Family Camps in New England

Frequently, when I’m discussing camp options for a particular child, the parent says something like, “Camp sounds perfect for me too. I wish I could go to overnight camp, too. Is there one for me?”


Everything from the activities to the food to the pace to the New England night sky sounds so appealing to parents who have been searching for the right camp for their children. They may be joking when they ask if adults can go to camp, too, but they’re definitely surprised when I tell them yes!


Family camps serve children, parents/guardians and even grandparents, relatives and family friends. They are very similar to children’s camps. Each is an “intentional community” focused on serving a specific clientele by offering a carefully chosen combination of programs in an environment engineered for fun and learning. Each camp type typically offers individual and group activities and experiences in the outdoors. They also offer campers a chance to disengage from the regular world. Trying new activities and adventures, building skills, making new friends, unplugging from technology and reveling in nature are just a few highlights of a typical camp experience. All of these and much more are available when the entire family goes off to camp.


Here are some family camp facts that might help determine whether this increasingly popular and rapidly growing type of getaway might be a good fit for your family.


Many families attend family camp as their vacation every summer. The atmosphere is conducive to making memories and enjoying true togetherness. The chance to be together and play together as a family is rare in today’s world. This is why families return summer after summer, and attending family camp together becomes a tradition.


At camp, each family member can be on vacation. Some vacations involve a lot of work for the family members who lead and plan them. At family camp the logistics and planning are up to the camp staff. Each family member can be a camper and participant, not a cook or activity coordinator.


So many programs and activities happen at family camp, but it’s still OK to “do nothing.” Campers are free to do activities as individuals, as a family or with a group of peers – child, adult or grandparent. There is a lot of time to connect with family members and new friends. Programming varies from camp to camp.


Learn something new alongside your child or parent. At home, you may be teaching and coaching your children constantly; at camp you don’t have to know how to do everything (or anything camp-related for that matter). The camp sends staff to activity areas, people who can monitor safety and teach skills like the trained lifeguards who oversee the evening swim and the naturalist who takes your entire family on a moonlight walk.


A cabin for each family, which includes basic amenities, is the standard lodging option. Some camp lodging is simpler – platform tents, for instance – while spiffier cabins prevail in some places. A bed or cot and a roof are definitely creature comforts you can expect at family camp.


Satisfy your camp curiosity. For adults who didn’t have a chance to attend camp as children, family camp is the perfect way to have and share a camp experience with children.


Expect a front row seat to Mother Nature’s show. The call of a loon or hoot of an owl, sunrises, sunsets, the scent of pine, warm sunshine or gentle rain. Family camp offers an unparalleled sensory experience – one that involves living more closely with the Earth.


There’s a backdrop that invites intergenerational interaction. Camp is neutral turf with lots of space and even more to do. So, no family members are the hosts; everyone’s got camper status! David Brunner, director of Medomak Camp, an American Camp Association-accredited camp in Washington, Maine, that offers only family camp sessions, reports that grandparents are huge fans of family camp and they fund the experience for the entire family because it is so beneficial to each generation.


Someone will cook you dinner. They don’t necessarily call it the Modern American Plan, but meals are typically included at quite a value. Don’t discount the quality of camp food these days. Delicious and nutritious, food you’re served at family camp just might inspire your family to replicate a dish or a meal at home. Imagine the amount of time the adults in your family will be able to focus on fun and learning when all the meal-related shopping, cooking and cleaning tasks are being handled by the camp food service department.


Learn much more about the camp you’re considering for a child. Not all children’s camps offer family camp, but many do. Attending family camp will allow you to become familiar with the camp’s culture, layout and property, and some of its staff. You will experience and observe their ways of doing everything from child discipline to problem solving. You’re sure to get some serious insight into the fit between your child’s interests and needs and what the camp environment is really like.


Schedules matter! Some camps offer family camp sessions all summer and at certain other times of the year (think New Year’s and Spring Break), while other camps have a smaller window of family camp offerings. The time period from mid-August to Labor Day is a very popular time to attend family camp.


So, it’s definitely an option for the entire family to go off to camp, whether you go when the children are too young for an independent overnight experience, as a way to try out an overnight camp that might be a great fit, or as a meaningful experience and adventure for the family. Try it! I hope you won’t be surprised when members of your family start planning their return in future summers even before the closing campfire!


Lucy Novell is director of public information for the American Camp Association, New England, a 501(c)3 organization that accredits summer camps and serves as the region’s resource for families and camps;

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07 Feb 2016

By Lucy Novell