Unplugged Traditions which Last a Lifetime

For parents who never went to camp as kids, the summer camp tradition, well, isn’t one. Most don’t consider sending their children away—and wonder why some parents do. 

But … for those who went to camp as kids, giving their kids the camp experience is often a high priority, and a tradition worth carrying on.

So, what’s the big deal about summer camps? This is a very challenging subject to capture in writing because you cannot explain the entirety of “camp” with a checklist of things: cabins, lakes, swimming lessons, mountain and canoe trips, lifelong friendships, and skills—it goes on. Camp has all of these (and so much more), but it’s how it all blends together that truly makes the experience. Camp is more than the ingredients. Think of the greatest meal you’ve ever eaten in a restaurant. Could you adequately convey how fabulous it tasted by listing the ingredients? Some things must be experienced to be fully appreciated.

Camp is at the top of the “must be experienced” list, and your kids will thank you forever for the experience.

To some “non-camp” people, the assumption is that if you live near the mountains and lakes, and if you like the outdoors, your kids can get plenty of that “camp stuff” by default.

Nope. Camp is different. Camp is magic. Summer camp’s magic has to happen at camp—unplugged, by the way.

Kids living in cabins with their cabin mates. Kids selecting their weekly activities themselves. Kids packing for their overnight camping trips themselves, with guidance from their counselors (having “graduated” from within the camping experience themselves not long ago). Kids hiking with their camp friends above treeline, when the wind is whipping and the views are amazing. Dinner at the campsite with the other tired, exhausted, smiling camp friends—cooked over an open fire or on a camp stove. The food always tastes best when you are camping.

How to be a great camp parent ...

It’s never easy to say goodbye even if it’s just for a week or two. But it’s best for you and your child if you follow a few time-proven habits to make the most of summer camp.

  • Once you sign your children up for camp, you’ll get a comprehensive list of everything they should (and shouldn’t) bring to camp. You’ll acquire a trunk and a duffel bag, and dutifully label all of the clothing items, sports equipment, and personal items.
  • You will arrive on the big day, find out where your children’s cabins are for their session, and you’ll deliver them and their things to their cabins. At this point, your children’s counselor will let you know what’s next. Likely they will help your children move in and make their beds. This is where the recipe begins.
  • You will also probably meet with the camp nurse if there are any special medical matters or prescriptions that need to be discussed.
  • Now comes the hard part: go give your children a hug and a kiss, and let them know that you will be back to visit on the day(s) that your camp suggests is appropriate. From this point on, until that parent weekend, letters are the right communication tool. No calls. No emails. Let the camp magic do its thing.
  • If and when you come to visit, you should abide by your camp’s guidelines for parent visits. Again, let the camp magic happen. Avoid the temptation to modify the recipe. It works.
  • As parents, we hope that our kids have great experiences during their childhood; the kind of experiences that result in great memories. We hope they are fortunate enough to have good friends to share these experiences with. We hope they have plenty of crazy stories to share, over and over again, as they move through their own adult years. As parents, we wish for our kids the capacity to confidently move into adulthood knowing that they are capable of successfully pursuing challenging endeavors, personally and professionally.
  • We hope that the lessons they have learned in childhood have effectively prepared them for all the challenges that they will inevitably experience. We wish for them the people and emotional skills that will facilitate successful personal, professional, and family lives.
  • Lastly, we wish for them fun. We hope they look forward to each day—confidently and playfully. Not all days are good days, but the right attitude can make the best of any situation.

These are things that traditional camps deliver, generation after generation. It’s magic.

Our family story is perhaps proof that the camp magic has to happen at camp. Fifty years ago, this coming June, your author left a Chicago suburb, and spent eight weeks at a local camp. No family in the state. No friends from home attending the camp. It was amazing. Every year was better than the year before—to the point where the last month of school each year often involved gazing out the window of the classroom, daydreaming about traveling to Wakefield Hill, seeing the White Mountains again, and knowing that camp was finally here!

Camper years went by too fast, and led to a year of being a CIT (counselor in training). The counselor years, again, went by too fast. When college graduation had come and gone, I made what, at the time, seemed like the only rational decision. I moved to where my heart was happiest … to where I had gone to camp.

Fast forward to 15 years after college graduation and there was a young family in the picture. We had three kids at home.

Well, if we live in the area where camp is, and if we do the things as a family that campers do, and if Dad was both a camp counselor and an encampment assistant director at one point, then you don’t really need camp, right? Nope. Only summer camp can give a kid the magical camp experience.

When our oldest son started attending camp, we lived 12 miles away, and it was hard to imagine that he was old enough to be away from home. Before long, we had three kids in camp, and they loved their camp years. Even though we lived metaphorically “up the street,” we could not give them what camp gave them. The camp magic for them was unique to each of them and very similar to what I had experienced decades before.

Many of their greatest childhood experiences happened at camp. Many of their best friendships originated at camp. When they started at camp, the older kids seemed incredibly big, strong, and capable of doing anything. While the younger kids were climbing mountains and going on canoe trips, the older kids were taking trips of unimaginable difficulty. The Franconias—all of them! The Presidentials—all of them! When you are a kid climbing some of the amazing smaller peaks in the White Mountains, doing a three-day pack trip and tackling an entire range seems incredible. At the same time, the younger camp kids know that someday they’ll be one of those big, strong, super-capable older kids, and they’ll be taking those same amazing trips.

They also know that one day, too, they might become camp counselors, and as they reach their teen years, they begin to show the kind of behavior that can earn them a spot as a CIT. Helping the younger kids, seeing things that need to be done, and taking the initiative—it just seems to happen as they reach the older age group. The kids become the big kids and young adults that they idolized as young campers.

The recycling of great human qualities—kindness, respect, and a “can do” attitude—has been going on for decades at local traditional summer camps. It’s a camp tradition: tackling challenges, learning new skills, becoming highly proficient at practically every outdoor activity there is, and then one day sharing this capability and knowledge with the next generation of campers.

Still on the fence? Read this ACA Survey ...

To help understand what camp can accomplish for kids, the American Camp Association conducted a survey with approximately 1,000 parents after their children returned home from summer camp.

On a scale of 1-5 (with 1 = strongly disagree and 5 = strongly agree), parents rated the top five outcomes of camp for their child as follows: (on a 5-point scale)

  My child felt successful at camp (Average score: 4.63)

  My child made new friends (Average score: 4.60)

  My child gained new skills (Average score: 4.39)

  Camp encouraged my child to get along better with

   others (Average score: 4.35)

  Camp helped my child have a better idea of what she

   or he is good at (Average score: 4.20)


For additional results, and to read specific responses made by camp kids, visit the ACA website

Camp is a community. Camp has tradition. When old camp alumni come back to visit, they share a strong bond with the kids currently attending camp. They understand and appreciate what camp is giving the kids and how they’ll benefit from it for a lifetime. Being part of something grand—with a tradition of fun and challenge, skill and effort, self-reliance and group support—is a source of strength and confidence that a kid will carry with them forever. Now, that’s an impressive magic trick to pull off.

What words and phrases come to mind when you think of qualities your child develops in the typical traditional summer camp experience?

Confidence, teamwork, assertiveness (good assertiveness, that is), self-awareness, self-assuredness, skillfulness, social, outdoorsy, fun-loving, competitive, responsible, respectful, prepared, appreciative … these are just some of the qualities that seem to show up in the majority of “camp kids.” The camps follow recipes that have changed very little over the years, and we as parents are grateful that this opportunity was, and is, available.

This recipe involves connecting the kids when they arrive, making introductions, and involving all in group activities. It involves cabin mates and cabin responsibilities. It involves activity selections and trip selections. It involves swimming lessons, canoe and boating skill development, and all the responsibilities that go with the activities: putting away the boats, paddles, and life jackets properly; how to furl a sail after you properly moor the sailboat and pull the centerboard. The list applies to all activities and interactions at camp. There is crazy fun with young counselors and older directors, who maintain the mixture of safety, challenge, and fun. This recipe, as mentioned earlier, has succeeded for generations.

I hope it is clear that, while the camp kids spend each day learning and doing an amazing array of activities—swimming, sailing, waterskiing, hiking, boating, learning camp craft, playing soccer, doing riflery and archery, mountain biking, trail building (to name just some of their activities)—camp is so much more than what they do. There is purpose—a how and why behind all of it. There really is magic in doing camp stuff with your camp friends, being taught by camp staff, at camp. There’s an energy level and a “fun quotient” that is truly unique to camp.

For the “never went to camp and wouldn’t consider it” crowd, I would like to share an anecdote that references the previous paragraph. I was a camp guy, and I married an Irish Catholic Boston girl who not only never went to camp, but who thought my parents must have either disliked me or didn’t like being parents. “Who has kids to send them away?” she used to say. This all changed when she met several generations of individuals who had gone to camp. 

Because we lived near camp, and because I was friendly with the staff and alumni of the camp, we visited the camp periodically. Over time, she noticed the manners, polite confidence, and sense of family that existed throughout the generations of camp kids, camp staff, and camp alumni that she met. She noticed this consistently as she met more and more members of the extended “camp family.”

Finally, one day, she said, “I can’t believe I’m saying this, and I can’t explain it, but whatever these kids get out of that camp experience, I want our kids to get that, too.”

When she hears moms and dads say, “But I’ll miss them too much,” she tells them that she thought the same thing. But it’s not about the parents. It’s about how wonderful camp is for the kids. A lifetime gift of friends, a love of the outdoors, and the capability and confidence to go out and pursue your passions one day at a very high level. A lot is being written lately about the push for kids to specialize in their activities too early. Whether it’s baseball, lacrosse, skiing, dance, or music, you will not find one article that praises early specialization for kids. The results of early specialization—burn out, repetitive-motion injuries, and limited exploration of interests and opportunities—are just the start of a list of the results of early specialization. Traditional summer camps are the solution: delivering a robust, vast array of beneficial youth activities.

As someone who has worked with kids for 45 years, I can say without reservation that a summer camp experience has tremendous value. It gives your children physical and social skills that they will utilize for the rest of their lives. 

Camp kids learn conflict resolution. They might have an argument today, but they’ll be sleeping in the same cabin tonight, and they’ll be eating breakfast at the same table in the morning.

They learn a lot about themselves, and when they come home at the end of their camp session, they’ll be walking a little taller.


Catch this article in the Winter 2022/23 printed edition of Mt Washington Valley Vibe available at any of these locations around the region

Overnight summer camps located in the Mt. Washington Valley, NH and ME

Camp Huckins

Since its founding in 1928, Camp Huckins believes its purpose is to provide an atmosphere where each person may grow and develop in a “sharing and caring” environment. Developing leadership skills is a major goal and most staff are “Huckins grown.” Camp Huckins loves sharing camp facilities and ropes course with local school groups, and recommends camps for the whole family.

YMCA Camp Huckins, Freedom, NH
(603) 539-4710    www.camphuckins.org
Est. 1928 / All girls

camp cody

Camp Cody believes that carefully tailoring the summer experience to the individual camper creates, on a larger scale, a successful and enjoyable summer for all campers. In advance of camp, they conduct home visits or connect with parents so they get to know campers’ background and interests.

Camp Cody, Freedom, NH
(603) 539-4997    www.campcody.com
Est. 1926 / Co-ed

Each and every girl at Waukeela can shine in her own way while at camp. Whether on the lake, in a production, on the pottery wheel, or on the playing field, each girl has the opportunity to be her best self while she is there. Every girl fits in at Waukeela because every girl is accepted for being herself!

Camp Waukeela, Eaton Center, NH
(603) 447-2260    www.waukeela.com
gillian@waukeela.com  •  Est. 1922 / All girls

Forest Acres Camp for Girls

Located on the Saco River, Forest Acres Camp for Girls is ACA-accredited and offers a flexible, challenging, and fun summer in a sheltered valley of the Whites. It offers sports, performing/visual arts, water sports, three waterfronts (including Olympic-style pools), gymnasium, adventure course, climbing wall, zip lines, hiking, and camping trips, and the #1 horseback riding program. Along with its brother-camp, they were selected as “the world’s greatest boys’ and girls’ summer camps.”

Forest Acres Camp for Girls, Fryeburg, ME
(207) 935.2305    www.forestacres.com
Est. 1926 / All girls

Indian Acres Camp for Boys

Located on the Saco River, Indian Acres Camp for Boys is ACA-accredited and offers a flexible, challenging, and fun summer in a sheltered valley of the Whites. It offers sports, performing/visual arts, water sports, three waterfronts (including Olympic-style pools), gymnasium, adventure course, climbing wall, zip lines, hiking, and camping trips. Along with its sister-camp, they were selected as “the world’s greatest boys’ and girls’ summer camps.”

Indian Acres Camp for Boys, Fryeburg, ME
(207) 935.2300    www.indianacres.com
Est. 1924 / All boys


Camp Marist

The Marist Brothers, an international Catholic teaching order, founded Camp Marist in 1949.  The ACA-accredited camp provides a variety of activities, including horseback riding, tennis, water skiing, sailing, drama, soccer, ropes challenge, baseball, archery, and more. Camp Marist is a special place for campers to learn, grow, and thrive in positive and unique ways that will enhance their lives forever.

Camp Marist, Effingham, NH
(603) 539-4552    www.campmarist.org
Est. 1949 / Co-ed

Camp Tapawingo

Established by three women, Tapawingo’s traditional and intimate camp has helped generations of girls become compassionate, courageous, and confident alumnae who call this “place of joy” their summer home. Caring, supportive adults, new and varied experiences, and unique century-old traditions draw campers away from technology and toward each other in a safe, inclusive, beautiful lakeside setting. Cheering each other on, lifting each other up, TapGirls celebrate their differences while having the time of their life. Camp Tapawingo offers three-, four-, or seven-week sessions.

Camp Tapawingo, Sweden, ME
(207) 647-3351    www.camptapawingo.com
JD@camptapawingo.com    Est. 1919 / All girls

Camp Tohkomeupog Set on 1,000 woodland acres surrounding the sparkling waters of a private lake, Tohkomeupog offers an overnight camp experience for boys, ages 8 to 15. Weekly outdoor adventure trips blend with traditional activities, including sports, aquatics, and outdoor skills. A two-week minimum stay is required. Outdoor adventure, friendship, and opportunity since 1932.

Camp Tohkomeupog, East Madison, NH
(603) 367-8362    www.tohko.com
tohko@tohko.com  •  Est. 1932 / All boys

Camp Calumet

Resident Camp, Day Camp, Adventure Camps. Calumet offers a wide range of activities including sports, pottery, arts and crafts, drama, boating, sailing, swimming, archery, and climbing. It is located on an expansive beachfront on beautiful Ossipee Lake. Most counselors were campers themselves, and many are certified in CPR, first aid, and Red Cross lifeguarding.

Camp Calumet, Freedom, NH
(603) 539-4773    www.calumet.org
boomchickaboom@calumet.org  •  Est. 1959 / Co-ed


Camp Robin HoodSet on 180 acres just minutes from New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest, Camp Robin Hood is more than just an overnight summer camp—it is a tradition, a legacy, and a home. Since 1927, Robin Hood has provided an encouraging, inviting, and supportive summer environment for campers.

Camp Robin Hood, Freedom, NH
(603) 539-4500    www.camprobinhood.com
info@camprobinhood.com    Est. 1927 / Co-ed