complaining about paying 40k for 5 kids. 40k won't even get 2 kids into some MO schools. same story with summer camps.
Prof. K, you deliberately don't spell it counselor ?
Care to explain ?
Some of those people who have those high priced houses in Brooklyn are in such shaky financial condition that one little puff and they will fall over. There are plenty of lending institutions in the area who help them out to be this shaky also. They give $800 thousand to over a million dollar mortgages to people only making $80 thousand a year and sometimes less. So they own those houses and beg for tuition from the schools and owe money all over. They live on credit cards that are maxed. Or they have a really good deal and take money from their parents. The parents refinance homes they bought that were much cheaper when they bought but are worth a fortune in Brooklyn now. The parents take out loans against home equity and pay out for their kids. I guess they figure that they will borrow from Peter to pay Paul round and round in circles. Sure there are some RW people who actually can afford the homes they buy in Brooklyn. And Lion, those of your friends who couldn't afford to buy in Brooklyn are really the lucky ones. They aren't going to be buying old houses that are overpriced and they won't be carrying outrageous mortgages.
Mea culpa. I wrote the posting, scheduled it for publication and didn't go over it before it published, thus violating the first rule of English teachers: proof read, proof read, proof read. It should indeed read "counselor."
I hated summer camp. I didn't like the food, there wasn't enough playing sports or being active, I didn't like sharing my "bedroom" with 20 people. There was almost as much learning time as there was during the regular year. About the only difference between school and camp was the mosquitos. I like to read and the camp didn't allow us to bring any English books with us except for maybe some of the Jewish English books. My parents knew I hated camp from the first letter I sent them. I spent every summer miserable. And my parents still sent me because the yeshiva I went to made it impossible not to send me. They didn't come straight out and say the kid is going or you can't come here. They did it in different ways. They said I would be behind my class because I wasn't learning all summer and maybe I would not graduate on time. They said I wouldn't be in the honors class. They told my parents that high schools would not be likely to take me in. They said I needed to become more independent. In high school they told my parents all kinds of horror stories of what happens to boys who stay in the city for the summer. When I was 16 I slipped and broke my wrist. I couldn't go to camp in a cast. It was the best summer I ever had.
I married my wife for a lot of good reasons. It was a plus that she doesn't like camp any more then I do. Our kids are not going and I don't care what a school says. I hated the experience enough that I'd pick a different school for our kids then to go to one that tells me what I have to do for my kids.
do they all have babysitters on top of paying tuition?
ProfK-You are one of my absolute favorite bloggers and have captures my heart. But, this time I need to offer you a challenge.
I want you to wait in line during a mid-day camp and/or nursery school pick up line (try one o'clock or even 2:30PM) and count the number of nannies who come to pick up children. People are not only paying for camp and/or pre-school. They are paying for babysitting on top of it all. I actually had to run by a nursery school earlier this year and was in line behind, I kid you not, 5 nannies in cars picking up children from nursery at the 1PM pickup time. I am always blown away by the services that have become "necessary" to make a living because my accountant brain cannot wrap my head around how anyone is making anything after paying for camp, nursery school, and babysitting.
Maybe I am just a nebech. But either some people are making a ton or money, or they are sinking themselves into serious debt.
By the way. . . . . I too have some choice words about this lack of trust in parents. Should we ever want to tackle the cost of Jewish living, it will be necessary to empower parents. What you report in the opposite of such.
In this era, I definitely think that sleepaway camp is necessary for many children, at certain ages. HOWEVER, it should not be so expensive! The role of a sleepaway camp is to give kids a safe environment, physically and spiritually, and space to have fun, express themselves, and make friends.
Camps will tell you that they keep escalating the excitement of their trips and special activities because they need to stay in competition with the other camps, or people won't want to go there. Don't be fooled for a second -- many people would love the prospect of paying half the price (if not less) for camp!
There was a time when Camp Simcha was the ultimate in exciting activities. There was a reason for it, too: many of the kids there were unable to participate in classic camp activities due to physical limitation, and besides they need some extra zest in their lives. Other kids would say "Oooooh, I wish I could go to that camp and _____" and their parents would say, "You don't really, you're lucky you can spend camp camping and playing sports, etc." Now, even Camp Simcha has to struggle to be as exciting as the 'regular' camps! It's ridiculous!
But what is the reasoning behind those sleep away camps in a time period where...
I sometimes wonder if parents send their children to these camps for the child's benefit or more for their own.
Rae, G may be right that for many parents camp is about them more then about the child. Being a parent to only 2 or 3 kids can be tough. When you have 8 or 10 or more I could see parents looking at camp as a break from trying to do everything for those children. There are benefits for the kids too, but I think the bigger benefit is for the parents. But that raises the whole question of if two parents can really be great parents to so many children--does every child get what they need?
Post a Comment