I Want My Kids to Have Epic Summers, Which Is Why I Force Them to Go to Summer Camp

In modern society, or in my house at least, our kids live very structured, organized, contained lives. They attend school, activities, and scheduled play dates, complete homework assignments and required reading, and go to bed at the same time every night. Our schedules keep us all happy and sane during the school year, but once Summer arrives, it feels only right to loosen the reins and relax.

Unfortunately, attempting to relax with kids is kind of like trying to open-water swim with sharks: possible in theory, but for most of us, super stressful in reality. We all know our kids need the experiences of unstructured days, outdoor play, and dirty bare feet, but after about a week, those feet start to stink, and a mom can get tempted to queue up a never-ending Netflix playlist and hide until school starts again.

Summer camp forces children out of their routines and helps them find out who they are beyond the confines of home and hovering parents.

And that's exactly why, once your kids are old enough, you should force them to go to Summer camp, whether they like it or not (but they're probably going to like it). The reasoning is simple. I want my kids to have the carefree, sweaty, free-spirited Summer experiences I cherish so much from my own youth, and I know I'm not the best person to deliver them, no matter how many Summer mom hacks I add to my Pinterest boards.

Sure, I can take them to the pool a couple of days a week, offer up endless afternoon trips to the ice cream shop, plan a Summer vacation or two, and even take them to the local farm every Wednesday for brick-oven pizza, magicians, and live music, but the rest of our days aren't going to look much different than they do the rest of the year.

There's still laundry to be done and grocery stores to frequent and meals to make and dishes to clean. We still have to make our beds, brush our teeth, and clean our rooms. Summer might inspire me to loosen up bedtimes and what constitutes an acceptable outfit (gym shorts and clashing tees are fine by me once school is out), but it's not going to cause me to completely throw out the rule book and change the normal patterns of our family life.

But Summer camp will do exactly that. It forces children out of their routines, however comfortable or unpleasant they may be, and helps them find out who they are beyond the confines of home and hovering parents. At camp, your shy child might just be a leader. Your timid kid might be a star on the ropes course. Your class clown might also learn he loves to weave baskets. But seriously, the possibilities are endless, and your child might not realize any of them if they never leave home.

I still vividly remember the first year I went to sleep-away camp. I was 11 years old and had never been big on sleepovers at close friends' houses, so sleeping in a bunk with a bunch of strangers was an adjustment. There were a few tears and some moments when I wasn't sure I'd make it the week I was scheduled to stay. But eventually, something shifted. I made new friends, discovered new hobbies, fell in love with nature, and realized that the bookish, quiet girl I was at home and at school was not the same person I had to be at camp. I could be loud and funny and daring, so I was, and even better, I brought that part of me back home after camp. And I gleefully went back to the same camp, as a camper and later as a counselor, for the next 10 Summers.

Would I have made those same self-discoveries had I not been a camper? Would I have such fond memories of my childhood Summers had that camp not been part of them? I'm fairly certain the answer is no, which is why I'll be sending my kids to camp. Whether they want it or not, I know they need it.