Sleep-away camps have the power to transform lives, build community, instill independence, and lay a powerful foundation for self-directed learners.

I witnessed this over and over again as both a staffer and participant in summer camps, beginning at age 11. I’m such a fan of the camp model that I’ve long wondered how I can work at camps year-round.

Camps for unschoolers

Not Back to School Camp (Oregon, Vermont, California): ages 13-18. The preeminent summer camp for teenage self-directed learners, founded in 1996. I’ve worked there every summer since 2006.


East Tennessee Unschool Camp (Tennessee): ages 13-18. Another camp for teenage unschoolers, more associated with radical unschooling. I worked as their medic for their first summer in 2010.

Camp Stomping Ground (New York): ages 5-15. A new camp based on inclusivity, consent, and self-directed learning.

Traditional camps with significant self-directed aspects

Most sleep-away camps build independence, but these camps go a big step farther in building the skills necessary for effective self-directed learning.

Deer Crossing Camp (Northern California): ages 9-15 + leader-in-training program for ages 15-17. I attended this camp from ages 11-15 and worked there for five summers as an adult. I’m definitely biased toward Deer Crossing: it’s a part of my history.

Tinkering School (Northern California): ages 8-17. Watch this inspiring TED Talk by founder Gever Tulley.

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