RELATED: Camp Advice and Tips
Concentrated time: “When you’re at camp, we really slow down time,” Weir says. This puts the focus on kids having safe and fun experiences, and above all, forming connections. The shared experience is a big factor. Weir points out that experts believe shared experiences are foundational to friendships. “By doing something together—even if the other person is a complete stranger from a different background, different socioeconomic status, different race, different religion, anything that you can divide people up by—we find that by having that common bond over something, and an experience, really forms a lifelong friendship.”
The time spent at camp becomes a touchstone moment, something that feels meaningful even years after attending. Many of Lustig’s friends returned to camp as counselors in their early 20s, because it felt like a secure place to pause and reassess career and life choices. Similarly, Edelman says, “I continue to find an unbelievable ability to connect with other ‘camp people.’ We speak the same language, have a shared past—even if we didn’t actually live it together.”
A new vantage point: Not only does camp allow kids the possibility of reinvention, but it also gives them the opportunity to see the world from a different angle. Weir grew up in a small town—defined by his home by default and unable to easily explore new things. Going back to camp every nine months gave him the opportunity to start fresh each time, with new interests, and to look for friends who had the same hobbies.
Is Camp Right for Your Child?
The answer will always depend on your child. While camp offers much in terms of relationship building and freedom from the everyday distractions, not every child will enjoy the experience, or flourish away from family. Lustig’s son Gus is only 3—too young even for thoughts of kindergarten—but she feels confident that the question for her family will be less if Gus will attend camp, and more about whether it’ll be an all-boys camp or a mixed-gender one. Edelman’s children all attend Ramah Day Camp, where she works, and one son also attends Camp Ramah in the Berkshires, the same sleepaway camp she went to herself. But, she says, “my oldest son is not ready for sleepaway, and as much as I clearly have strong feelings and memories of my experience, it isn’t right for everyone.”
Whatever magical mix of elements makes camp friendships develop—from engaging in shared experiences to spending gadget-free time away from home—the power of summer-camp connections cannot be denied. Campers have unstoppable enthusiasm and nostalgia for their camp experiences, and with good reason: The bonds created in the short weeks away from home endure well beyond the summer all the way to adulthood, to weddings, shared vacations, camp reunions, brunches, and all the everyday get-togethers that make up a lifelong friendship.