Why longer sessions are better
What kind of person drops their 9-yr-old off at a mountain cabin with some strange college kids for two weeks? Knowing that the most communication they will receive is a short letter and maybe some Facebook photos. That’s what I wondered as I drove down the gravel road away from my daughter’s camp. Suddenly it seemed like a mistake. I enjoy a break from the kids as much (or more) than the next mom, but two weeks suddenly seemed crazy.
Before I started this whole camp directory business, I would have thought “hey, two weeks is just twice the fun as one week - for twice the price.” Now that I have drunk the Kool-aid and understand that camp is a character-building and critical developmental experience, I can see this is not the case.
Many moms are flabbergasted when they hear that traditional sleepaway camps offer 6-week or even 8-week sessions. How can you give up your child for that long? And what about the cost?
There aren’t many campers who stay for two months, but for a lot of overnight camps the standard session is three or four weeks. One-week sessions are sometimes only offered for first-timers or younger children.
The general consensus among experts is that you need at least two weeks in order for camp to work its magic.
One-week camps are tempting because you’re thinking, “if my kid doesn’t like it, they’re not stuck there too long. If they do like it, they can go back for a longer session next year.”
Also, longer sessions are expensive. But let’s pretend cost is not an issue for a moment.
To fully engage, six days is just not enough. It takes time.
Time to settle in
It takes a few days to settle in and establish a routine. By the time you start feeling comfortable, it’s time to go home.
If you don’t like everything at first (food, people, the climbing wall, etc.), you know you’re going home in a few days and just have to tough it out. This prevents you from fully engaging and making the most of your experience.
Time to learn new skills
A one-week camp will allow you to try a smattering of activities, but you won’t be able to progress through a certain skill. With two or three weeks you’ll have time to try several new things and then focus on a couple. By the end of the session, you may have conquered your fear of heights, be able to hit the bullseye, or successfully roll a kayak. You will gain a lasting sense of accomplishment.
Time to make friends
Summer camp is like college – a place where you make lifelong friends. In part this comes from living together and sharing failures and triumphs. It takes a while to get to know people and form lasting friendships. It also takes time to discover that the bunkmate whom you initially found annoying is actually a really fun person.
The camp directors I have spoken with all feel that longer sessions provide a more valuable experience. Even those camps whose standard sessions are just one week wish that they could offer longer options.
Yates Pharr, Director at Falling Creek Camp for boys, attests that there is a huge difference in a camper’s experience with a 4-week session vs. a 2-week session. Even the difference between three and four weeks is significant. There are a lot more tears shed at departure after four weeks.
David Trufant, Director at Kadalea and Chosatanga, feels it’s important to have at least three weeks so that you have time to build a sense of community and family.
Think about your own vacations. Americans are lucky to be able to take one week off at a time, let alone two. But if you’ve ever managed a longer vacation, you know how much better it felt to get away and disengage from regular life for an extended period of time.
Then think back to your own childhood experiences. What were the most meaningful?
My own summer camp experience was limited, but at age 16 I did attend N.C. Governor’s School for six weeks. It was amazing and transformational, partly because we had time to delve into our area of study and form meaningful friendships away from the confines of home.
And when I studied abroad in college, I insisted on a year-long program rather than a semester. It took a few months to learn how to navigate the language and culture before I could really discover what it was like to live in a foreign country.
Most campers want to stay longer
Homesickness usually occurs in the first 2 days and dissipates by day 4. When camp comes to a close, kids end up not wanting to leave.
My oldest went to her first traditional camp as a rising 7th-grader - for just a week. I was extremely concerned that she would be homesick and miserable. However, when I picked her up her first comment was “It was so much fun, I don’t want to go home. Next year I’m coming for two weeks!”
I had the pleasure of visiting six camps in the Asheville area in July 2017. At two of them I saw kids making calls to parents asking if they could extend their stay.
But I’ll miss my baby
Are you the mom who went through a box of tissues when your kids went to kindergarten? You probably think you’ll miss your child too much if he goes to sleepaway camp. Well, it’s time to reframe your thinking.
- The bliss of coming home from work to an empty house
- Date nights without the expense of a babysitter
- A trip with your husband without having to create a detailed schedule and instruction list for the grandparents
- Tackling that home improvement project that’s been on hold for two years
Two weeks will go by so fast that you’ll be aiming for three next year. And your child will love camp so much he’ll beg to stay longer.
Visit the blog roundup for more sleepaway camp advice: