Making the Move

Transitioning from Summer Day Camp To Sleep Away Camp

It’s often said, “kids are growing up much faster these days.” Or “kids adjust to being away from home at a much earlier age these days.” Or, “kids are chomping at the bit to be able to participate in life experiences seemingly more suitable or appropriate for older children these days.”

So, what exactly is the matter with kids these days?

Anxious Moments

How is it even the most seemingly independent kid, the one who doesn’t want their parents to dictate or interfere with their daily lives, gets weak in the knees and their bottom lip starts to quiver at the very first mention of, “Your mother and I were thinking of sending you away to sleep away camp this summer”. Even for the seasoned summer day camper, those very words can elicit the first real feelings of separation anxiety.

Well, guess what, the campers are not the only ones feeling a bit shaky. Sure, parents survive those anxious nights as their children participate in their first neighborhood sleepovers. And, yes, they might even have gotten somewhat used to those vacations where their children leave home on a school or youth group trip over a long weekend or even a week. Yet sleep away camp presents a whole different agenda, an entirely different mindset and quite frankly much more serious considerations.

So what does all this mean in regards to how both parents and kids, these days, can agree on finding that perfect time to experience sleep away camp for the very first time. What it means is these days are no different than any other days. It still remains today, as it did generations before, a very personal and unique decision. There is no best time there is only the very private decision parents must make for each and every child. And, there is a great deal to take into consideration.

Examining the Issues - Historically

Clearly such issues as finances, location/ proximity to home and availability of transportation/access to site, visiting and phone policies, familiarity with programming and camp themes/agendas and the facility and its resources are all part of this calculation.

Perhaps the one factor most often overlooked in this process is the historical perspective. What has the family unit experienced in the past? What type of camp experiences have they shared previously? When parents approach the issue of sleep away camp, although choosing the appropriate camp is important, the question as to when they should send their children seems to be more important. Quite often parents might feel they have found the perfect sleep away camp for their child, but fail to recognize the impact of such influences as the duration of the camp sessions, the value of their own traditional family vacations/activities and the relationships each child has established with their siblings and friends.

One very interesting consideration in this process is whether or not a child has ever experienced day camp or a boarding school and, if they have, what their comfort level has been throughout that experience. If a child has never been exposed to either of those experiences, there remains a significant chance they will take a longer period of time to feel comfortable at a sleep away camp. If a child has attended a day camp for many years and has established a strong comfort level there, in addition to strong bonds with other campers and staff members, the transition to sleep away camp may be a bit bumpy. This formula naturally also holds true for the parents involved as well. So what type of experience could help in this transition?

Mini Sleep Away Components

Many summer day camps have developed mini sleep away components within their programs. The duration of these excursions vary, but the criteria they all share in common are significant. Usually these programs are offered during the middle or latter part of the summer, after the campers and staff have had an opportunity get to know each other and bond. They all send representatives from their own staff to chaperone and participate in the experience. This policy truly impacts the immediate comfort level of the campers and their parents. This eliminates the difficulties that might arise when a first time sleep away camper must adjust to a new environment and a new staff all at the same time. This relationship can surely reduce the separation anxieties of both the campers and their nervous parents.

Sleep Away Camp Orientation

Another important feature is the time the summer day camp staff spends preparing their campers for this event. Similar to a college freshman orientation, these campers are prepped for their sleep away experience. The sleep away camp’s policies, procedures and activities are reviewed, allowing the day campers an opportunity to discuss the upcoming experience with their parents, friends, counselors and their fellow campers. The significance of this process cannot be understated. Finally, because the length of time day camp groups spend at sleep away camps is generally two weeks or less, there still remains plenty of time remaining in the summer for the campers to return to their day camp and or their families.

The decision as to when and where a parent should send their child to a sleep away camp is often an anxious choice. Clearly this process can be less stressful when the entire family has benefited from a successful summer day camp experience.

Jeff Krieger is the Director of Camp Or Hashemesh in Clearwater, Fl. He can be reached at

Bryan BuchkoComment