Ah, summer camp. The classic way for kids to while away summer days canoeing, laughing by a lake and making friendship bracelets.
But why should kids have all the fun?
Lots of places — both in the Washington area and farther afield — offer a classic summer camp experience that the whole family takes part in together. The scene is picturesque: Families bunk down in cabins or tents, feast on meals in the camp dining hall and put in some quality time on arts and crafts.
“One of the things that’s special about Family Camp is that families get to do traditional activities without technology getting in the way,” says Sarah Holder, camp director at Camp Friendship in Palmyra, Va., which sets aside one week (Aug. 21 to 27 this year) for families. Their potential activities include canoeing, kayaking, tennis, arts and crafts, archery and swimming in the lake. There’s also a high-ropes course and horseback riding.
With a wide variety of activities offered all day, it’s a great opportunity for togetherness — but not too much togetherness. Since campers create their own schedules, each family member can pursue his or her personal interests, spending as much time together or apart as they want.
“Some members of the family come and just lay by the pool,” Holder says.
Some camps have special programs just for families, such as Family Camp at Camp Alleghany for Girls in Lewisburg, W.Va.; and YMCA Deer Valley’s Summer Family Camp in Fort Hill, Pa. But others are camps for kids and teens that allow parents of campers to pop in for some family time.
A lot of parents at Camp Friendship, for example, send their kids to a week-long kids-only session and then join them for a week of family camp, Holder says. It offers a unique opportunity for parents to give kids the independence of camp but remain a part of their summer. Other parents use family camp to get their kids used to the idea. “For some of our younger families, it’s a way to start to introduce [kids] to sleepaway camp and the cabins and the meals and the schedule,” Holder says
At Callaway Gardens’ Summer Family Adventure in Pine Mountain, Ga., there are activities tailored to parents, too. So while kids can spend the day doing activities with their own age group, like zip-lining, arts and crafts, water skiing and more, their parents can partake in grown-up fare such as wine tastings and cooking classes.
Even the accommodations at Callaway are a little more grown-up. Most families stay in two-bedroom cottages with their own kitchens and back porches. You can also rent private homes on the property.
The centerpiece of Summer Family Adventure is the circus — more specifically, Florida State University’s Flying High Circus, whose students make up the camp’s counseling staff. They teach kids and adults to juggle, walk the high wire or swing on the trapeze.
“The facilities and program are great, but we really couldn’t do it without the circus,” says Andy Brown, director of recreation and special events for Summer Family Adventure.
The Rev. Tom Hartung has been coming to Summer Family Adventure since 1972 with his children and more recently with his grandchildren. He says seeing the kids perform the circus skills they’ve learned is one of the highlights of each day at camp. This summer, his first great-grandson will join the family at Callaway.
“It’s a family togetherness week,” says Hartung, who lives in Clearwater, Fla. “We have a daughter in Texas, a daughter in Tampa [Fla.] and grandchildren in Nashville [Tenn.] and Fort Lauderdale [Fla.], so everybody gets together at Callaway.”
Family camps, which are often billed as a cost-effective alternative to a summer beach vacation, pride themselves on pleasing every generation.
Hartung says he loves seeing how much his children and grandchildren enjoy the activities. “They’re so excited when they come back at the end of the day to tell us endlessly what they did and how happy they were and about new friends they made.”
It’s not just the kids who make friends at camp. Evening family activities, such as movie nights and talent shows, encourage families to befriend other families.
Holder sees that same thing happen at Camp Friendship. “The families get to know each other,” she says. “Our families eat meals in the dining hall and sit around the campfire and make family friends.”
That’s one reason why many generations return to the same family camp year after year.
“When he was little, my grandson said, ‘I will always come back to Callaway,’ ” Hartung says. “Now his son is named after [Callaway Gardens founder] Cason Callaway.”
“We have four generations now,” he says. “They know we will always come back to Callaway.”