Sleepaway camp is an American tradition. The first known U.S. sleepaway camp was an all-boys' camp in 1861 in Connecticut where the boys lived in tents and spent their summer fishing, boating and trapping. While a growing number of children's summer-camp experiences are day camps - the American Camp Association says there are now 5,000 day camps in the U.S., an increase of 90 percent in the last 20 years - sleepaway camps remain an important part of many families' lives.

"Were you homesick at camp?" Sarah O'Brien asked her daughter, Margaret Zirwas. "Sometimes," was the 7-year-old's response. But not enough to keep the Bexley second-grader from going back this year to what is traditionally known as "sleepaway camp." "It was really just on the fourth or the third day," recalled Margaret. "But my mom put pictures (of home) on my suitcase and I looked at those. And my counselors talked to me and made me feel better." Sleepaway camp is an American tradition - and arguably so is homesickness and learning how to deal with it. The first known U.S. sleepaway camp was an all-boys' camp in 1861 in Connecticut where the boys lived in tents and spent their summer fishing, boating and trapping. While a growing number of children's summer-camp experiences are day camps - the American Camp Association says there are now 5,000 day camps in the U.S., an increase of 90 percent in the last 20 years - sleepaway camps remain an important part of many families' lives. According to the ACA, nearly 11,000,000 children participated in about 12,000 camps last year, with 7,000 of these being residential camps. "I actually think there's a greater value to sleepaway camps now," said Dave Devey, owner of Falcon Camp, one of the few traditional, head-off-to-woods and write-letters-home camps in the region. Falcon, which Margaret attended last year and will return to this year, has operated since 1959 from a forested lakeside site in Carroll County, about 140 miles northeast of Columbus. Picture the iconic film "The Parent Trap" (either version) and you've got a good idea of what Falcon Camp looks like. "Children gain a sense of independence and the ability to communicate with their faces instead of their fingers on a computer keyboard," Devey said. "Nowadays they really don't know how to sit down and talk to each other. "It's also about reconnecting with nature," he continued. "That's happening less and less for families. But how much cooler is it to pick up a frog than to see a picture of it on the computer screen?" As valuable an experience as Devey believes sleepaway camp to be, he's also aware that it's a tough sell in this day and age.For a variety of reasons, it has become harder for parents to send children away for any length of time.For one thing, they cost money - but, explained Dennis Elliott, the American Camp Association's Ohio executive, recessions often tend to be good for camp business. "Rather than spending money on big vacations," Elliott said, "they'll spend the money on camp for the kids, even if it's just for a week." But, added Elliott, "it's certainly true that parents are a lot more protective now and there's even a whole industry of computer software that's sprung up, that lets people see photos and videos of their kids while they're at camp."