YMCA Summer Camps: So Many Reasons This Summer

Fun is the No.1 priority for kids during summer, and at YMCA summer camps, parents can rest assured that safety, character building and emotional health are right up there, too. Learn more.

Think back to your own childhood summer experiences. If you attended summer camp during your childhood, chances are you went to a YMCA camp. If not, don’t worry. You can relive all the wonderful aspects of a quality summer camp program through your own kids this summer at the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago.

As a parent, you can trust that YMCA summer day camps and overnight camps offer enriching experiences for your child that are fun and engaging, but also focus on building life skills that really matter.

“YMCA summer camps have been around forever and a day. We have the history and longevity to do this business well,” says Jill Doerner, Chief Learning Officer, YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago. “What really sets the Y apart is not the transactional experiences but the transformational experiences. We focus our camps on character development which means building resilience, confidence and teamwork. We’re less about painting boxes and more about building great humans.”

Photo credit: YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago

And, because this summer brings with it some significant challenges as a byproduct of the pandemic, everyone involved with Y summer camps will receive training to support campers beyond CPR and first aid to critical elements of youth mental health, trauma-informed care, supporting youth through COVID and suicide prevention.

“What we have noticed is that children didn’t always have a lot of reentry strategies and we know it’s important to equip staff, so we hired a Behavioral Support Manager who has brought strategies and techniques to our team and we are working with other agencies to put resources in place to help our camps run more smoothly,” Doerner says. For kids who just need a moment to chill, a Calm Corner will always be available, as will plenty of support and resources for families.

Day camps galore

It’s a top priority for YMCA summer camps to provide kids with activities they want to do, so YMCA stays on top of trends by interviewing parents and surveying kids — and hearing it firsthand from the kids in their afterschool programs.

“We do have camps Monday to Friday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. so parents can go to work and the Y can provide a safe camp that kids want to come back to the next day. But at the heart of camp is the camper. Our customer is the child so we are constantly reinventing ourselves to better engage them,” Doerner says. “We have a good pulse on what is trendy for youth and parents right now.”

Every camp is unique, but all children engage in plenty of activities that keep them moving, learning, making friends and having fun. And camp is different from week to week, so kids will never get bored.

In addition to summer day camps at 15 YMCA locations across Chicagoland, look for specialty camps like Art Studio, Lego Creation, Movie Making and Stage and Screen. Everything STEM and STEAM are hot now, too, so if your kid loves to take things apart, be sure to check out Tinkering and Inventions. There’s sure to be a specialty camp your kid will love.

Overnight camps: so many benefits…

Even if your child only attends overnight camp once during their childhood, the experience will cement memories for a lifetime. Your child may be hesitant to do a sleepover camp but know that YMCA counselors are specially trained to welcome kids and make them feel comfortable.

“Overnight camp is an experience that all kids should have at least once in their lifetime,” Doerner says. “It’s that safe environment where they can do so many things and master things they might never do in their local neighborhood. That could be scaling a climbing wall, or getting their first bullseye.”

YMCA Camp Independence. Photo credit: YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago

And, like at summer day camps, YMCA overnight camps provide the perfect environment for so many life lessons. “There are many teachable moments in the camp experience — from working together to cooperating and sharing chores, respecting each other and meeting people from different neighborhoods and even different countries. Kids get a world experience in a week’s time,” Doerner says.

She adds that when adults recall their camp experiences, they could gush about the excitement of swimming, boating or high ropes courses. Still, more often than not, they say that camp was the first time they were away from their parents — and that they went to camp as one kid and came back as a completely different kid, with a positive outlook. This is echoed in the positive comments of today’s campers and their parents, too.

…and so many options

Campers can choose to attend three different camps scattered across Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan, and there’s a separate family camp called YMCA Family Camp Nawakwa in Lac Du Flambeau, Wisconsin. There’s also YMCA Camp Independence, where kids 7 and older with spina bifida and other neurological disabilities can develop skills and make friends.

While many families choose YMCA Camp Duncan in Ingleside, Illinois, or YMCA Camp McLean in Burlington, Wisconsin, YMCA Camp Pinewood in Twin Lake, Michigan, is a sometimes-overlooked gem due to its location across Lake Michigan. But it’s only about three hours from Chicago and well worth exploring for robust outdoor education experiences for kids.

YMCA Camp Pinewood. Photo credit: YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago

“The amenities at Pinewood are beautiful,” Doerner says. Located on the edge of Manistee National Forest near beautiful Muskegon on Michigan’s west coast, Camp Pinewood sits on Lake Echo, a 45-acre spring-fed lake, which offers abundant fishing, kayaking and swimming. Campers can also cement friendships during nature hikes, archery, ropes courses, zip-lining and climbing activities.

Each YMCA overnight camp is unique with signature offerings, so be sure to dive in and learn about all of the fun activities your child can experience this summer.

Learn more about summer camp experiences for your child at YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago. YMCA members can register for summer day camps beginning March 1. Registration for all begins March 16. Visit ymcachicago.org.

Claire Charlton
Claire Charlton
An enthusiastic storyteller, Claire Charlton focuses on delivering top client service as a content editor for Chicago Parent. In her 20+ years of experience, she has written extensively on a variety of topics and is keen on new tech and podcast hosting. Claire has two grown kids and loves to read, run, camp, cycle and travel.


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