Is Your Child Ready for Overnight Camp?

Is sleep-away or day camp right for your child?

While there’s no set recommended age for kids to begin attending residential camps, the majority of kids start between 10 and 12 years old, says Tracy Power, camp director at Appel Farm Arts Camp in Elmer, NJ. But don’t rule out starting younger kids at sleep-away camp. “Kids are often a lot more capable than we give them credit for,” she says.

“For any camp, parents should consider their kid’s personality,” says Rebecca Howell, manager of Studio Learning & Creative Engagement at the Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington, DE. For instance, some shy kids may have a tough time at sleep-away camp because there are many required social activities such as performing skits and singing in front of the campfire. Camp directors recommend that you research and ask questions to find the right camp for your child. “There’s a camp out there for every single kid,” says Power.

Day camp

“Day camps are good for kids with other things going on in their lives,” says Cathy Perrotto, camp and scout coordinator at the Delaware Museum of Natural History. Time demands on kids are different than they were a generation ago. Many kids have commitments that continue into the summer. “Day camp is sort of the best of both worlds,” says Perrotto. “Have fun during the day and then go back home and do your thing.”

Day camp can be a primer for future sleep-away camp experiences. Many kindergartners or first graders will do better in a day camp as their first camp experience, says Elizabeth Frederick, camp director for Shelly Ridge, a Girl Scout camp in Lafayette Hill, PA. Also, day camps tend to be shorter, taking place on a Monday through Friday schedule for one or two weeks.

Sleep-away camp

Sleep-away camp is a big time commitment that is 24 hours a day for as long as eight weeks during the summer. While homesickness is perfectly normal, it’s not insurmountable. “One of the most valuable parts of sleep-away camp is learning the coping skills to manage homesickness,” says Power.

“Resident camp is good for fostering independence,” Frederick agrees.

Readiness signs

How do you know your child is ready to take on the challenge of sleep-away camp? Camp directors advise parents to look for these signs.

  • Expressed desire to attend sleep-away camp
  • Success at sleepovers
  • Mastery of self-care skills: hygiene, appropriate dress, etc.

Preparation for camp

“First graders can thrive in resident camp. It’s all about the preparation the family puts in,” Frederick says. She recommends preparing by giving children a bit of independence, such as allowing them to pack their own backpack, or pour their own cereal or juice. Also, if possible, practice spending the night away from mom and dad for several nights. In addition, many camps offer camp tours so kids and parents can get a preview of what the living situation is like, says Power.

“You want their first experience to be a positive one, an enjoyable one,” says Todd Landrey, director of camps for the Philadelphia 76ers, which has camp locations around the Delaware Valley. He recommends sending kids to day camp first, then progressing to an overnight camp experience. Some day camps offer “sleepover” single nights for a trial experience. “The first time should always be a week,” Landrey says of residential camps. “You should never bite off more than you can chew.”


Suzanne Koup-Larsen is a MetroKids contributing writer.

Categories: Camps & Classes