Still undecided about a summer program for your child? Families that want to mix spiritual growth with summer fun may want to consider a religious summer camp. Many of these faith-based camps offer activities that are similar to traditional summer camps while also tying in religious themes. They provide children with opportunities to learn about and practice their faith, weaving informal exposure to positive values into a fun-filled camping environment. Some camps may convey spiritual instruction through recreational activities (singing religious songs, using religious themes in arts and crafts), or schedule periods of instruction and/or practices (i.e., prayers at mealtime, kosher meals) interspersed with non-religious activities.
In New Jersey, parents can find both religious day camps as well as residential sleepaway camps. Many traditional summer camps also offer chapel or other religious services, without being considered religious camps.
Q. Not a member of the church or temple affiliated with the camp of your choice?
A. No problem. According to Adam Weinstein, Executive Director of the American Camp Association of New York and New Jersey, most ACA-accredited religious camps “welcome children and staff from all religions and faiths.” A relaxed environment may be just the place to introduce your child to the principles of a particular faith.
Q. Are any other faith-based options available?
A. Although they are not necessarily offering a day camp experience, some houses of worship may offer fun activities for a few hours every day and give kids a chance to socialize and learn about religious and spiritual values. These summer programs are often run by volunteers and may provide a less expensive and less structured alternative for families. Ask about them at your church or temple, ask friends and family, search online, or check local newspapers and community bulletin boards to find these options. Because the focus and activities may vary, talk with the program’s coordinator to find a good fit for your child.
Q. Need more specifics?
A. Religious camps and summer programs vary in activities and methods of incorporating religion into the camp experience. When considering these options for your child, speak to the program director to find out their goals and exactly what is included in their offering.
Q. Want more information about religious camps in New Jersey?
A. Visit campwizard.org, a family resource website of the American Camp Association, NY and NJ, or call 1-800-CAMP (2267) to speak to a camper placement specialist who can provide free, one-on-one assistance in choosing an ACA-accredited camp.
Barbara Hosbach, a freelance writer from Jackson, NJ, contributes to a variety of religious publications and websites.