How Long Should I Send My Child Away to Camp For?

I was 10 years old and put on a plane in Chicago bound for Minneapolis, followed by a 3 hour bus ride to northern Wisconsin. I’d be gone for 4 weeks. 4 weeks. Not 2 weeks. Not 3 weeks. 4 weeks. Age 10. 4 weeks at any age can feel like a daunting length of time. At 10 years old, having never been away to camp before, knowing next to nobody that I’d be going to camp with, going mid-summer when the initial spirit was already well underway…well that was just too much for me.  That, however, was my only option. My camp had two 4 week sessions or one 8 week session. It was 4 weeks, 8 weeks or nothing – imagine that!! At the time, I wanted to crawl under the largest rock I could find and take up residence there rather than go to camp for 4 weeks.

But I went and, well, realized that I was meant for camp immediately. I immersed myself within the camp culture, taking in just about everything that I could along the way. Sure I was morbidly homesick half the time that first summer, but loved camp and felt something special about the place that I suddenly considered a second home. I returned to my real home 4 (at the time seemingly endless) weeks later eager to sign up again. By age 12, I was going to camp for 8 weeks, 8 weeks being the shortest period of time that I would stay at camp. Trust me, I would have stayed longer – personally I wanted to petition my school to give us 8 month camp options – unfortunately, 8 weeks was the longest amount of time that anyone could stay at camp. And boy did 8 weeks fly by.

Now, I had never lived through short-session camping (more than two sessions in one summer, less than 4 week sessions) until I arrived at CMC last summer. Having three sessions in one summer was a large enough change for me. The fact that the vast majority of campers only stayed for one of the short sessions was a completely foreign concept. How on earth could anyone get a full summer out of camping in just 2 or 3 weeks?! We only have 7 weeks of camp total! I could understand our younger kids wanting to stay one session, but our older campers?! (I recognize that any parent that grew up on the east coast or in the Midwest might very well be reading this, knowingly nodding their head in understanding, if not agreement).

My camp obsession aside, it’s a valid and an extremely important question, that being how long to send one’s child away to camp for. Back in the day – even before my day if you can believe that such a time existed – the question wasn’t whether you were sending your child to camp; rather, the question was which camp you were sending your child to. 7 or 8 weeks of camp was the standard; anything less, the exception. For parents, summer camps were the opportunity to plan their social calendars, take a relaxing vacation, take care of things around the house that the hustle of daily life prevented them from getting done during the rest of the year. And for kids, camp was an opportunity to get away, to spend their summer elsewhere, with other children and staff from different parts of the world, to learn to grow as individuals and maybe pick up some life skills could be taken back and utilized in one’s daily life.

This mentality started to change in part with specialization. Computer camps, sport-specific camps, science camps, music schools, etc.  The skills weren’t so much fire building, outdoor cooking, archery, canoeing or how to properly use a knife. They were more focused, applicable to specific interests that one had then and there. Camps, at least in the traditional sense, were a nice break that could teach the same skills they could way back when. But the shorter length of time spent there meant more opportunity for specialization. Two weeks at “regular” camp, followed by two weeks of music camp. Or all of the summer at science camp, with no need for traditional camp. Similarly, school calendars started to play a role. No longer was there what seemed to be a generally applicable June through August break. Schools began to break shorter in the summer and longer in the winter. Schools in warmer climates (Phoenix, anyone?) began to start up again in late July to help combat the slight increase in heat in the area.

Above all factors, naturally, is the comfort level of the parents. Let’s face it, it’s a different time now and a different mentality then “back then”. How long can you send your child(ren), your prized possession(s) away for? What’s the value proposition of sending your child to camp for more than one session? What will sending your child to camp preclude you from doing during the rest of the summer? Of course, there’s no correct answer to any of these families. That lies specifically and subjectively with each family.

And now that I’ve lived it, there’s plenty of camping that can be done in a 2 or 3 week session. Camp is a special place, and each person takes from it what they wish, regardless of how long their stay.

Our friends at Camp Champions dedicated a very informative blog post to this same topic. Their post is definitely worth a read as well. You can find it here.