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Monday, July 09, 2007

Sleep Away Camp

In much of the Orthodox world, sleep away camp is practically a given. I'm not sure of the age when one is "required" by the powers that be to send their children away to camp, but somehow I recall hearing from a NY family member that the age to send away is between 7 and 10. My research is showing around 3rd grade, which I presume is about 9 years old.

In a recent post, Orthomom writes about how liberal telephone usage policies make the adjustment to being away from home all the more difficult. Another mother writes (no editing on my part): "I am absolutely DREADING visiting day because of said phone calls. the camp mother at my daughter's camp actually allowed her to call me THE FIRST NIGHT she was there, which set a horrible tone for the following days. after two nights she refused to go to sleep until she spoke to me, and we had to stop that, but it was a tough few nites for her after that."

I hate to reign in on the party, especially since I can't even relate to pre-teens, tweens, and even teens going to sleep away camp since it was nearly unheard of where I grew up. But, call me naive and inexperienced (I'm probably a little of both), but emotional dependence at this age is perfectly normal and healthy. And while I would agree that every camper and his/her cell phone/laptop is unhealthy, I think regular contact with parents is crucial and desirable.

I believe that parents should ideally have day to day involvement with their children. And somehow I get the feeling that many parents try to push their children to emotional independence before they are ready.

Anyone with me?


Ariella said...

I don't think the parents believe their children are emotionally independent before they send them to camp, but they may believe that camp will help them achieve that state. Now, is that realistic or even healthy for a child as young as seven? That is a different question.

Based on what I see of parents, I really believe that camp is viewed as a means to get children out of their hair without feeling guilty. The line of thought may be: if it costs a couple of thousand $ or more, I am actually sacrificing for the benefit of my child, and camp is supposed to beneficial to development, etc. Of course, camp is a better environment than an empty house with only a TV, computer, and, possibly, babysitter for company.

It seems to me that many parents are at a loss about how to spend time with their children. So they are willing to pay nearly anything to keep them entertained by others.

Litvak said...

Interesting post.

I am happy to see a different viewpoint, which should be seen as welcome food for thought, not something to be suppressed in a knee-jerk fashion.

I think there are parallels between this and the practice among some to send young boys off to sleep away Yeshiva.

Interestingly, gedolim such as Rav Schach and Rav Wolbe z"l opposed sending young boys to dormitory Yeshivas.

Questions can even be raised about sending girls to seminary overseas, but at least they are usually older then.

What I find interesting is that sending to camp is made such a big thing nowadays, as if it was a big yesod of our faith. If so, one wonders where it was in previous generations ? Has anyone ever heard of such camps in the 1800's? 1700's ? Earlier ? They seem to be a pretty modern thing.

Maybe part of it due to the great urbanization which took place, leaving many Jews in big cities, where summer presents challenges different from in the past.

In the shtetl, one could help at the farm or family business, play in the countryside and take a dip in the river. One was not so surrounded by the temptations and risks that abound today, esp. around a large metropolis.

Perhaps these changing circumstances have made camping so big today. But one size doesn't always fit all.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

You don't remember the good old days before cellphones, when the only way we could contact parents from camp was LETTER WRITING.

There was no phone, not even a payphone.

Phone calls home were for emergencies only...and although homesickness wasn't fun, we all got through it after a day or 2. (3 maximum)

Am Kshe Oref - A Stiff-Necked People said...

"You don't remember the good old days before cellphones, when the only way we could contact parents from camp was LETTER WRITING."

Hello, Mudder, hello fadder...:)

Apparently, at least in New York, going to camp is a MUST. I taught at a small high school on Long Island and had to actually fail a student who simply refused to do his assignments and whose behavior in the classroom was absolutely atrocious! When I failed him (yes, I actually gave him an "F" grade on his report card), the principal came to me and asked me what he had to do to get a passing grade (which, apparently in the Yeshiva world, for secular studies, is a "D"...very sad). I told the principal this kid needed to go to summer school.

The principal said the boy couldn't do that because he HAD to go to camp. I said to the principal camp was a reward for good work, not for failing a class. The principal wouldn't budge on this. Neither did I. I refused to change the grade. I assume the principal just did it himself.

I don't know about New York frummies, but where I come from, when a child fails a class, that child gets to go to summer school, not to a fun-filled summer sleep-away camp. That's just ridiculous.

Ezzie said...

Sorry, I'm with OM. The guys who called home at all ended up being messes all through camp, or at least for a while. The ones who were forced to stick it out grew up much faster. (The same was true in my dorm HS, and especially true in Israel.)

It's not like they're going to be gone forever - it's a month, maybe two. They need to learn to handle themselves a bit.

T. said...

Agreed, camp is a relatively new phenom. Interestingly enough, sleep away gets big with the move to suburbia (post-WWII). This gets back to the ultimate question of expectation/entitlement for things of this nature. I think it also has to do with the re-infusion of females to the workforce, as in previous generations many summered in the Rockaways or on Eastern LI (even those from places like Ohio), the men often worked during the week and returned to the families on weekends/shabbos. Due to dual income households, there is no luxury of a parent taking care of the kids for an extended period of time. Many parents simply don't have the time to spend with their children due to work obligations-- consider this, on average 20 days annually for vacation. A chunk of those days are for yom tovim (when they don't fall on weekends) and the remainder may be spent on chol hamoed activities. At the end of the day, there aren't many days to spend with the family.

I wonder why more families don't consider the work-ethic method of the teenager spending time working-- whether at a day camp, pool, etc. or take pre-college classes. Why does it seem like sleep away is the only option?

Also, are kids going to "both session" nowadays? One? What is done during the other half of the summer if the kid(s) go for "one trip?"

Don't get me wrong- I think that there is much to gain from a sleep-away experience (mind you this is coming from someone who worked at a day camp for many years and spent time in sleep-away during college...)

Also, I'm happy to see that kids spend some time outside involved in physical activity that sometimes sorely lacks during the school year (again, this can vary from school to school).

As for contact with the parentals, I guess it's to be expected with no crackdown and allowance of cell phones (and even computers) at some camps. It more clear than ever that parents are often not much more than ATM machines-- of course, they could be calling for more money for the canteen...

SephardiLady said...

Ariella-Agreed. My husband is pretty uncharitable in this area and thinks many parents just don't want to deal with their children and camp is a way to do so guilt free.

I think it is a myth that parents need to "entertain" their children. In general, I think kids need some structure and some downtime. Parents can facilitate both.

Litvak-What a treat to have your comments!

Jameel-How old were the kids writing? I assume they were a bit older than 7, 8, or 9.

Am Kshe Oref-Good post idea. . . I believe I shared my experiences that mirror yours when it came to grading. Teachers are just not allowed to fail students. Our friend had a similiar experience.

Ezzie-Thanks for your comments even when you disagree. I don't believe that forcing kids out before they are ready fosters healthy independence.

In the frum world, leaving home for an extended period of time is seen as healthy and the way to foster independence. Where I grew up, camping was not even a vocabulary word (except in the sense of a father taking his sons away for the weekend to the wilderness). I can guarantee you that the kids I grew up with show no more emotional dependence on their parents than kids who grew up more priviledged. Thus, why I think this "must" is a myth for the reason of fostering independence, nice as camping might be.

SephardiLady said...

T. Great comments. Thanks for visiting and writing.

I agree with you that camp is largely fueled by dual income families and suburbia. But in my neighborhood, I still don't see many parents who are off for the summer buck the summer camp trend, even if they lack for funds.

Ezzie said...

Re: Going away in general...

I wouldn't say it's independence, though I have observed that there's a distinct difference in the independence of people who went away and those who did not; it's often more about the ability to live with others. The ones who have spent more time living with others away from home are simply much better attuned to other people who they live with.

Re: calling home, it's not a matter of long-term independence, but rather the short-term of camp. If they're crying home every night they're also spending a lot of time alone during the day - and not always by choice.

Ariella said...

As t said, "in previous generations many summered in the Rockaways or on Eastern LI." That's why I find it quite ironic that people who live in those areas now feel compelled to go away for the summer or at least send their children to camp.

BTW, something I once read said that summer camps began as a sort of Zionist training ground. But now there are many camps that are quite RW, requiring knee socks for the girls, etc.

RaggedyMom said...

I'll weigh in here -

I went to sleep-away camp for the summers after grades 3, 4, 5, and 6. After that, I 'CIT'-ed at day camp for a couple of years, and then worked at sleep-away camp for a few summers.

My father continued to run his appliance store 6 days a week while I was at camp, and my brothers either had their own jobs, went to camp, or worked at the store with him, so this was not the kind of situation where the parents went off on a kid-free vacation for weeks.

My mother was very hesitant about sending me after 3rd grade. The desire to go came from me, and also from my best friend that year whose older sister was going to camp. That summer, I wrote lots of letters, and one to my aunt - roughly, "Dear Aunt R., My head hurts, my stomach hurts, and my glasses broke. But other than that, I am having a great time!" And I was.

t. writes about teens who ought to be working. Teens are generally past the age of being campers, and will usually work in a camp environment.

While I agree that sending kids to camp for a month or two is not essential for fostering independence, I do feel like my camp experiences were very formative. For me personally, there are things I gained and learned at camp that helped flesh out my identity and particularly my exposure to full-time Yiddishkeit. There was a significant gap for me between home and yeshiva, and camp was a pressure-free way of filling the gap. I'm not pushing camp as a means of kiruv, just sharing my own experience.

I certainly felt homesick from time to time, but I think that regular calls would have hindered rather than helped. Since I have a summer birthday, I did get to make a collect call home on that day.

True, daily child-parent interaction is very important. However, as a camper, the goal was not for me to adjust to long-term separation, but rather to throw myself fully into a temporary experience. Ultimately, it was one that I really enjoyed and I look back on very fondly.

Ari Kinsberg said...

i don't want to break up the party or bring you back to the "tuition crisis" subject, but how do parents afford camp after yeshivah? i found out recently that moshava is $5500 for the summer, and i assume this is at the lower range for MO camps.

Litvak said...

Some more thoughts -

Some kids like/love camp, others don't - perhaps that sometimes can be broken down to conformists vs.
non-conformists ?

I think that once most or many parents are busy and their kids go to camp, a dynamic is created where the others feel pressured to follow as well, even if their parents are more available.

I think some camps still require that the kids send old fasioned paper letters home. That is good, it leaves tangible mementos and souvenirs that can be looked back at in the future.

I recall audio cassette tapes being sent and received from Eretz Yisroel years ago when telephoning there was expensive.

In a way the camps and bungalow colonies can be seen as a recreation of the shtetl, going back to our roots. In such environments more control can be exercised and a more Jewish atmosphere can be created than where many people live the rest of the year.

One of the early (perhaps the earliest in the USA) USA frum camps was Camp RJJ, the summer home of RJJ Yeshiva in Deal, N.J. Camp Mesivta, Gan Israel (Lubavitch) and others came later. I think it was around app. eighty years ago.

SephardiLady said...

Ari-I imagine a lot of people are carrying a lot of debt, or alternatively grandparents are liquidating their savings accounts.

The price of the MO summer camps is overwhelming. The price of more RW camps is staggering. And even day camp is a fortune after tuition. Of course, if a both parents are working, day camp becomes a near necessity in today's environment. But, even those off for the summer send and even homemakers.

I imagine that if I went to camp I would have LOVED it. I once went for 2 nights to a sports camp. I had a great time. I was fairly young. A month seems excessive to me at that age and certainly 2 months. But I imagine it is a formative experience for so many. I just think if children are not ready there is no good reason to send.

T--I spent my older summers working for my father. I gained a lo of valuable experience.

SephardiLady said...

Litvak-Thanks for the history.

Charnie said...

I'm a big proponent of sleepaway camp. A true believer in its ability to foster independence and create lifelong friendships. Many years later, here I am still recalling incidents from my summers away.

Regarding calling home - every camp sets its own policy. When my daughter went to Sternberg, they had a no call policy. Agudath allows the boys to use phone cards. Dora Golding, no calling. Personally, I thought the once a week routine I had in camp was ideal, not so much as to encourage homesickness, but enough to look forward to.

Yes, camps (day & overnight) are a small fortune, on a per day basis way higher then tuitions. But for us (full year) working moms, it almost becomes a necessity to ensure not only that the kids are having fun, but that they're in a proper environment with a regular learning seder.