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by Vanessa Friedman

Related: camp traditions, how camp has changed, camp past and present,

An ex-camper reflects on how camp has changed over the years, from activities to food to communications, and what hasn't changed.

campers with laptop outsideMention the word “camp” in mixed company and you’ll instantly be able to tell who spent the best summers of their lives as tried and true campers and who has never so much as roasted a marshmallow over an outdoor fire. I happen to fall into the former group. My memories are fond and deep, but I sometimes wonder about how different camp is for our kids today (and then I wonder, how much does it matter, really?).

What’s For Dinner?

Certain foods are simply ubiquitous at camp: S’mores, sloppy joes, and a forbidden candy cupboard are as common in 2013 as they were in 1940. Things have changed over the years, though, as parents demand healthier options and camps become more aware of food allergies. While PB&J sandwiches were standard fare for any camper who didn’t like the main meal at my childhood summer camp, peanut butter is now banned, and parents are asked not to send candy containing nuts in packages. Think back to your favorite camp dish—would it still pass muster in the camp mess halls of today? Read about how to keep your kids on a healthy food track while at camp here.

Canoeing and…Digital Arts?

Camp activities used to embrace rural nature and reject urban convenience. Many ex-campers remember swimming in the lake, excelling (or missing the mark) at archery, and learning to make fires in the woods. These days some camps are still offering only those activities, but many other camps are hopping on the digital bandwagon and offering classes in digital photography, movie-making, and computer programming. Is it totally weird that technology has infiltrated camp, a place once intended to celebrate the rustic and the natural aspects of life? Yes. Is it totally bad? Nah, options are good! Check out these “extreme camps” that offer everything from filmmaking to video gaming.

You’ve Got (e)Mail

While campers used to anxiously wait for letters from home and expect the occasional care package (usually filled with comic books, maybe some gum, and a few items that were inadvertently left at home), kids can now get daily emails from their parents, and many camps have restricted the number of packages parents can send (a bit too much one-upmanship going on). Parents can now often log in from their phones and see hundreds of photos posted daily detailing what campers are up to. There are still plenty of day camps and sleepaway destinations that limit technology, too. Find out what you need to know about kids bringing cellphones, video games, and other gadgets to camp (you might be surprised) here.

Camp Will Always Be Camp

Let’s be honest: When it comes to the things that really matter about summer camp, not a thing has changed. It doesn’t matter what the kids eat, when campers call (or text, or email, or carrier pigeon) home, or whether double-A batteries or an environmentally friendly charger power all the flashlights, cameras, and personal music devices. Camp will always be camp, and the friendships, experiences, and memories will hopefully remain meaningful and special forever. We can only hope our kids end up feeling the same way we do. After all, we want our grandkids to be campers one day, too, even if by then the activities include flying kids to the moon.


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