I have mixed memories of summer camp as a kid. What should be a surprise to exactly no one that knows me is I’m an introverted nerd. Making new friends in a forced interaction setting for a week away from my home was an iffy bet at best. However, I do have some fond memories. Oddly my best summer camp memories are as an adult. Family camp, it turns out, is much more my jam. It turned out that spending a week in the woods with people whose families look like mine was healing for my soul.
Family camp can be magical. It brought us together in ways I wouldn’t have guessed. It got me thinking. I felt validated and heard when I spent time with families like mine. I wonder then if my kids would feel a similar way about summer camp if it was with people who they could relate to that way.
A bit of internet sleuthing (okay, a google search) later, and I found myself overwhelmed with options. I thought I’d outline some of them for all of you. I don’t have experience with and do not in any way represent these camps. I’m going by reviews online. So, results may vary.
There are three types of summer camps for adoptees:
- Family camp
- Day camp
- Sleepaway camp
Family camp is my favorite: a week in the mountains with people I love. Someone else made all the food and cleaned the dishes. My kids were taken care of by professionals, and we all came away from the week rested and enriched.
A few options for family camps that cater to adoptive families are
All of these camps have great reviews. All of these options are pricy, but in my experience, it can be worth it. Also, most places offer scholarships or a sliding scale price discount based on the number of kids, annual salary, and other factors.
Day camp is pretty self-explanatory. This was my favorite as a kid. I didn’t have to worry about sleeping in a strange place, but I got all the fun of a summer camp. These are a great option for a kiddo who might be nervous about an overnight stay somewhere. Many camps offer a day camp option. YMCA offers summer-long day camps in some areas.
I attended a shortened version of TBRI day camp with my kids, and it was such a great experience for all of us. I recommend all things TBRI and the camp is no exception.
Overnight camps for adoptees are a great option for older kids who could use a break from technology, younger siblings, and their daily lives. I would tread with caution when choosing this type of camp. Some kids are definitely mature enough, but others can’t handle being away from their normal routine that long.
The Gladney Center for Adoption offers an overnight camp option that exclusively caters to adoptees: “Gladney’s Camp Forge is a week-long overnight program serving Gladney adoptees. Campers will have opportunities to try new things, make friends, and explore ideas and issues that are unique to adoptees. A week of camp will be filled with games, laughter, learning, creating, growing, and exploring.”
Royal family kids camp has been recommended to me personally by another adoptive family. This quote on their website made me start plotting for next summer for my kiddos: “The overall effectiveness of Royal Family KIDS camps that I have experienced is that one week at camp can be as effective as 1 year of counseling sessions.”
There is a lot of research backing up how special and important camps can be for kids. Especially camps that are more outdoors-based can help kids detox from technology, school stress, and family tension while teaching them new skills.
Be aware, there is another type of camp that I haven’t spent any time talking about but I want you to be aware of. There are summer-long camps for adoptees that are more corrective behavior camps than fun summer camps. While there is a place for that sort of intervention, it isn’t a regular camp setting or recommended for just any adoptee. It can also be very expensive and I have heard mixed things about these types of camps. I’m only mentioning this because I got several links when I entered my search terms. So tread lightly.
I suggest if you’re just dipping your toes into the summer camp experience, you try a family camp. The family camp we attended wasn’t even geared to adoptive families exclusively, but most of the families there had been foster parents, adoptive, or both. It was nice to be able to relax and know my kids were well-cared for and having a good time. It was nice for someone else to cook, clean, and plan vacation time. Sometimes, vacation as a parent feels less like a vacation and more like a trip where I get to cook/clean/entertain in a different place. Family camps can be expensive; but in my experience, it was worth it.
Adoptees have backgrounds that can make it difficult to relate to other kids. Camps for adoptees bring kids together that might not otherwise meet, and let them know they aren’t alone. Feeling like you aren’t alone in this world after feeling isolated can be a balm to the soul like no other.
I suggest you email camps, ask around, and do some research to make sure you have the right sort of camp for your child. There are even camps specifically devoted to children who are adopted internationally. Happy summer!
Christina Gochnauer is a foster and adoptive mom of 5. She has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Letourneau University. She currently resides in Texas with her husband of 16 years, her children ages 3, 3.5, 4.5, 11, and 12, and her three dogs. She is passionate about using her voice to speak out for children from “hard places” in her church and community.