Everything You Need to Know About Overnight Camp

overnight camp pool

An overnight camp can provide children with confidence, a chance to gain independence from a young age in a safe environment, and a way to learn new skills.

Many children think camp is the most fun part of the entire year. Summer camp provides opportunities to be outdoors, be around other kids all day long, engage in new activities, and making life-long friends. Parents really can't go wrong by sending their child to any camp, but there are some considerations if going to sleep-away camp for the first time or choosing a new camp.

Overnight Camp vs. Day Camp

There is no such thing as a bad decision when it comes to sending your child to summer camp.

Day camp is a great experience and might be the right choice for some children. This is especially true for younger children who are not ready for sleepaway camp. Day camp is a great way to create a fun summer for your child. There are still plenty of opportunities to engage in outdoor activities, learn new skills and enjoy being away from home for a long period of time aside from school.

The obvious difference with sleepaway camp is that campers spend nights at camp. Because campers are at camp for more hours, there are more opportunities for fun, building new skills, trying new activities, and creating deep friendships. Campers also bond with other campers in their bunk and often stay in touch well past the summer.

Tweens and teens who already love day camp are probably ready for sleepaway camp. Even younger kids who love traditional camp activities and being outdoors are ready for sleepaway camp too.

If you choose the right sleepaway camp, your child will look forward to camp re-opening all year long.

Life at Sleepaway Camp

Most overnight campers sleep in a cabin with other kids and a camp counselor or other staff. Many cabins have a small common area for socializing. Some cabins have showers and bathrooms indoors. Other camps have smaller cabins with showers located in a common area near a cluster of cabins.

Days are usually spent outdoors engaging in a variety of camp activities. Most camps ban electronic devices. Although kids may not like this at first, they will be so busy at camp that they probably won't miss their devices after a day or two!

Most campers eat in a dining hall with their bunk or campers in the same age range with some cookouts. While campers are generally expected to eat the meals their sleepaway camp serves each day, some camps offer an alternative that most kids like, such as buttered noodles, to ensure kids don't starve.

Choosing an Overnight Camp

There are several factors to consider when choosing a sleepaway camp.


Start with location. You may want your child close to home in case of emergency or because you can't drive hours to get your kid to camp and back. However, don't write a camp off just because it is far away. Some sleepaway camps have busses that leave from central locations. If you love a camp in New Hampshire, don't write it off because of distance before looking into transportation options offered by the camp.

Camp Activities

Most sleepaway camps offer a wide range of traditional camp activities, including swimming, campfires, and archery. However, some camps offer specialties such as art camp, rustic camping, hiking, lake activities, ropes courses, rock climbing, and more. Some camps even offer riflery, waterskiing, and wilderness adventures. Whatever your child enjoys, there is a camp that can provide it!

Many camps have staff specializing in specific skills, like horseback riding or survival skills, so it's worth asking about this if your child has a special interest or is seeking a certain type of camp experience.

Some camps offer off-site trips to campgrounds, canoeing, go-kart buggies, or other nearby attractions, opening up additional opportunities for new and unique experiences.

Choosing an Overnight Camp Session

It is common for sleepaway camps to offer two sessions for campers. Typically the first session is a longer four-week session and the second session is a shorter three-week session. Some camps also offer one or two-week sessions for new or younger campers.

Most camps offer the option to combine sessions if your child wants to spend a full seven weeks (or more!) away. Some camps may allow children to attend their first session and then decide if they want to stay longer. However, many camps fill up quickly, so this won't be possible if your camp's second session is already full.

Another consideration is that campers often want to attend the same session year after year to ensure they see the same friends and counselors. This can be a challenge for parents who want flexibility in planning vacations and other summer activities so chose wisely!

Safety Guidelines

Camps should have clear safety guidelines in place, including coronavirus policies. Many sleepaway camps have their safety guidelines, including COVID precautions, posted on their websites. Take some time to review them and make sure you are comfortable with the guidelines before selecting a camp. Some sleepaway camps keep children in a small group for the entire summer, while others allow children to mix. Some have a nurse on staff, while others take campers off-site if they need medical attention. Be sure you are comfortable with the safety measures your camp offers before you register. This will provide you with great peace of mind that your child is in good hands.

Practical Considerations

Preparing for overnight camp is a balancing act! You want your child to have everything they need without packing too much.

The first rule of overnight camp is to label everything. This includes things like socks and toothbrushes in addition to t-shirts and bathing suits. If something goes missing, this greatly increases the chances it will find its way back home.

Be sure your child knows how to communicate with you and that you know how to communicate with your child. Many parents send a letter to their child a few days before camp starts so that they will get mail their first week at camp. Pre-addressing envelopes to everyone you would like your child to write to (including you!) will greatly increase the chances that you will hear from them as well. See if your camp posts photos, and if so, tell your child to seek out the camera and give a thumb's up as a secret signal that they are having fun. Also, be sure to keep the camp's emergency number on hand to have it if you need it.

Kids love getting packages, so check with your camp to see what is permitted. Some camps allow full boxes with no restrictions, while others only permit flat envelopes and do not allow parents to send food.

Take care of creature comforts! Send a battery-operated fan like a lightweight but powerful model from Lasko. Send some small games, like a deck of cards or travel Connect 4, so that kids have something to do during downtime.

If you can, reach out to parents who are overnight camp veterans and ask them for any tips. You may find that even though a robe isn't on the camp's packing list, it's something everyone needs. Or, you may find out that every camper brings glow sticks for the camp's opening ceremony. These insider tips can be gold!

Preparing Your Child for Summer Overnight Camp

Some campers are more than ready to go to sleepaway camp. Others might need a little preparation to ensure they have a fun summer retreat.

Start by sharing experiences about your own summers at sleepaway camp if you went. Show your future camper videos on the overnight camp's website to help build excitement.

Ask around to see if anyone you know can put your family in touch with another child who attends the same camp. Hearing directly from another child about much fun overnight camp is might be the best way to get a reluctant child enthusiastic.

Be honest with your child and let them know it's okay to miss home but that they can still have fun at camp. Listen honestly to their feelings and fears and reassure them that even if they are sad about being away from their family sometimes, they will still have a great summer. Even if it's true, avoid telling your child that you will pick them up if they want to go home. This will help avoid them calling for a ride home during a sad but fleeting moment.

Help your child practice any skills they will need to know! Some amps require campers to make their beds and change their own sheets. Your child may be required to shower in under five minutes. Helping them practice these skills ahead of time will make their camp experience go more smoothly.

Affording Overnight Camp

Sleepaway camp is not cheap. Overnight summer camps provide a unique, valuable experience to their campers, but this does come at a cost. Many parents put some money aside every month to save for overnight camp. If overnight camp is out of reach, ask whether the overnight camp you would like to send your child offers financial assistance. Many parents are surprised to find out that financial aid for camp is available. Grants may also be available through non-profit organizations.

Whichever camp you choose, get ready for the best summer ever!

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