Siblings at Summer Camp
Should brothers and sisters branch out alone or head to camp together?
If your kids are like most siblings, their interaction follows a basic plotline: They fight, they play together, they bicker, they ignore each other, they make up, they fight again. Come summer, should you break the cycle and give them a vacation from forced togetherness or facilitate fraternal good-will by sending them to camp apart or en masse?
One major perk of heading to camp with a sibling is the connection to home they share upon arrival. “Until campers find their way and make friends, camp is a new and sometimes frightening environment,” says Duncan Barger, co-director at Camp Shohola, an all-boys residential camp in Greeley, PA. “Having a sibling at camp takes away a lot of that edge” and can reduce feelings of homesickness.
This sense of security can be especially helpful for younger campers who look to an older brother or sister for support. The caretaker role, says Travis Simmons, executive director at Camp Dark Waters in Medford, NJ, is one that most older siblings — even those who are antagonistic at home — readily assume. “Older kids check in with their younger siblings more often than many parents expect them to,” he says. “Even if it’s just visiting during free time or identifying where their sibling is, they actively make sure that their brother or sister is doing well.”
Spending substantial time together away from home is an opportunity to strengthen the siblings’ overall relationship. “It provides them with a shared experience to bond over,” Simmons says. “It’s something that only they know about, that mom and dad didn’t experience.”
Attending separate specialized camps can also be beneficial to family life, albeit in a different way: After immersing themselves in their chosen hobby, siblings can come home and share what each has learned with one another.
For kids bound for a general day or residential camp, figuring out where they fit in and forming their own identity — a challenging process at any age — is often easier without a family member present. This is especially true for multiples, who are frequently seen as a unit.
“We have some parents who are very intentional about sending their kids to separate camps because they want them to develop their own independence and come out of the shadow of their sibling,” says Derek Hodne, program director at Camp Orchard Hill in Dallas, PA.
According to advice from the American Camp Association, siblings who are exceptionally close may also benefit from separate camp experiences. If peas-in-a-pod sibs don’t have one another to rely on, they’ll be more apt to seek out new friends and activities.
If sending the kids to different camps is out of your comfort zone (or budget, see “Cost Considerations”), Barger believes that siblings can still spend the summer together while maintaining as much or as little space as they need. “Children really can go to the same camp and have their own distinct experiences,” he says. “They don’t need to be in the same cabin; they won’t have the same activity schedule. They can just see each other in passing, like they would at school.”
If sibs have a similar passion, exploring it together can reinforce their enthusiasm once summer ends as they further pursue that interest together. Similarly, siblings who have separate hobbies but encourage one another’s achievements at camp, Hodne says, are able to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of their brother or sister.
Ultimately, camp directors say, there is no right or wrong answer to whether siblings should attend camp together: “Parents know their kids best, so the decision has to be based on whatever they feel is right for the family,” Simmons says. “It works out well out either way.”
Cheyenne Shaffer is a freelance writer and recent Temple University graduate.