You’ve made the exciting decision to send your child to overnight summer camp and give them a summer filled with gaining independence, building confidence, learning new activities and making new friends in a warm and welcoming environment. There are so many factors that go into finding the right camp for your child including understanding the different types of overnight camps. Read on for help deciding which type of overnight camp might be the best fit for the kind of camp experience you’re looking for.
Single-sex camps have only one gender at camp and are able to focus on certain activities, whether it’s sports or the arts, because the camp is able to center its program around those campers’ interests. Although campers spend their daily activities, evening activities and special events with children of the same gender, single-sex camps often have regular socials with nearby camps of the opposite sex, increasing in frequency with the age of the campers.
“At an all-girls camp, girls learn about who they are and how to advocate for themselves,” says Corey Dockswell, owner and director of Camp Wicosuta, an all-girls overnight camp in New Hampshire. “There is something so powerful about a community of sisters that is unique to a girls’ camp. There is a sense of camaraderie where the older girls take care of the younger girls and welcome them in the way that they were welcomed into camp.” Dockswell feels that there is a leadership vacuum for girls in the world and that you still don’t see as many female leaders who would be role models. “To be in an environment where you see female leadership role models is incredible. They see it with their counselors, key staff and older campers who are leaders in the camp community and are equally influential to younger campers.”
Rachel Chadwin, c0-owner and co-director of Camp Mah-Kee-Nac, an all-boys overnight camp in Massachusetts, says there is so much pressure on boys ten months out of the year to be their best academically and athletically that they try to create a more sensitive and nurturing environment that takes that pressure off. “Boys can take risks and not be afraid to fail because if they do, they will be supported and encouraged to try again. A lot of people think an all-boys camp means all sports but we think of it as a place to step outside of your comfort zone and try new things without being judged. It’s also a place where if a boy doesn’t have a chance to play basketball at home, he can do it at camp. We create a space where we can make him feel like a star and feel successful at camp in front of the entire camp community.” Chadwin adds there is ample time to socialize with their sister camp but the all-boys experience allows boys to focus on what they are interested in most at their age. As they get older, they introduce more socializing between boys and girls.
At co-ed resident camps, girls and boys are together on one campus with many or all shared facilities, but with a clear separation of boys’ bunks and girls’ bunks. Justin Mayer, owner and director of Timber Lake West, a co-ed overnight camp in New York, says the real world is co-ed and a co-ed camp mirrors that. “While we are a co-ed camp, we don’t do all of our activities together but campers get exposure by eating together, doing co-ed camp line-ups, participating in evening activities together two to three days a week and at full camp activities.”
Mayer recommends parents looking for a co-ed camp ask specific questions about how much of the experience is co-ed. “Ask how much of the day is spent in a co-ed experience. You should know what each day looks like. Do campers do sports together? Are electives co-ed? What is done co-ed?” He also adds that one of the benefits of a co-ed camp is that you can choose one camp for many kids. “Brothers and sisters can go to camp together and cousins can too. There is one family experience for all.”
Brother-sister camps are two camps on the same property or close to each other. They usually have the same owners, with each camp having its own traditions while also sharing traditions between the two camps. Each camp has its own facilities but can share certain ones. Boys and girls participate in separate activities but come together for some all-camp activities and for co-ed activities as the campers get older.
“A brother-sister camp can be a happy medium between an all-girls or all-boys camp and a co-ed camp,” says Nicki Fleischner, assistant director of Camp Scatico, a brother-sister camp in New York. “Campers can get the sisterhood or brotherhood experience and enjoy traditions that are just theirs but other traditions are integrated which is a nice balance. If you are a family that has boys and girls, there are a lot of concrete benefits including one visiting day and one opening/closing day. You get the benefits of your children having separate independent camp experiences but being able to see each other and talk the same camp language. So even though they have separate color wars, they can get excited for one another and know what they are talking about.”
Fleischner says male and female relationships are normalized at a brother-sister camp and your kids will have close friends of the opposite sex. Campers often will invite friends of the opposite sex to their bar or bat mitzvahs and birthday parties, she adds. “Once a week, there is a full camp co-ed activity whether it’s July 4th or carnival. They share in these events together and as campers get older, they do more together.”
—Jess Michaels is the director of communications for the American Camp Association (ACA), NY and NJ.