Camp is one of the last best places for childhood

I know this from personal experience as a camper, professional experience as a teacher, camp director, and school director, and from staying current on the scholarly literature on children and childhood. I am writing about camp this week as your school director not because I miss summer as the weather drops (but maybe also that!), but because I want to “take the hood off” camp for you and share some of my thoughts on why your child’s experiences at our nursery are complimented so nicely at JCC summer camps.

I’ve written in previous Notes about my personal experiences in camp, here, here (my personal favorite, about making my first camp friend over a Walkman and The Fugees) and here. Today I want to take a more long-term perspective on the topic. Historians and scholars of childhood have noticed something in recent decades – adults are eroding the culture of childhood. Paula Fass came out with a (terrific) book this summer titled “The End of American Childhood;” Peter Gray (who I linked to in last week’s PANI) titled the first chapter of his 2013 book “What Have We Done To Childhood?”; Howard Chudacoff, in his definitive book “Children at Play: An American History”, titles chapter seven “Children’s Play Goes Underground: 1950s to the Present”; and Joe Frost, in his “A History of Children’s Play and Play Environments” titles one of his chapters describing contemporary American childhood, “The Causes of Play Deprivation: A Perfect Storm.”

The end of childhood. Play deprivation. These authors are not reporting on individual families but rather zoom out and take a look at the landscape of American life – what are we providing for our children, and what are we not? Their collective answer: we are providing quite a lot of expectations, and barely any time to breathe.

The way we parent, teach, and collectively raise our children in 21st century America leaves our children with a gap in their life – a gap that is best, and truly, filled by a robust summer camp experience. Summer camp is one of the only institutions we have left sacred, a place for children to truly be children – to explore the world, and themselves, in a place free of parental intrusion and heightened expectations. 

That is why I believe children need summer camp: it is a place to escape the omnipresent gaze of parents and teachers and to find themselves in the comfortable coziness of bunkmates and counselors; a place to escape the rigidity and right-angles of city living and confront the wonder and majesty of the natural world. A place to be, not to be told.

And as you heard from me way back on your prospective parent admissions tour, the benefit of joining a nursery in a community center is that we offer so much more than “just” a school. We offer high-quality camping, for 3-6 year olds right here in our Day Camp @ the JCC, and 5-12 year olds at Camp Settoga, a bus ride up into the country. I had the distinct pleasure of serving for three summers as the camp director at Pearl River (the predecessor to Camp Settoga), and could not believe more firmly that JCC camps are the perfect medicine for the maladies of contemporary childhood described by the authors above. JCC camps are places where children are treated with respect, and given immaculate camp settings in which to explore, express, and grow.

Not only that – JCC camps are among the only places where you will find the overlap between gorgeous camp facilities, empathic and nurturing counselors, and an infusion of Jewish values.  At both of our camps, you will find the same approach to Judaism as you find in the nursery school – a joyful, inclusive Judaism, to be celebrated rather than endured. One of the earliest dreams at Pearl River, which continues now at Camp Settoga, is the baking of challah each Friday afternoon over an open campfire. You will notice on the Settoga homepage that their starting point is values – just as when you first toured the nursery school, I began by talking to you about being a values-oriented community.

Our camps and nursery also share a lot of our staff – many of our teachers first came to the JCC as camp counselors, and continue to wear dual hats during the school year and summer. For all of these reasons, I would love to see your child and family continue the JCC journey this summer.  JCC camp registration is now live; you can also peruse the Facebook page here.

I am more than happy to answer any questions about summer camp (but be careful once you get me going on this topic, I may not stop….), but would direct you to our three dynamic camp leaders:

Genna Singer – JCC Camps Director – can be found in the Mezzanine office or at

Sari Lipschitz – Day Camp @ The JCC Site Director – can be found right here in our Common Space, or at

Adam Metzger – Camp Settoga Director – can be found right here, as a co-head teacher in Classroom 5, or at

See you at camp!

Shabbat shalom,