From whitewater rafting to performing arts and cooking, today’s sleep-away camps appeal to a wide range of interests while still providing the long-term benefits for which summer camp is known.
Benefits of overnight camp: In addition to learning new skills, children learn how to collaborate and live in community while at camp, gaining self-confidence and independence through problem-solving and teamwork.
“All those things are life skills and life assets that every parent wants for their child,” says Jill Tipograph, a camp consultant and author of Your Everything Summer Guide & Planner.
Popular camp activities: According to the American Camp Association, 75% of camp directors reported adding new activities and programs to accommodate trends in popular culture. The top three activities that camps are integrating into their more traditional fare, like campfires, swimming and horseback riding, include performing arts, adventure and more recently, culinary.
“Culinary is the hottest and newest in terms of camps investing in building kitchens and bringing in specialists to teach the kids. The other part that goes along with culinary is the whole, farmed table— taking things from the gardens and cooking them,” Tipograph says.
Traditional vs. specialty: Specialty camps are designed for kids interested in pursuing a specific interest. Traditional camps, on the other hand, offer a combination of programming. Children can try different activities, including those they may not have tried otherwise, whether stained glass design, rock climbing or singing in a recording studio.
“I feel that if children start their camping career on a purely specialty track, [parents] are really missing what camp can do for their child. The advantage traditional camps offer is they are all about the child holistically,” Tipograph says.
A menu of choices: One example of a traditional camp that offers a variety of specialty tracks for campers is Hidden Valley Camp, located in mid-coastal Maine.The camp attracts campers between the ages of 8 and 14, from all over the world.
Camp director Peter Kassen finds that culinary classes are especially attractive to campers, thanks in large part to a great interest in eating well and popular TV shows like Top Chef, Iron Chef and Cupcake Wars.
“This idea of being a foodie has really permeated the culture. Being involved in producing your own food and eating good food has become more central not just with adults but with children as well,” Kassen says.
Through the culinary classes, campers acquire a valuable life skill, learning to prepare quality, healthy meals from specialists in the food industry, and tasting foods from all over the globe.
“Last year, we had a group of 10 Korean campers accompanied by a woman who brought them over. She cooked a Korean meal for the entire camp. It was spectacular,” Kassen says.
But cooking is only one aspect of the camp. Whether they try windsurfing, horseback riding, tennis or anything else, Kassen hopes campers leave camp with a sense of confidence.
“At any good camp, campers get excited about an idea, and they pursue it from beginning to end without an adult telling them they had to do it in the first place,” he says. “That’s why people value time at camp. Children can learn and grow and become themselves away from home and school and all the usual surroundings.”
Considerations for a successful sleep-away experience:
- Maturity. Most kids are ready by ages 9 or 10, but consider your child’s physical and emotional maturity first.
- Plan ahead. If possible, start researching camps a year ahead of time. Check out websites, talk to friends and family for recommendations and visit prospective camps. Many overnight camps offer family weekends in the fall.
- Length of camp. For how long do you want your child away at camp? Camps offer both short and long-term sessions.
- Size of camp. Decide whether your child would do better in a large setting or a smaller gathering.
- Gender. Choose from a single-sex or a co-ed camp. Not sure which? Consider whether a younger sibling may eventually join your older child at camp.
- Location. Determine the types of activities you want your child to experience. Because of their geographical location, some camps offer better outdoor or adventure activities than others and may be more likely to have access to experienced adventure specialists.
- Meet the director. A meeting with the director is imperative in order to get a sense of his or her personality, trustworthiness and compatibility. “You need to see how they’re interacting with your child,” Tipograph says. “They set the tone and the philosophy for the camp and it trickles down. How they relate to you and your child is the same way they train their staff to do the same.”