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Sleep Away Camp 101: What Parents Should Know

Traditional Sleep Away Camp, also known as Overnight Camp, is very well known on the East Coast and in the Midwest, but not so much here in SoCal. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t lots of great options for Sleep Away Camps in California. Just check out our article all about that!

Parents need to get informed about Sleep Away Camp before making a decision, so we’ve got a ton of great information here. You probably have a lot of questions, like about the costs of Sleep Away Camps, and the benefits for my child. You may be concerned that your child isn’t the right age to go to Overnight Camp, or that there aren’t good safety measures in place. Ultimately, you probably want to know how to choose the best Sleep Away Camp for your child, so they can have an amazing Summer experience.

If you’re considering Sleep Away Camp for your children, you need to hear from an expert. We asked Jill Levin some of the most-asked questions from our readers, and we’re sharing her answers below. Jill is a Camp Advisor with Tips on Trips and Camps, an organization that’s been helping families find the right Camp for their kids for years.

Related: Find the Best Summer Day Camps in Los Angeles

Archery is just one of the fun activities your child can participate in at Sleep Away Camp

What You Need to Know About Sleep Away Camps

How Much Does Sleep-Away Camp Cost? 

Location matters. A family should plan to spend a minimum of $1500/week for a California sleep-away camp. On the East Coast, half-season camps (3.5-4 weeks) are about $7500. Since many families cannot afford these prices, there are also 2-week options that range between $3500 – $5,000. Midwest camps are somewhat less. Most camps offer sibling discounts. Some also offer “early-bird discounts,” which is usually a savings of a couple hundred dollars. 

Is Overnight Camp Worth It? 

That is a question that each family must decide for itself, based on its own financial and other circumstances. If you ask a parent who is a former camper, they will understand the value of camp and say, “Yes, if a family can afford it, it’s worth it.” Camp offers much more than a recreational experience; you cannot put a value on the growth and development that happens at camp.

What Are Some of the Benefits of Sending my Kid to Sleep Away Camp? 

Learning teamwork, conflict resolution, problem-solving, and leadership and communication skills; developing resilience and decision-making skills; and building long-lasting friendships are just some ways students can grow when they attend camp. Almost 18 months of Covid-19 concerns have taken a toll on the mental health of our children; Camp is exactly what many children need to regain a sense of “normal.” Play, socialization and communication are so important in childhood development and this is what camp provides. 

What’s the Right Age for my Child to Start Camp? 

Some Overnight Camps will take campers at 7 years of age, but it is more common to first enroll them at 8 or 9. Children are often ready to attend overnight camp well before a parent is ready to part with them. If your child expresses an interest in going away, encourage that feeling because there is much to be learned from the experience. Most kids may feel a little homesick in unfamiliar surroundings, but all good camps have built-in mechanisms for dealing with those issues. 

Related: How to Prepare Your Child for their First Summer Camp Experience

What’s the Best Age for Overnight Camp? 

The answer to this question is different for every child. I say the best age for sleep-away camp is when you think your child is ready for it. Here are some signs that they are ready: Does your child willingly sleep at a grandparent’s home? Does your child express an interest in going away to camp? Can your child take care of his or her personal hygiene: brush teeth and shower independently? Does your child listen to instructions? Is he/she willing to try new things? Know that it is normal for a child to be anxious about going away to camp for the first time. Those feelings are totally normal. Be honest about what camp is like and give them the tools to deal with issues that may arise.

Related: One Mom Reflects on her Daughter’s First Sleep Away Camp Trip

What Age is Too Young for Overnight Camp? 

There are exceptions but generally speaking, a child below the age of 7 is too young to attend sleep-away camp.

Related: Summer Camps for Preschoolers in Los Angeles

How Do I Choose a Sleep-Away Camp for my Child? 

It’s important to know your child and the type of camp where they would thrive. Of course, talking to friends is one way to choose a camp. However, even though you think it may be a great idea for your child to go to the same camp as his or her friend, that’s not always the case. What’s right for the friend may not be the best choice for your child. A camp advisor can help you make that decision and present you with questions to help you determine the best fit for your child. Do you want a traditional camp experience with broad-based activities? Do you want a camp that is comfortable with typical cabins and bathrooms inside the cabins or would your child prefer a more rustic camp environment? What activities are important to them? Where geographically would you like this camp to be? Do you want your child to stay in California or would you be interested in sending your child to a camp in the Midwest or back East? How long do you want your child away at camp: one week? two weeks? A half season (usually 3-1/2 weeks) or a full season (usually 7 weeks)? Do you want a single sex camp or would you prefer co-ed? A summer camp advisor will ask you the appropriate questions to help you narrow your options and will then provide you with a list of camps that are the best fit for your child.

girl paddling kayak at SUMMER CAMP
Summer Camp can be an antidote to pandemic living

Related: Camps at Colleges in Los Angeles

What Criteria Should I Use When Evaluating a Sleep-Away Camp?

It’s important to communicate with the Camp’s Director and hear about the philosophy that guides the camp. It’s also important to understand the Camp’s policies on things like travel to and from their location, drop-off and pick-up times, safety, dealing with homesickness, conflict resolution between Campers, care packages, what technology they allow, and things like that. You should also ask about the Camp Director’s goals for the campers. How are discipline problems dealt with? What are the qualifications for the counselors and staff? How are staff trained? What is the camper-to-staff ratio? How does the camp communicate to parents? In the time of Covid-19, what are the safety protocols?

What Safety Issues Arise at Sleep Away Camp That I Should Be Aware of or Worry About?

It’s important to ask yourself the following questions: Does your child have health issues or behavior issues? If so, be sure to talk to the camp director so that you feel comfortable with how the camp will address those issues. Some camps are better than others in dealing with allergies – food or otherwise. You may want to ask about certification – especially for the waterfront and adventure staff.

Related: Special Needs Camps in Los Angeles

What Should I Look for in a Camp? 

Look for a camp in which you are comfortable with the answers to your questions. Ask the director questions about staff retention and training. Ask about how they handle discipline problems in the cabin, homesickness, allergies and any other issues important to you. What are their water safety measures? How do you feel after speaking with the director? You need to feel good about the camp so you can feel at ease when your child is away. 

How Long do Most Camps Last? 

In California, most Overnight Camps offer two-week sessions. However, there are a few camps that offer one-week sessions. Even if it’s primarily a 2-week camp, many offer a one-week session at either the beginning of summer or at the end of Summer. Back East, Sleep Away Camps are either half season (3-1/2 weeks) or full season, (7 weeks), although there are some that offer two weeks, as well. Midwest camps generally offer sessions that are half season or full season.

Related: Online Summer Camps

Does Sleep Away Camp Last All Summer? 

You can find one-week camps, two- week camps as well as half season and full season camps. I encourage parents who are thinking about a one-week camp to consider sending their child away for at least two weeks. Your child needs to be able to experience all that Camp offers and that can be hard to do in one week.

What Are the Best Sleep Away Camp Options for Teens? 

Teens are ready to start exploring the world. There are many options available to them once they are completing 9th grade. Teens can attend outdoor adventure programs, language programs, enjoy a teen tour, participate in community service, attend an on-campus enrichment program or learn sailing, biking and more. Internships are often available for older teens, as well.  

Related: Read about Summer Day Camps for Teenagers

What Are the Best Overnight Camp Options for Tweens? 

Oftentimes tweens who have been going to camp every summer are ready to start exploring other summer opportunities. There is an array of programs available to them at this age. I recommend that families choose a program that is age specific so that their tweens are with others close to their age. The types of programs that are available to tweens include: outdoor adventure, language, enrichment on a college campus, community service, creative and performing arts and more. 

Related: Summer Programs for High School Students and Teens

Summer Camp is fun!

In the first half of the last Century there were large waves of immigrants who settled on the East Coast, primarily in and around New York City. As these families prospered, they looked for ways to get their children out of the hot and crowded City for the Summer. They looked for areas that were a drivable distance where there were lakes and open spaces. They then established Summer Overnight Camps in these Northeastern locations. This became the basis for the full season Summer experience. I don’t think that the West Coast will ever have a full Summer Camp culture like the East Coast, but it’s still something many families here choose.

What Else Should We Know About Sleep Away Camps?

At the end of Summer and in early Fall, I love hearing from the families whose children I’ve sent to Camps and on Programs to hear how they enjoyed their time away from home. Many have had life-changing experiences. It’s those experiences that keep me doing what I love to do.

As parents, we want to hold our children close and help them establish their roots. Yet equally as important is to give our children the confidence to explore, experience the world around them and create new relationships. Going to an Overnight Camp is the perfect way to do this! Camp is not just a place for your child to spend a few weeks out of the Summer; it’s something they will hold in their hearts forever.

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