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First Sleep Away Camp For a Los Angeles Kid

Have you sent your children to Sleep Away Camp? Parents on the East Coast have traditionally sent their kids to Overnight Camp for several weeks at a time, but here in California it’s a newer phenomenon, and not quite as common. But that’s changing.

More and more parents choose Sleep Away Camps in California for their kids every year, so as it grows in popularity, we want to share info about what it’s like and what options you have out there.

We want to share this story from our friend Gail, a SoCal Mom who sent her daughter to Overnight Camp for the first time this year. She wrote up her experience and shared a couple of photos. Scroll down to read her experience, in her own words.

About Sleep Away Camps in California

As with all Summer Camps, there are some that have a theme and some that cover all the bases and offer a wide range of experiences for kids.

Thing to know: Sleep Away Camps generally book up sooner than Summer Day Camps, so it’s a good idea to start considering your options as early as December the prior year.

Parents often ask: How much does Sleep Away Camp cost? The answer depends on the Camp, of course, but the general range is between $1500 – $4000/per session. Keep in mind that a session may be one week or two, and that the fees cover room, board, and activities.

There are many Overnight Camps all over California, and some are within driving distance of Los Angeles. See our list of Sleep Away Camps in California (and Beyond) if you are looking for options. And read our Sleep Away Camps 101 article to learn more.

girl in mask at Sleep Away Camp in California
The intrepid Camper heads off!

My Daughter’s First Sleep Away Camp Experience

Summer 2020 was a washout. I had prepared myself to send off my nine-year-old to her first experience at Sleepaway Camp. Fears of illness surpassed my fears over watching my only child take a bus for two weeks and have the time of her life.

Camp was cancelled. Summer was essentially cancelled that year due to the Pandemic.

2021 held a new promise. I assured my daughter that she could have her first sleepaway experience at 10, just as I had done (cough, cough) years prior. 

Growing up on the East Coast (NYC), Summer Sleepaway Camp was the norm. Everybody did it. We would go with friends and have a blast all summer long. 

Eight weeks away from home felt like heaven on earth. Of course, we missed our families and friends, but we wrote lots of letters and sent small trinkets (lanyards and friendship bracelets) and whatnot through the mail… but the highlight was always when someone received a care package! 

Looking for a Day Camp instead? See our list of Summer Camps in Los Angeles.

Getting Ready for Camp

For my daughter’s Summer, I spent two months preparing. Bought a new, giant duffel bag, made list after list of what I had, what I still needed to buy… did her swimsuits still fit?, are her shorts comfortable?, did she need a full-sized toothpaste or would a couple of small ones be enough?

And I almost forgot the washable labels. (affiliate link) Definitely thought I had enough. I did not. Resorted to writing her initials on her socks, with sharpie.

Because of safety protocols, instead of the bus (which wasn’t an option), we drove her directly to camp. After exhaustive research, I found a camp that was about an hour away from Los Angeles, so if for any reason, I could come get her quickly. Neurotic? Possibly. 

She was a little nervous driving up because she didn’t know anyone that was going, but upon her arrival, the counselors jumped over to the car, opened the door and hugged her immediately. Everyone was masked. This was the way it was going to be this year. 

Everyone was fine with it. The kids had to be tested for COVID-19 symptoms within 72 hours of arrival, which gave parents a little extra comfort in feeling like their kid’s new community was probably a little more protected than out in the rest of the world. 

I forced her to let me take one last picture before she ran off down the hill to meet her bunkmates, never looking back once.

girl doing archery at Sleep Away Camp in California
archery is one of the cool activities at Sleep Away Camp in California

Staying in Touch with Your Camper

We left. I knew mail was a really important part of this experience so I had already posted a letter hoping that it would arrive the day after we dropped her off. Then I sent another, then another. Still waiting to hear SOMETHING from my dear daughter… Crickets. 

A week goes by. Then finally… A message! But not from the carefully organized stationary that I had packed for her with stamps, a list of addresses of her friends and family included… but via email (which I didn’t even know she was allowed to do). She handwrote a letter, they scanned it and emailed it to me in my parent account. Oh. Well, it’s something.  

“She is having the best time ever,” it reads. Names an admirable list of new friends, how much fun she’s having riding dirt bikes, ziplining, art projects, campfires and the amazing food. We did receive an actual hand-written letter later on during the second week and I was just as excited to get it, as she probably felt getting HER first letter.

Photos From Camp

I missed her absolutely, but the camp had what looked like full-time photographers and they used an app called Campanion which allows parents and families to log in and see all of the activities that are happening at camp all day long. It was like she was just down the street! 

The site uses facial recognition to pick out pictures of my kid in photos – it’s not perfect, since I can identify the back of my kid while the app certainly could not, but it made for a very fun-filled experience as my husband and I scrolled through the posted pictures from each day. 

“Oh she’s on stage tonight! or “she’s on the waterslide again” we would shout out nightly… The smile on her face was huge. She was loving making her own decisions being away from us.

I couldn’t wait to go pick her up 13 days after dropping her off. The person who got in the car was different. Certainly tanner, definitely dirtier, and happier than she had been in two years probably. She made me promise that I would send her back there next summer so she could be with her camp friends again… I said “how about three weeks next time?” She smiled and said “four.”

Gail H is a mom, juggling school drop-offs and pick-ups, PTA chair positions, chairwoman of the Fundraising committee for her daughters elementary school and has an executive position at her job. Would like to request an additional 6 hours in the day to function. Also enjoys writing cutting replies to rude emails.

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