Hey parents, when was the last time you rode a horse, challenged yourself on a high ropes course or took a canoe out on a lake?
Whether your answer is “Never!” or “Way back when I went to camp as a kid,” family camp may be the opportunity you’re looking for to try something new and reconnect with your spouse and children.
Many summer camps in and around Northeast Ohio cater to families several times a year by offering family camps. Moms, dads and kids — even grandparents, in some cases — attend camp for a week or a weekend and typically stay as a family unit in their own cabins, which may have private or shared bathrooms. All camp activities and meals in the camp’s dining facility are included.
“One way we see it is an alternative family vacation,” says Rachel Felber, camp director for Camp Wise in Chardon, which is a department of the Mandel Jewish Community Center of Cleveland. “It’s a little bit like going to an all-inclusive resort.”
Building Bonds, Tech-Free
For many families, the biggest perk of camp is spending time together engaged in fun activities and not distracted by devices, camp directors say.
“During traditional summer camps, we don’t allow any electronics, but for family camp, it’s their vacation, so they definitely can use their devices and we do offer Wi-Fi,” says Hannah Kight, business manager for Camp Fitch YMCA, located on Lake Erie just over the border in North Springfield, Pa. “But it’s not typical to see people plugged in. It’s a nice time to unplug and forget you even have technology.”
Amy Bilsky and her husband, Scott, of Orange Village, have gone to family camp at Camp Wise with their sons, Sam, 14, and Justin, 11, for seven years. The program is Friday evening through Sunday afternoon during Labor Day weekend.
“I love that we get to have a weekend to ourselves to enjoy camp and all it offers and, frankly, not be on electronics,” Bilsky says. “You can go to the lake and go boating, do arts and crafts or play sports. They offer a wide range of activities and you can pick and choose what you want to do.”
Take a Trial Run
Family camp also is an opportunity for your family to experience a camp before sending your child there for a week or more in the summer. Adults get to see the facilities, eat the food and try the activities their kids will be doing. Children get the lay of the land before going away for a week alone.
“It’s a great opportunity for families to introduce kids to going to overnight camp in a really safe way,” Felber says. “It’s a natural progression to go from family camp into summer camp. Many continue to go to family camp after that.”
“I thought it was a good way to get away from technology and have a great time in nature, but I also thought it was a great way to introduce them to camp, because I hoped they’d want to go there some day,” Bilsky says.
It turns out, they did. Now, both of her sons attend a three-week camp session at Camp Wise annually and family camp has become a chance for the boys to show their parents what they experienced over the summer and return to the place Bilsky calls their “home away from home.”
“A lot of people come because they get the opportunity to try all these activities you normally wouldn’t get to try,” Kight says. “And to be able to do it as a family strengthens the bond. A lot of people say it’s the highlight of their summer.”