Choose your adventure
Sleep-away camps appeal to a wide range of interests while providing the long-term personal benefits summer camp is known for. Consider the following attributes of your child and the camps on your short list to select the right overnight camp.
Maturity. Most kids are ready to stay away from home by age 9 or 10, but take your child’s physical and emotional maturity into account to make this decision. Has he successfully stayed overnight at a friend’s house with little or no homesickness? Does he adapt well to new situations?
Motivation. Does your child want to go to overnight camp? Does she talk about it all the time and seem eager to go?
Length. Many camps offer both one-week and multi-week sessions.Which option fits your schedule and budget? How long is your child comfortable with being away from home.
Size. Would your child thrive at a larger camp or a smaller one? Walt Lafontaine, executive director of Camp Arrowhead in Lewes, DE, notes that “kids who are on the fringe emotionally or even physically tend to work better in a smaller environment,” but individual children may prefer a smaller or larger group setting for other reasons.
Structure. A centralized camp assigns campers to a group and counselor but allows individual campers to choose separate activities throughout the day. The group members often gather in the evening with their counselor for common time. A decentralized camp structure, like Camp Arrowhead, places campers into a group that travels together throughout the entire day, although that doesn’t mean they have no choice of activities, cautions Lafontaine. Instead, the group chooses and enjoys activities together.
Co-ed or same-sex? Which type of camp should your child attend?
At co-ed camps, campers have to interact and get along with the opposite sex as they would at home, plus brother/sister siblings can attend together and get a similar camp experience.
At a same-sex camp, campers can focus on their activities without worries about constant socializing with the opposite sex. Laura Arrington, director of outdoor program and camp properties for the Girl Scouts of the Chesapeake Bay, notes that in the same-sex camp environment, she sees the girls achieve “accelerated growth in courage, confidence and character,” the three main tenets of the Girls Scouts program.
Another option? An all-boys camp with an associated all-girls camp can provide a way for parents to keep brothers and sisters near each other and yet let them spend most of their camp time with same-sex peers.
Location. What types of activities does your child want to experience? Some camps offer better outdoor or adventure activities because of their geographic location. Is distance from home a factor in your camp choice?
The director. A meeting or phone call with the camp director lets you get a sense of his or her personality, trustworthiness and compatibility. “You need to see how the director interacts with your child,” says Jill Tipograph, a camp consultant and author of Your Everything Summer Guide & Planner. “The director sets the tone and the philosophy for the camp and it trickles down. How he relates to you and your child is the same way he trains his staff to do the same.”
Christa Melnyk Hines is a freelance journalist and mother of two boys.