How to Pick a Summer Camp
There are more than 8,000 summer camps in the U.S., offering everything from canoeing to computers. Take some time with your kids to decide which summer camp is right for them and how long they should be away from home.
How Long to Stay at Summer Camp?
Most experts agree that children under 7
are too young for sleep-away camp. And a general-interest camp is best for
children under 10.
"Of course, that's flexible," says
Christopher Thurber, PhD, co-author of Summer Camp Handbook, and a
spokesperson for the American Psychological Association. "In my experience,
the lower end for a one-week sleep-away camp is 7-years-old. But even some
10-year-olds may need a shorter session."
Years ago, a seven- or eight-week camp was
the norm. Now, much shorter stays are common, as are stays at several
"Most camps use a two-week
session," says Thurber, who also is a faculty member at the Phillips Exeter
School in New Hampshire. "Now, there are many more specialty camps, and
kids are interested in getting a variety of experiences, so they may go to
several camps over the season for shorter stays. They're at soccer camp for two
weeks, then they are at computer camp for a week."
The costs for camp vary as widely as the
type of summer camps available. In 1999, the average cost for a week's stay at
a non-profit camp was $250 to $800, says Thurber. Costs are higher at
for-profit camps, where a week's stay runs from $350 to $1,200.
"Generally, the average is about $500
per week," he says.
Dealing With Homesickness at Summer Camp
"About 95% of all boys and girls
between 8 and 16 experience some feelings of homesickness on at least two days
of a two-week stay at camp," says Thurber.
While younger kids are more likely to be
homesick, the better predictor of whether any child will experience
homesickness is the kinds of experiences the child has had with previous
overnight stays, such as weekends with grandparents or sleepovers at friends'
"Avoiding homesickness all comes down
to the child's attitude," says Thurber, whose scientific work focuses on
how kids deal with separation at camp. "That's why it is so very important
to include the child in the decision process about a camp. Kids who feel forced
to go to a camps are much more likely to feel homesick than are kids who feel
like they had a chance to influence the decision process."
Another important aspect of avoiding
homesickness is to talk about it.
"There's a conventional idea that if
you mention homesickness, you'll just make them focus on it," says Thurber.
"But it doesn't work that way. Have an open discussion with your kids about
how they feel about going away. What's most important here is that the parent
gives the message that he or she believes the child can handle the stress of
being away, that the child is competent at handling temporary, uncomfortable
Thurber says one mistake many parents make
is in having "pick-up deals" with kids. "They say, 'If you feel
homesick, I will come and get you.'" Says Thurber. "But that sends the
message that you think the child is not competent to deal with an important
life challenge. That's not a good message to send."
If you've involved you child along the way,
they may have some anxiety, but they aren't likely to feel frightened for
"Parents should also make sure the
child gets some practice time at sleepovers," says Thurber. "Spend a
weekend at the grandparents or have a sleepover at a friend's
Afterward, parents can talk with a child
about how they felt being away and what made them feel better if they were