What is summer camp really like?

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Rival bunks, an overzealous counselor, an animated chef.

Depending on which and how many movies you've watched, your idea of summer camp might be a little distorted.

Do kitchen raids happen? I’m sure they’ve taken place at certain camps. And is a little friendly competition between campers unheard of? Of course not.

But, usually, Hollywood will be Hollywood, and what is seen on screen rarely reflects real life.

So, then, what is summer camp like?

We’ve been running summer camps since 1999. Since then, over 400,000 students have attended our programs. During that time, we’ve heard some crazy stuff and witnessed zany things. We have also pieced together a pretty accurate picture of what summer camp is like.

So, here are some things to expect!

The first day of camp might feel like a student’s first day of school; jitters and all, but that dissipates quickly.

It’s natural for campers to feel a bit anxious before their first day—just as they would prior to a new school year, or any type of experience involving unfamiliar faces.

But while the unknown can be a bit intimidating, think about how long that feeling actually lingers for them. If they’re welcomed in by the right person in an upbeat environment, the anxiety might only last a few minutes.

So, prep your child to be on the lookout for smiling faces, ice breakers, and other activities—all done in the name of washing away any apprehension that might be lurking.

From there, camp is like hanging out with a group of friends who all share the same interests and hobbies.

One of our favorite pieces of feedback we receive when reviewing student evaluations every year is the comment about the camper finding “their people” or “their tribe,” or in some semblance of words, conveying just how good it feels to be surrounded by other kids and teens who have similar interests and share similar goals.

That’s one big part of camp, no matter where your child attends. From bunkmate assignments to lunchtime hangouts and group activities, there are plenty of opportunities to bond with new friends and build lasting relationships. (More on that later.)

boys checking in at summer camp

Summer camp is like giving your child a whole week to dive into an interest or passion.

Every student has an interest (yes, every student… here’s how you can help kids find their passions), from sports to music, coding, video games, and more.

Unfortunately (for the development of those interests) they also have lives to live, which include school, after school curricula, homework, family time, and much more.

So, think about giving your kid or teen a week to basically explore their interest, and that interest alone. They’ll have breaks and free time, but the primary goal of any type of summer camp is to give them the bulk of the day to focus on their selected activity.

Just like a baseball camp would have kids on the field and playing or doing drills all day, a coding camp would take the same approach. And, while in a sports camp your child might be building toward a very specific skill, a STEM summer program does the same by having campers work towards completing a project in a particular skill area.

Summer camp is like having a week without parents, where kids are left to problem-solve and make decisions on their own (under the guidance of camp staff, of course).

For many, summer camp is the first time kids are spending an extended period of time away from their parents.

Even if you think your kids are relatively independent compared to their friends, the only true way to put them to the test is to give them actual time away from you.

I mean, if mom isn’t present, who is going to tell them to brush their teeth? Without dad around, how will they remember to make their bed?

Camp gives kids the opportunity to figure it all out for themselves, and they’re often faced with decisions and tasks tougher than simply having to keep up with personal hygiene. It’s one of the many summer camp benefits and life skills learned at camp.

Want to know what summer camp isn’t like? It’s not like school—thanks to a constant buzz, bursting laughter, and a flexible, collaborative environment, where students receive personalized instruction and the freedom to work on the things they want to work on.

To go along with the above, some camps might sound a lot like school—with terms like “students,” “courses,” and “instructors” often used in marketing materials. Thus, there is no denying the similarities.

But, any good camp takes the structure of the real world and more or less “breaks” it for a more fulfilling experience.

For example, one big way that is accomplished is through camper to instructor ratios that are a fraction of what any student is experiencing in their own school classrooms. Students can also dictate where and how they want to spend their project time, rather than following a curriculum set in stone.

And last, camp is like a springboard, equipped with an instant peer network, and a platform for your child’s project and vision.

At this point, we’ve covered some of the main benefits of camp: gaining like-minded friends, deep-diving into areas of interest, and learning in small groups.

But when you think about all of it together, summer camp is really like a springboard, or a stepping stone, or a jumping off point; however you want to phrase it.

Because when your child’s camp session ends, that’s really just signaling the beginning, if they wish. What I mean is, when they leave camp, they aren’t forced to leave behind the relationships they built. They aren’t forced to leave behind their learnings, both the good and the bad, from a week full of experiences.

Instead, they’re leaving with a network to call on if they ever need help with a project, or names to get in touch with if they have a business idea to explore, or when they need an “in” at a company they’re eyeing for an internship. They’re leaving with a project to call their own, that they can take home and continually tinker with, so they can develop it into whatever their goals command.

But what is summer camp really like? As in, the day to day activities?

Well, I can’t speak for other camps, but I can say a week at iD Tech Camps looks something like this:

7:15am: Overnighters wake up and grab breakfast in dining hall
8:30–9am: Check-in for day students
9am: Morning announcements, icebreakers, and team-building activities
9:30am: Split into course groups and let the tech innovation begin!
Noon: Lunch
1pm: Return to the labs for more instruction.
2:30pm: Ultimate frisbee, anyone? Capture the flag? Board games?
3:15pm: Return to the labs. Let's create!
5pm: Wrap-up projects for the day
5–5:30pm: Checkout time for day campers
6pm: Dinner for overnight campers
7pm: Optional sports, gaming, movie nights, and project work for overnighters
10pm: Lights out for overnight campers

Regardless of what you hear, read, or think of summer camp, there is nothing like experiencing the real thing.

Really, one of the greatest things about summer camp is that each one is unique. Even if your child attends multiple sessions at the same camp during the same summer, they're going to come away with something different.

The most important thing you can do is plan for summer camp appropriately, ask questions when you have them, and send your kids away with open minds.

A photo of Ryan

Ryan manages blog content at iD Tech, starting with the company in 2008. He earned his MBA from Santa Clara University after obtaining his Bachelor’s degree from Arizona State. Connect on LinkedIn!

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