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A New Approach to Sleepaway Camp

In response to the economy and changing lifestyles, many overnight camps have added shorter sessions to their traditional four- and eight-week schedules.

“About two years ago, as a response to what families were telling us they needed, we decided to implement two-week sessions,” says Dee Billia, director of marketing and public relations for Appel Farm Arts Camp in Elmer, NJ. “It’s been a resounding success.”

Four-week residential camps can cost from $1,700 to $7,000, according to the National Camp Association (NCA), while two-week sessions run between $1,000 and $4,000. Beyond the economics, shorter sessions are attractive to younger and first-time campers who may be nervous about leaving home for too long. “It’s an easy way to introduce a child to camp,” explains Billia.

Family summer plans, including vacations, have also made shorter sessions popular. “From the parents’ perspective, they are trying to do more in their summer, and shorter sessions facilitate this,” says John Jannone, director of Ballibay for the Fine and Performing Arts in Camptown, PA.

While shorter camp sessions are gaining popularity, some camps have offered them for many years. Chandler Clay, 22, a graduate student and native of Montchanin, DE, recalls fond memories of her four summers as a kid at Hameau Farm in the Big Valley, a residential camp in Belleville, PA. She says that going to camp for a two-week session when she was 9 years old allowed her to ease into the new experience of camp in a positive way. By the time she was 12, she was attending six-week sessions.

“I wasn’t comfortable yet being away from home and the first time I tried out a camp, I didn’t want to commit to six weeks when I didn’t know if I would like it,” she says. “If it’s new and you’re going by yourself, it can be a difficult experience.”

An athlete, Clay enjoyed stints at basketball and lacrosse camps, but she also loves animals. The short-session option added variety to her summers. “It was a way for me to go to a fun farm camp for two weeks, in the middle of all my athletic camps,” she says.

Appel Farm specializes in the arts, from theater and dance to recording and photography. Their two-week sessions are offered at the front end of each four-week session, and are tailored to a shorter curriculum.

At Ballibay for the Fine and Performing Arts, Jannone says that two weeks is too short for a completely individual-choice program or for a program that puts on full-length theater and musical theater. “But for focused art, dance, and rock programs, it is a very good length,” he says.

Shorter sessions have proven popular and seem to be a trend that is here to stay. “It’s an extremely positive experience,” says Billia. “Any time spent at camp is a great way for the children to learn and grow.”

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