Happy Campers: Do Your Homework Before Sending Your Kids to Sleepaway Camp

The following guest post is from Paula Sirois. Paula is a Florida-based writer who specializes in family life and frugal living for Deals.com, the #1 coupon site in the world.

“But everyone is going!” Sound familiar? Seven other girls in my daughter’s third-grade class are booked to go to sleepover camp in a few weeks. Six nights of sleeping in a cabin with no phone, chat or IM access allowed.

That means I can’t even speak to her for six nights and seven days while she roams the woods, probably forgetting her bug spray and SPF while being followed by the Florida gators that will be lurking everywhere.

When I grilled the camp director about the gators, his response left a lot to be desired. It was something like, “You know, every parent asks me about the gators, but they never ask about the snakes.”


According to Summer Camps and Trips, a website that offers no-fee camp referrals, “Research has found that the overnight camp experience promotes and enhances a child’s self-esteem, self-confidence and social skills.” The site goes on to say that these “three traits are deemed essential by experts in order for a child to become a healthy, productive adult.”

Let’s face it, summer camp can be fun! Kids are together, outside in nature, running, swimming, fishing, making crafts, roasting marshmallows and learning some key life skills like how to get along with others and how to be without their parents. And all the while making some lifelong friendships along the way.

 If you’re facing the sleepaway camp dilemma too, here’s what you can do first:

1.  Ask questions: Visit SummerCamp.org for a comprehensive list of questions you should ask yourself, your child and the camps before you make a decision. You’ll need to know about the food, safety, size of the camp, ages and qualifications of the counselors, activities, rules on bullying, opposite-sex mingling and what can and can’t be sent to the campers.

2.  Know the facts: Find out all you can by talking to the camp directors, counselors, other parents, and the kids themselves. Then search the camp on Google and the Better Business Bureau. Knowledge really is power. And it can be comforting too, especially when night three hits and you’re eyeing that bottle of wine or bottle of Valium. You can go back to your research and reread your notes on how everyone loved it and the counselors are the super-duper “bestest” ever.

3.  Dry Run: Start prepping your camper (and yourself) a few months before camp begins. Talk often about the rules of the camp, what you’ll need to pack and what to do in certain situations like feeling homesick or not liking the food. Depending on the age of your campers, practice things like heading to the shower alone, getting out clothes for the day and even making sure to brush those knots that will grow if left alone for a week or more! A prepared kid will be happier camper.

Take baby steps and do a few searches online, talk to some friends and then take a big breath and dive into the overnight-camp experience. You’ll be glad you did.

Note from Frugal Dad: We recently faced the dilemma of picking and choosing from a couple different summer camp options. It just isn’t possible to say yes to all of them, because they have become quite expensive. If your kids are like mine, and will be home most of the summer, here’s a list of 14 summer activities for kids – guaranteed to keep your kids from saying “I’m bored” for at least two weeks! Well…maybe.


  1. I had the opportunity to go to several summer camp programs through my [public] schools, typically at a steep discount (This was about 10 years ago, but it was around $120 for a week-long stay one year). Churches and other groups can often negotiate discounted rates that can be an order of magnitude cheaper than list price.

  2. Ah, overnight camp.
    I HATED it. I was a very introverted kid. I’m not sure who suggested it, my or my mother, but she started selecting summer overnight camps for me one year. It wasn’t just for a week, it was for MONTH, and it was horrible, and I couldn’t go home for weeks. I blocked the experience (mostly) out of my mind. All I wanted to was to go home. Worst case of homesickness ever. I don’t remember the staff/counselors being very sympathetic, either. One woman even told me to tell my mother I was having a good time when my mom called me on the phone.
    My daughter had a much time at her Girl Scout overnight camp because it was 1) for ONE week and 2) it was with members of her troop with whom she was already friends with. She’s also more outgoing than I am, but it made a huge difference.

    Moral of the story? Make sure that you’re not shoving your kid off to camp because you wish they could handle it, you’ll get a break, and you *think* they can deal with it. Be realistic.

  3. I went to 10+ camps growing up. My first one involved me getting on a bus at 5AM to stare into the eyes of 20 kids I didn’t know. That camp was one of the best experiences. My introverted self found the friendship of two introverted girls and we went back the next year. Sometimes it is good for kids to be out of their comfort zone. Sometimes its even better for their parents to manage to go a week without communicating with their kids.

  4. I went to a horse back riding camp set up by a Father of on of my friends. It was a Dude ranch. My mom did not want me to go. But three of the neighbor girls were going and we were to work off our tuition as ranch help. We were worked 12-16 hours a day, we had no food. Corn meal mush . hot, cold. We had no phone, it was locked in the office, we had no heat at night or hot water in our cabin. After a week I begged a young cowboy to smuggle a letter into town to my Mom. He told me he would be fired if the owner found out. I had given my mother a specific date to come and get me and my sister or I would start walking home. She showed up. Had a knock down drag out with the owner. He acted like we owed him for staying. All five girls piled in the car. I remember the bravest girl friend I had crying when my mom told her she did not have permission to take her home. My mom knew then that this man was horrible. Margaret never cried! So she took us all with the sheriff chasing her in Montana. Owner had called the Sheriff when my mother took one of the so called campers home. Funny thing was Mom had, had the grand daughter of the Sheriff in her kindergarten class, so we were not arrested and the Dude Ranch was later shut down! I started to listen to my mother more after that. Maybe she did know something. I also never saw a horse at that came. lots of dishes, pot, pans, beds, garbage, dirty ashtrays, and buckets of wash water, but never a horse. Check out the camp!

  5. hated camp- forced to go for five summers
    forced my oldest to go to camp
    she hated it as well
    Stopped supporting summer sleep away camps

  6. Also HATED camp!!!! And I didn’t even have to sleep over except for the last night…I haven’t ever even thought of sending my kids. AND I can almost guarantee that they would hate it, too, since their temperaments are much like both of their parents’ – introverted.