Did Parents Back in The Day REALLY Send Their Kids to Summer Camp?

I’ve seen this idea references on TV, in the movies, in the comics (Charlie Brown goes to summer camp religiously every summer). When summer comes and mom decides she doesn’t want her kids in her hair for eight hours a day, she sends them to summer camp. The camps are always given a vaguely Native American-sounding name such as camp Wa-ha-ton-ka or something.

I, personally, have no frame of reference for this. I grew up in a somewhat urban environment (Springfield, IL, pop: 110,000 and some change) with a working mom. When I was too young to stay at home by myself during the summers, MammaHomie sent me to a local day care center that had a summer program for school-age kids. We went roller skating, went to local parks, went to the lake for swimming, etc. We went home every day when our parents picked us up after they got off work. However, I never attended anything that could be considered “camp.” Home base for the daycare was right there on a city street, and we went home every day.

So, back in The Day (say, 50’s and 60’s), did moms really send their kids away for long periods of time to overnight camps? Or is this “summer camp” thing just a metaphor for summer day care programs (such as what I attended)? Or is it simply a comic device fabricated out of thin air?

I worked in a YMCA camp in 1969, and there were two types of campers. Most came for one week of the usual swimming/archery/nature hikes/crafts activities. But there was one special camp that were the long term kids, who stayed there for nine weeks. Most were children of upper-middle class professionals, and some entertainment types. Some were real sad cases, already screwed up at the age or nine or ten. Others were nice kids that were just desperate for attention. There was a parent’s day once a week, but there some kids never got visits all summer. Nice parents. huh?

50’s and 60’s?

I grew up in the Eighties and I went to Camp every summer. To camps with vaguely Native American sounding names to boot…

Granted, it wasn’t all summer… that would be way too expensive, but always for a couple weeks at least.

I went. 60s and 70s

Time there varied. Could be as little as 3 or 4 days, or as long as several weeks.

Good times…


I still send my kids off to camp in the summer. For a week. They love it.

I grew up in New York City. About 75% of kids from my neighborhood aged 7-15 went to summer camp. I personally went for 8 consecutive years and later worked at the same camp, each year spending 8 weeks at Camp Sloane, YMCA. My summer camp didn’t do 1-week campers – the minimum stay was 2 weeks with most staying a month. this was oh…1984-1993… I wouldn’t call that back in the day.

I loved it. It was my own separate world were I was free of labels I was saddled with at school. At school kids teased me and called me a dork… at Camp I had a set of long-term friends that liked me. In fact I was recently a bridemaid in the wedding of a friend I met at summer camp when we were 10.

New York City is a hot, boring place in the summer for a kid whose parents both work. The kids weren’t messed up or anything… just normal average kids like you’d meet in school.

Hello mudda, hello fadda
Here I am in Camp Granada

I always got the impression it was mostly a New York thing. Mad Magazine (published in New York, therefore with a consistent New York slant to its humor), once did a reverse satire on kids sending their parents to summer camp.

One summer after I finished 2nd grade (in the 1960s) I went to CYO day camp. We went home in the evening; it was just a replacement for school hours, getting us out in the sunshine and fresh air. It was only a few miles from home, in the Cleveland Metroparks system, Cleveland’s famous “Emerald Necklace” of forests surrounding the city. We hiked to Squire’s Castle, did the President’s Program on Physical Fitness, made s’mores around a fire, and told ghost stories. CYO=Catholic Youth Organization.

But my best summer program was the one after 3rd grade, when I signed up for summer classes at the Natural History Museum. Learned all kinds of science stuff.

If there were any stay overnight summer camps in Ohio, I never heard of any.

Residential summer camps near Cleveland, OH:


:slight_smile: it does seem a lot less common here in the midwest.

There are a lot (and have been a lot for decades) of summer camps run by youth organizations. Someone has already mentioned camps by YMCA. I went to a camp run by the 4-H. This was in the mid- to late 1960’s in Ohio. I grew up on a farm, so it wasn’t necessarily about getting away from the city. It was just a week-long camp (and it was sleep-in). My parents couldn’t possibly have afforded a summer-long camp.

Another common thing is week-long sleep-in camps for poorer inner-city kids run by charity organizations. The idea is to give kids who have never spent any significant time in the country a chance to experience it (generally for free). There are also summer-long camps for more well-off kids.

They did exsist, and at least some of them still do.

For example, here’s a list of camps in Wisconsin:

The type you’re talking about are under the header “Traditional”.

What you went would be listed under the “day-camp” header.

I don’t think the traditional camps as popular today as they were back in 50’s & 60s, but they’re still around. When I was a kid in the 80’s in Wisconsin, there were a couple of camps near where we lived. The kids who went to the camps were mostly upper-middle class kids from the suburbs of Milwaukee and Chicago.

One of the camps is now closed and has had most of its property broken up and bought. The other is now a religious camp.

Up until the early 60’s parents had a powerful reason to send their kids off to camp:

A Wothy Use of Summer

Chickasaw Council of the Boy Scouts had Camp Kia Kema (sp?) and I went for 1 or 2 weeks each summer for a few years.

(cooked your own food, swimming, woodcraft etc, no homosexual activity was allowed)

Camp Tawonga here I come
Right back where I started from

In the mid-70’s I (and my siblings) attended summer camp for three weeks every August. I’m from the San Francisco Bay Area, and the camps we attended were all located around Yosemite, so we got to go on lots of hiking, camping, and horseback riding excursions there. I loved all of the camp activities, but hated the camp experience, mainly because putting a bunch of junior high kids together for weeks away from their parents with only minimal supervision from college kids is a recipe for disaster.

Another child in the 80s in Washington state.

Most of the camps I went to were 1 week long (though some people did long term, month long things). But no vaguely Indian names - usually named after the lake or stream or mountain range the camp was around.

Your parents would drop you, your clothes, and your sleeping bag off, and then pick you up a week later. It was pretty common - most people spent time at camp at least once… it was not, however, a spur of the moment thing. It was planned way in advance. If mom had gotten sick of me in July, too bad for her if camp wasn’t scheduled until August.

Child of the late 70’s/ early 80s, reporting from Kentucky. We had two weeks of summer camp every year with a youth organization called the Cabbage Patch. I had the time of my young life there. I’m tearing up just thinking about great big gobs of greasy, grimy gopher guts, mutilated monkeys meat…

It’s one of those bizarre camp songs that the 8-11 set love. I know I did. :smiley:

My brother went to Kia Kima too, back in the 80’s.

Heck, I went to a summer camp this summer.

good afternoon friends

from deep in the heart of the midwest: i went to summer camp two weeks every year from age 5 to 13. (1958 to 1966) later, as a college kid, i taught archery one summer at the same camp.

I went to lots of camps as a kid.

Every summer I went to Boy Scout Camp at Camp Williams

One summer I went to Philmont Scout Ranch with the Boy Scouts and hiked.

I also went to a Christian Church based camp every summer at Boiling Springs State Park

One of my favorites was The Summitin Manitou Springs, CO.

This was in the late 70’s. Any chance I saw a future doper out there besides myself?


In the 80’s I went every summer to Girl Scout camp. A week or two - I think some of the programs might have been three, but that’s as long as it got. I knew some people who went to tennis camp or basketball camp, also two or three weeks.

When I was older, I went to nerd-camp enrichment programs - three weeks at Duke for me, although I know people in other parts of the country went elsewhere.