Director Jud's Blog

For How Long Should My Child Attend an Overnight Summer Camp?

Posted by Jud Millar on Thu, Apr 25, 2019

You have decided to send your child to a specific overnight camp summer. Now, the next big question is, "How long should I send my child to overnight camp for?"

Most overnight summer camps offer a variety of session length options, usually one to eight weeks and everything in between. In this blog post we'll explore some questions that you can answer for yourself that will assist you in finding the ideal session length for your child.


Summer Camp in the “Early Days”

Parents have been sending their children to overnight summer camps for over 140 years. This “summer camp tradition” started in large cities and urban areas in the northeast. In many communities, the majority of children and young teenagers attended summer camp each year and, if you did not attend camp, you felt “left out” because there were not many kids available to play with at home. Traditionally, almost all overnight summer camps ran for the entire summer, which is generally about 8 weeks.


Changing Trends

As the population of the United States from the northeast expanded to other areas of country, the tradition of attending summer camps went with them. This resulted in more summer camp options for families with varying preferences for the right session length.  With so many options available many parents began asking the question: “How long should I send my child to overnight summer camp?”

A group of female Teen Campers playing Table Soccer.

Overnight Summer Camp Session Options

Shorter Camp Sessions: One to two week sessions are often used to introduce campers to overnight summer camp. These shorter sessions often don’t give campers the full positive impact and growth experiences that the overnight camp has to offer, but they do give campers and busy families more flexibility. They can provide campers with a positive camp experience and set them up for potentially longer sessions in the future.


Mid-Length Camp Sessions: Three to four week sessions provide campers time and space “dive deep” into camp and gain all the benefits and growth experiences that overnight camp has to offer. Many camps call this their “half summer option.”


Full Summer Camp Sessions: Six to eight week sessions were at one time the norm for traditional summer camps and many campers still choose this option. Campers who choose to stay at camp for the “full summer” and camp becomes their second home.


Questions to ask yourself when trying to decide on the ideal session length for your child:

What are your goals for your child or teen at overnight summer camp?

Spending an extended period of time at an overnight summer camp has the potential for many growth experiences and benefits to your child. Some of them include:

  • Independence and resiliency
  • Spending time being active outside everyday
  • Increased self confidence
  • Skill development
  • Unplug from technology
  • Build life-long friendships

The list of potential physical, emotional, and social benefits of summer camp goes on, however, you as a parent need to ask yourself: “What are my goals for my child at overnight summer camp?”  As you consider this question, reflect on your child’s strengths and weaknesses.  An overnight summer camp is a great opportunity for your child to build on his or her strengths and enhance areas where growth is needed. 

Take Away: Typically, the longer your child is at camp the more comfortable he or she feels there and the more opportunity there is to work on the goals you have set for your child while at camp.


How “ready” is my child or teen for overnight camp?

Once you figure out how “ready” your child is for overnight camp then making the decision about how long your child should be at camp becomes easier. Factors to consider when asking this question include:

  • How many experiences has my child had sleeping away from home?
  • Has my child expressed interest in camp or is it all my idea?

Once you have answered these questions you should have a better sense of what session length your child is ready for this summer. 

Take Away: There is a balance between waiting for your child to be ready and encouraging your child to step outside his or her confirm zone “push” themselves to go to camp.


What other plans does our family or my child or teen have for the summer?

There are many demands on your family and your child’s summer schedule including:

  • Sports day camps
  • Family vacations
  • Having some “down time” at home
  • And many others

Life feels busier now than it ever has, but there are still 24 hours in a day, seven days in a week and 365 days in a year – the same as in 1983 (the year SMA was founded).  Take a good hard look at your summer calendar and find the windows of time that are available for your child to attend camp. 


The Take Away: Summer family scheduling can be a “juggling act.” Prioritize your child’s goals at camp (see question above) and balance that with other options and obligations for the summer.


How ready am I for my child or teen to be away at overnight camp?

Sending your child or young teenager “away” to camp means putting their safety and well being in the hands of someone else. This “leap of faith” feels harder now than ever as many parents are connected 24/7 to their kids through technology and they are used to interacting with their child on a daily basis. Many summer camps have taken the following steps to help parents feel connected to their child or teenager while he or she is at camp:

  • Post daily or weekly blog posts with updates and photos
  • Parents are able to send e-mail to their child (usually kids can’t write back)
  • Parents can call the Camp Director and her/his team to get an update on their child

These and other camp policies help to make the separation process easier on all family members.


Take Away: As a parent you have to try to strike a balance between being protective and being over-protective. When your child is “ready” you need to try to give him or her the time and space at overnight camp to have growth experiences and work towards achieving some of the goals you set for them. Letting children and teens work through certain situations on their own allows them to be functioning adults later in life.


Decision Time

If you have read this far you are serious about trying to find the right session length for your child for overnight camp. My suggestion is take some time to think through your goals for your child or teenager for the summer. Depending on your child’s age and the nature of your relationship with him or her you may or may not want to share those goals. Once you have outlined those goals they should aid you in answering the questions that you may have. 

Take Away: I have been a camper, a camp counselor, a wilderness instructor, and a school teacher; now I’m a Summer Camp Director and a father. Based on these experiences, I strongly believe the following:

  • Children and young adults need growth experiences to fulfill their potential
  • Overnight Summer Camp is a great place for kids to have those growth experiences
  • In general, longer sessions give kids the opportunity to challenge themselves and have those growth experiences

Parents must take into account many factors when deciding the right length of time to send their child to camp. Taking time to prioritize these factors will aid your decision making process. Good luck and please do not hesitate to contact me with questions.


If there is anything that I can do to help you in your decision making process or clarify anything in my post, please feel free to contact me anytime via phone or e-mail. (814-667-3874)

About Director Jud's Blog

This blog will give you the "411" about everything that is Stone Mountain Adventures Teen Summer Camp!  Everything from "Summer Updates" to useful family and camp resources.  Check it out! 

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