Kid from NJ at sleepaway campSleepaway camp can be a wonderful experience for kids. They can make new friends while safely leaving the comforts of home to spread their wings. This is a time for kids to grow in new ways.

It’s also a big business. More than six million kids attend camp each summer, and of the nearly 10,000 camps in the U.S., about 60 percent are residential, according to The National Camp Association (NCA).

Adapting to Change

Traditionally, kids have spent four or eight weeks at an overnight camp. However, economic realities and lifestyle changes have forced many camps to add shorter sessions to their schedules.

“About two years ago, as a response to what families were telling us they needed, we decided to implement two-week sessions,” says Dee Billia, director of marketing and public relations at Appel Farm Arts Camp in Elmer, NJ. “It’s been a resounding success.”

The downturn in the economy has forced some families to cut back on the length of time they send their kids to camp. Four-week sleepaway camps range in cost from $1,700 to $7,000, according to the NCA, while 
tuitions for two-week sessions run between $1,000 and $4,000.

Beyond the economics, though, shorter sessions are also attractive to younger and first-time campers who may be nervous about leaving home for too long. “It’s an easy way to introduce a child to camp,” Billia says.

Family obligations, including vacations, have also made shorter sessions popular. “From the parents’ perspective, they are trying to do more in their summer, and shorter sessions facilitate this,” says John Jannone, director of Ballibay for the Fine and Performing Arts, in Camptown, PA.

Shorter Camp Sessions are Not a New Idea

While shorter camp sessions are gaining popularity, they’re not a completely new idea. Chandler Clay, now a 20-something graduate student at American University, recalls fond memories of her four summers at Pennsylvania’s Hameau Farm in the Big Valley. She says going to camp for just two weeks, when she was 9, allowed her to ease into a new experience in the most positive way.

“When I was younger, I wasn’t comfortable yet being away from home, and the first time I tried out a camp, I didn’t want to commit to six weeks when I didn’t know if I would like it,” she says. “Summer camps are one of those experiences that can be really enjoyable, but if it’s new and you’re going by yourself, it can be a difficult experience.”

An avid sports fan and talented athlete, Clay enjoyed the flexibility of attending several different camps each summer. Between weeklong stints at basketball and lacrosse camps, cuddling with farm animals at Hameau added variety to her summer. “It was a way for me to go to this fun farm 
camp for two weeks, in the middle of all my athletic camps,” she says.

Camp was a three-hour drive from Clay’s home, so once she had a couple of summers under her belt, she felt comfortable staying for longer sessions. By the time she was 12, she spent six weeks there.

Short & Sweet

Camps have adapted their programs to make shorter sessions valuable to campers. Appel Farms specializes in the arts, from theater and dance to recording and photography. Its two-week sessions are offered at the front end of each four-week session, and are tailored to a shorter curriculum.

Yet not all programs can be carried out successfully in shorter sessions. Jannone says two weeks aren’t enough for a completely individual-choice program, or a program that puts on full-length theater and musical theater performances, as Ballibay does. “But for focused art, dance, and rock programs, it is a very good length,” he says.

In fact, it seems shorter sessions are no longer a trend; they’re probably here to stay. “It’s an extremely positive experience,” Billia says. “Any time spent at camp is a great way for children to learn and grow.”

Camp fairs are excellent ways for parents to find a summer camp for their children. The American Camp Association New York and New Jersey is hosting several camp fairs in New Jersey this winter

Terri Akman is a preschool teacher and freelance writer from Voorhees. Visit her blog, Preschool Teach.

For how many weeks does your child attend sleepaway camp?