The Patchwork Camp Solution
Should you child go to one camp or hop through several shorter sessions this summer?
Gone are the days when summer scheduling was as simple as signing kids up for a half or full season of camp. Today’s parents are also presented with a dizzying array of short-span activities and specialty sessions that accommodate family vacation time and campers’ diverse interests. Before you start stitching together a patchwork quilt of summer programs, though, consider how the quantity and quality of each will benefit your child.
One camp all summer
After a century-plus of four- and eight-week seasons, camps began offering one- to three-week sessions in the late 1990s to better jibe with busy family schedules. Camp Mah-Kee-Nac residential boys’ camp in the Berkshires, for example, intersperses briefer spans into its traditional seven-week session and plans carefully to immerse all campers into the full MKN experience, no matter how long or short their stay.
“If a camper attends for three weeks, he will be placed with other kids his age who are starting and finishing at the same time,” says director Walter Synalovski. “Our campers choose their electives and therefore meet other kids with similar interests quickly, which makes it easy for new campers to integrate. We also assign them to an experienced ‘big brother.’ ”
Tall Pines Day Camp in Williamstown, NJ, requires a three-week minimum in its eight-week season, but 75 percent of campers stay six weeks or more. Furthermore, 84 percent return the following summer and 66 percent attend for three or more years. “We have many families that do less than the full summer in their first year, but then parents hear that their children don’t want to leave,” says owner/director Andrew Yankowitz. “They sign up for extra weeks and typically stay longer the next year. Our philosophy is, the more time in camp, the better the overall experience.”
Howard Batterman, owner/director of Sesame Rockwood Day Camp in Blue Bell, PA, believes that both short and long camp sessions can have benefits, but he too stresses consistency: “Children gain confidence and self-esteem by seeing the same friends and familiar surroundings.”
Patchwork summer pros & cons
Independent research conducted in 2004 by the nonprofit American Camp Association (ACA) showed that even a two-week camp experience can yield positive outcomes in areas of youth development, such as confidence, teamwork and responsibility. It also cited the importance of “nurturing relationships” that develop when counselors become camper role models.
“Short-term programs are great for learning a skill or pursuing an interest,” says Yankowitz, who advises parents to choose sessions with care. “With so many kids walking around looking at a screen, you want to send them to where human interaction is the most important part of the day.”
“Participating in a variety of short-session programs enables parents to offer kids different experiences,” says Synalovski. “This means that the child has to start, adapt and integrate into a different program several times a summer. For some kids, this is easy, while for others, multiple changes in their routine can be difficult.”
At residential sleepaway camps, short or even mini-sessions can ease kids into the environment and help parents overcome “kid-sickness.” “Parents are often more afraid of sending their children to camp than their kids are of going,” says Michael Chauveau, executive director of the ACA Keystone Field Office in Glenside, PA. “One- and half-week sessions help parents learn that their children can go to camp for an extended period of time and everyone will be OK.”
One size doesn’t fit all
“Camp success is measured by the skills the kids learn, the new friends they make, growth in independence and the life skills attained,” Synalovski says. “Review each camp’s distinguishing activities and philosophies to ensure that you find the right fit.”
“Every child should be able to go to camp regardless of the amount of time they can go,” adds Yankowitz. “The experience can be life-changing, and just to have that opportunity is
Ellen Warren writes for the American Camp Association (ACA) Keystone Field Office serving Pennsylvania and Delaware. Learn more at Campparents.org.