Parents Head to Camp with Their Kids

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Along with summer camps for tech geeks and summer camps with all of the comforts of home, the American Camp Association says "family camps" have become one of the fastest-growing segments of its industry. At family camps, parents stay and play alongside their kids. Don Gonyea speaks with Don Cheley, of Cheley Colorado Camps, about the trend.


If you've always wanted to go back to summer camp, you may be able to - and do it with your kids. It's called family camping, and in the past 15 years, the American Camp Association says there's been a more than 200 percent in parents going to camp with their children. Don Cheley runs one such program at the Cheley Colorado Camps. He joins us from crafts class.

Mr. DON CHELEY (Cheley Colorado Camps): I think the appeal really is that it's the one time that the families are all together and mom and dad don't have to make decisions. You know, they can do - they can do projects together. We have family-style dining, so they all sit down and eat. They all do the campfires together. And it's usually a younger child and - or a family where we've had some alumni that want to introduce their spouse and their children to the camp experience that they enjoyed.

GONYEA: What are the accommodations like? And, really, what do the families do all day together?

MR. CHELEY: Well, it's not a resort kind of vacation. It definitely is a rustic camp vacation. And the accommodations are - we have four campers to a covered wagon. And the activities are mountain activities: western riding, hiking, fishing, in-camp games - things where they can gave a lot of fun together.

GONYEA: Some people might hear this and wonder if this is another sign of the times, of parents trying to be too involved in every aspect of their kid's lives. You know, helicopter parents hovering over their children.

MR. CHELEY: I think this is a lot different than a helicopter parent. The parents that come and the children that come find that this is probably one of the best times all year long to connect to their child, and the child to connect to their parents. They can see their parents get dirty and get on a horse and maybe get worn out on a hike and not be in charge. The child gets to see the parent in a real situation and vice versa, the parent gets to enjoy the growth of the child.

GONYEA: Do you build anything in over the course of the day where the parents go off by themselves and the kids go off another way? Is there adult's time, I guess I'm asking?

MR. CHELEY: No. This is not an environment for that. There's no smoking or drinking in camp. There's no happy hour. They really are with their child the whole time. And it really is not like, okay, I've had enough of the children, now I'm going to go have happy hour up on the lodge porch.

GONYEA: Your family camp is now in its 21st year. How big a part of your business is it? And I'm wondering how it has changed over the years.

MR. CHELEY: It's a huge part of our business. We would probably do a couple of more weeks of it if we had the time and the space. We never realized when we started it how important it was for families to have this opportunity to be together as families in a totally different setting than a - like a resort vacation.

GONYEA: So here's the big question that people on our staff who have been to camp want to know: do the parents have to sew their names in their underwear just like the kids do?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MR. CHELEY: Yes. And, you know, lost and found is a big issue, so hopefully the parents take care of their belongings a little bit better than the children do.

GONYEA: Excellent. Don Cheley runs Cheley Colorado Camps, as his family has since 1921. And he tells us his own kids will help take on the business in coming years. Thanks for joining us.

MR. CHELEY: Oh, it's my pleasure. Thank you.

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