After a summer of excited letters mailed home from sleep-away camp and hours spent clicking through hundreds of daily pictures of boating, sports and culinary arts, so many of our parents tell us, “I wish I could go to camp!” When we tell them they can, their faces light up like kids making their first s’more at a campfire.
Family camps provide a unique opportunity for parents, kids, grandparents and cousins to spend time together while experiencing a small taste of the magic of summer camp. At camps across the US and Canada, these programs provide an all-inclusive vacation option free of lines, crowds and extensive planning. Instead your experience is filled with relaxation, togetherness and heart. It’s no wonder that family camps have been gaining popularity over recent years (according to the American Camping Association).
At Camp Zeke, just like our summer program for kids, family camp is focused on celebrating healthy, active living through whole foods, athletics and fitness. Families participate in a camp Shabbat and then relax by the pool, canoe around the lake, work out in our gym, hike on beautiful Pocono trails, and play sports. There are some organized activities for kids but we focus on families spending time together.
With all the vacation options out there, why choose family camp? We’ve explained a few of our favorite reasons below.
Kid’s leadership: Overnight summer camping has long been a tradition for the Jewish community and can be one of the most unforgettable and rewarding experiences of one’s life. Though kids just see it as fun, camps build independence and character, foster connections to Jewish identity and develop problem solving skills. At family camp, many parents have the same experience. For families of current campers, kids take the lead showing families around, explaining traditions, leading songs, and telling stories about why camp is so special to them. For prospective campers, family camp gives a taste of the camp experience and helps campers become acclimated to the camp environment – which makes kids much more comfortable when they arrive for the real thing without their parents.
Throwback for Parents: For parents, family camp can be a wonderful throwback to the days of their summer camp glory. Though the camping industry has significantly advanced since the days when we were campers, the connections and exuberance remain the same. Parents can reminisce while explaining to kids how camp impacted their lives and why it’s such a special experience.
Learn about camp: Family camp is an excellent way for parents to get a feeling for camp if they plan to send their kids in the future. There’s no better way to experience a camp’s culture and values than by being there yourself. Many family camps set up time with directors and staff. It’s the perfect setting to ask questions and truly come to understand a camp’s vision of a wonderful summer and happy camper. Of course getting a preview of facilities and food is helpful too (for us, it’s one of the best parts of the experience!). Families can experience the camp’s food firsthand and stay in the same bunks where kids stay over the summer. Many camps also offer on-site hotel rooms for parents who want a more upscale experience.
Try something new: At family camp kids and parents have the chance to take risks and be who they want to be. Think you are too old for your first Krav Maga (Israeli martial arts) class? At family camp, you won’t be the parent on the mat for the first time. Have a kid who may not love swimming in lakes? Family camp encourages trying new things (and the allure of lake toys certainly doesn’t hurt!). Family camp, just like kids camp, focuses on growth and skill building. We call it a successful experience if a family comes home knowing they want to start taking cooking classes or yoga classes together.
Unplug: When you enter Camp Zeke, there’s a sign that says, “At camp we unplug so we can really connect.” This is one of the best parts of family camp. You won’t find TVs, computers, or even 4G phone service at camp (though we do have designated Wi-Fi spaces away from all the action). When kids’ and parents’ eyes aren’t glued to phones, it gives families a chance to look up and focus on one another as well as their surroundings.
Connect with likeminded families: With many camps’ unique focuses (ours is healthy, active living), family camp is a wonderful opportunity to meet likeminded Jewish families who live in the area. Together families become part of something larger than their individual units. Camp is a community, a place to belong, and a special environment to celebrate and do things together. There is no other family or individual experience quite like this.
Fun: Family camp is just fun! Where else can you spend your morning paddle boarding, then take a cooking class, join a dance, play soccer, work out in the gym and then sing songs by a campfire before bed?
Lisa and Isaac Mamaysky are the founders and directors of Camp Zeke, the first Jewish overnight camp to celebrate healthy, active living through whole foods, culinary arts, fitness and athletics. You can join their family camp in Lakewood, PA on Labor Day Weekend (September 2 to 5). Learn more at campzeke.org.