11 Things Summer Camp Is Not

I spend a lot of time on the internet reading about summer camp and frequently I come across news articles and interviews talking about summer camp in ways that has very little to do with what summer camp is really all about. While we can debate what constitutes real summer camp – I look for things like trees, campfires, team-building, hiking, swimming and shared community – here are 11 things that are compared to summer camp that are anything but.


St Olaf College Campus
Image via Wikimedia

This one is a close call. My first week away at college – getting to know the guys on my floor, playing pranks, etc. – felt a lot like summer camp and many of my friends from college ended up working with me at a real summer camp.

But there isn’t anything at summer camp quite as horrible as having to take classes like Concepts of Math and History of the English Language at 8 a.m.

TV and Movie Sets

Image via Wikimedia

Every few weeks it seems I see headlines from some millionaire celebrity actress or actor talking about a movie shoot and saying it was like summer camp. Just because 99.5 percent of the country doesn’t know what it’s like to be in a movie doesn’t mean you can use this metaphor on us and expect us to believe it.

The only people who get paid to be at summer camp make in a summer what you make for one take of one scene so sorry, it’s nothing like summer camp.


Image via Wikimedia

I’ve yet to hear anyone make this comparison, which is why I don’t get why some people insist on calling summer programs and classes held at schools in the offseason summer camps, but one of the things that makes summer camp so popular is that it isn’t school.

This New York Times blog post does pose the question of “Why Can’t School Be More Like Summer.”

Start-Up Accelerator

Image via Fream

Whatever the heck that is, it’s definitely not anything like summer camp.

The same can be said for all conferences and music festivals where adults gather and writers grasping for metaphors pull out weak comparisons that usually lead to headlines like “Summer camps no longer just hikes, bugs” and “Summer Camps no longer just water sports, pranks“and  include phrases like “lots of booze” and dismissive comments about s’mores, bug bites and cafeteria food being yesterday’s news. In other words, all of the things that a “camp” by definition should include.

Real Estate

Image via Wikimedia

Seriously. Financial guru Dave Ramsey thinks real estate is a lot like summer camp. What?

I’ll admit that counselors, relationships (the “name of the game” apparently” and trying new things are a big part of the summer camp experience but last time I checked you don’t need a license to go to summer camp. I will give him the open houses though since they happen both at summer camps and in real estate.


Image via Englightenment.org

There’s a meme joke that was recycled a while back on Twitter about a guy with bad luck finally getting to go to summer camp and it turning out to be Auschwitz (or Camp Crystal Lake).

The joke not only isn’t funny; it’s disrespectful to the people who died at Auschwitz and the other concentration camps. Ditto for the same joke being made in connection with Jerry Sandusky’s summer camp.

Just please stop.

Rehab (the kind for addicts)

Image via VH1

When she showed up at rehab, actress Kristen Johnson (3rd Rock from the Sun) apparently thought she was at summer camp because there  were so many teenagers there.

Since when did summer camp = gathering of large group of teenagers. Yes, there are a lot of teenagers who go to camp and yes not all of them go voluntarily, but they aren’t really very similar when you break it down.

Political Conventions

Image via Wikimedia

I never would have imagined anyone making this comparison before a 2012 Fox News Radio blog post did in talking about the Democratic National Convention: “Watching adults at a political convention is like watching kids at summer camp, after those kids have inhaled like 20 juice boxes. Instead of archery, arts and crafts and swimming, people listen to speeches.” Political conventions are a lot of things, but summer camp? Not even close.

Training Camp

Image via Wikimedia

Sports camp comparisons aside, professional athletes going to training camp isn’t really anything like summer camp for a myriad of reasons, the least of them not being the fact that it is incredibly annoying how much time is spent on SportsCenter talking about things that happened at training camp that day.

It would be pretty cool though if they were more like summer camp.

Concert Tours

Image via Wikimedia

Like the aforementioned movie shoots, there isn’t anything summer camp about traveling around the country making a living playing music and sleeping in hotels/tour buses even if the bill includes Brad Paisley.

Unless of course you are on the Camplified tour, which is annual tour of musicians who visit and perform at actual summer camps around the country.


Image via Wikimedia

I’ve noticed a trend in recent years of churches starting day camps or rebranding their Vacation Bible School programs as summer camps, but there’s a reason the term Church Camp exists. When I think of summer camp I think of a camp in the woods that operates mostly in the summer, not a building my bus passes every day on my way to work.

If church were more like summer camp it might look something like this.

Matt Ralph

Matt Ralph

I'm the editor of Summer Camp Culture and also blog at Tangzine.com and MatthewRalph.com. I live in the Philadelphia area and went to camps and camp meetings growing up in Ohio, Maryland and New Jersey.

Leave a Response