Why a Two-Week Camp Experience is a Good Minimum (or…why one week isn’t enough)
I attended a recent camp fair, where a prospective camp parent was concerned whether a two-week camp experience was too long for her would-be first-time-camper child. Her not necessarily articulated concern was that her child wouldn’t thrive in a two-week program—that it might be too long for her. I responded that it’s not necessarily the length of the experience, but whether the child is “ready.”
Two-week minimum experience encourages independent growth
My two decades of camp experience at camps of all sorts of lengths—from single-day programs to two-month summer experiences—has shown me that homesickness (or a transition issue from home to camp life) is normal and not necessarily related to the camp length. 95% of campers have some level of homesickness at some point. And when you really break it down, it’s a good thing. If you love your home and family, it’s certainly normal to miss them. Indeed, much of a camper’s independence and growth stems from honoring that, while being able to enjoy all the great experiences that camp has to offer. Navigating that transition happens with the guidance and support of trained counselors and staff, and with supportive campers who have been through it themselves.
Potential negative impact of a too short camp experience
I’ve often found that a one-week experience is too short to facilitate the growth that stems from a two-week or longer session. For example, if homesickness occurs in the first few days of a one-week session, the camper is just hitting stride by week’s end, when s/he unfortunately then gets torn from a great empowering experience because the week is done. Or, what can sometimes happen in one week is that the camper arrives gung-ho and fades a little bit by the end of the week; that camper then leaves on an artificially down note, i.e. feels like s/he had a bad experience, but it really was just a camp experience that ended at an awkward time by not allowing her/him the time to work through it.
Honoring a reluctant parent’s thoughts
It’s a tricky analysis considering a parent’s feelings about their child. After all, parents are usually the expert on their specific child. However, as an experienced camp director, I get the unique perspective of seeing what works well for numbers of children during years of experience. What has worked very well and has seemed best for the vast majority of first-time campers children at our camp (even as we consider their development on an individual level) has been a minimum two-week experience. On a purely economic level, it would be better to offer a one-week option, but as a camp, that’s not what we’re necessarily about…instead focusing on what we consider for the best development of the child.
So my advice to the prospective parent had a few components:
- Really dig down on whether her child was ready. [See more on determining camp readiness here].
- Consider and address her feelings of “parent readiness,” separately from that of her child.
- Be that enabling parent who encourages independence and growth in children by allowing for experiences where they can make it “on their own.” [See more on encouraging independent growth here.]