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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? continued...

Years ago, a seven- or eight-week camp was the norm. Now, much shorter stays are common, as are stays at several camps.

"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' houses.

"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 feelings."

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