Sleepaway camps: When (and where) to go

Camp Puh'tok
Camp Puh'tok (Handout)

Stephanie Salvatore wasn't sure whether her then-9-year-old daughter, Lily, was ready for sleepaway camp. But the tears were a good sign.

Lily was crying because she didn't want to go home, says Salvatore, a Bethesda mother of three.


"It has given my daughter such confidence," Salvatore says. "It's been the best thing ever."

How do you know if your child is ready for this milestone?


"Every child is different, of course," says Peg Smith, chief executive officer of the American Camp Association. "It depends on their interest and whether they have had overnight experience." (It's never a good idea for the first night away from parents to be camp, experts agree.)

"First, ask the child. Is she or he interested?" says Amy Marshall, administrative assistant for the Baltimore-Washington United Methodist Church camps.

Children who are fairly independent — can brush their own teeth, shower and dress — and who have spent a night or two away from parents may very well be ready, says Marshall.

Some camps have open houses so families can tour the facility and see where their children will be sleeping, playing and eating. It can make kids less apprehensive because they know some of what to expect, she says.

Some camps also offer one-week or mini-camps that may appeal to first-time campers.

"One of the best ways to ensure a positive experience is to make the decision with the child," Smith says.

Children should want to go, and they should be part of the conversation about choosing the camp, she and other experts say.

"Do your homework," says Smith. "Visit camp. Talk with parents of campers. Talk with staff. It's an important decision."

Having a favorite stuffed animal or a family photo helps some children coping with homesickness.

"I also remind parents being homesick is not fatal," says Smith. "Less than 7 percent of kids have to go home."

A lot of a child's attitude depends on the parents' reaction, Smith says.

"If I'd wrung my hands when my 9-year-old son told me he wanted to go to camp and said, 'Are you sure?'… it may have influenced [his outlook]," she says. "You want to keep it positive, not 'I don't know what I'll do without you.' "


And don't be surprised if your child wants to stay at camp all summer, says Thedra Nichols, nurse at Camp Rim Rock in West Virginia, who sent her older daughter to camp at age 8. "At pickup," she says, "my daughter hid because she didn't want to come home."

Some of the sleepaway camps in and around Maryland: 

Camp Hidden Meadows
Bartow, W.Va.
June 14-Aug. 15
Ages 7-16

Located in the Allegheny Mountains of  West Virginia. Horseback riding, whitewater rafting, arts, ceramics, theater, sailing, mountain boarding, canoeing, climbing tower, organic gardening, mountain biking, rock climbing, fishing, sports, 1,000-foot zipline, swimming and more. Coed, one- to nine-week sessions. Accredited by American Camp Association.

Camp Puh’tok for Boys and Girls
June 21-Aug. 14
Ages 5-16

Children experience American heritage through activities such as archery, archeology, rock climbing, horseback riding, swimming, Native American history, dance and culture, ropes course, arts and crafts, and camping. Day camp is available for children ages 5-9, and residential camp is for children ages 7-17.

Camp Rim Rock
Yellow Spring, W.Va.
June 28-Aug. 22
Ages 6-16

Girls’ overnight multiple-week sessions. Horseback riding (80 horses, six rings), performing arts, arts and crafts, sports (tennis, basketball, volleyball and more), aquatics (kayaking, tubing), and horseback riding specialty camp. Minicamp for second- to fourth-graders. ACA-accredited. Less than two hours from Washington, D.C., on 600 acres.

Camp Tall Timbers
High View, W.Va.
June 21-Aug. 1
Ages 7-16

Traditional summer camp experience with swimming, arts, horseback riding, canoeing and more. One-, two-, five- and six-week sessions for boys and girls in grades 1-10. Wet-your-feet weeks and tryout weekends. Accredited by the ACA.

Camp Twin Creeks
Marlinton, W.Va.
June 21-Aug. 15
Ages 7-16

A two-week traditional coed summer camp. Campers arrive and depart together, enabling them to form lasting friendships. Located in the Allegheny Mountains, campers experience land sports, fine arts, adventure, water sports, horseback riding and more. 

Camp Wabanna
Ages 7-17

Coed summer residential and day camp located on Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay. A nondenominational, nonprofit Christian ministry. Swimming, boating, kayaking, sailing, climbing walls, double zipline, 50-foot giant swing, archery and more.

Camp Watonka
Hawley, Pa.
June 27-Aug. 22
Ages 8-16

Boys’ science camp with waterfront sports, crafts, dirt bikes, marksmanship and archery. Modern cabins, fully equipped science buildings, sports areas, a private lake and one of the most extensive ropes adventure courses in the Northeast. Accredited by the ACA, with a money-back guarantee for first-timers.

Capital Camps
Waynesboro, Pa.
June 21-Aug. 9
Ages 8-15 

Two-, three-, four-week and full-summer options. Nurture and strengthen Jewish leadership and community through meaningful and active informal Jewish camp experiences.

Echo Hill Camp on the Chesapeake Bay
June 21-Aug. 15
Ages 7-16

Traditional, rustic overnight coed summer camp. Activities include waterskiing, tubing, sailing, crabbing, fishing, swimming, kayaking, arts and crafts, ceramics, land sports, archery, nature, high ropes course (zip line, alpine tower, giant swing), drama, music and more. Two-, four-, six- and eight-week sessions.

Habonim Dror Camp Moshava
June 22-Aug. 9
Grades 3 to 12

Jewish sleepaway camp based on the ideals of shared community. Camp activities include sports, swimming, hiking, etc. Also nontraditional educational activities. 

Manidokan Camp & Retreat Center
800-922-6795 or 410-867-0991
June 21-Aug. 14
Ages 7-18

One-week residential camps for boys and girls. Located along the C&O Canal and the Potomac River. River adventure, ropes courses, zipline, games, outdoor skills, swimming, arts and crafts, youth leadership, campfires and more. One week in August for deaf children.

River Valley Ranch
June 22-Aug. 15
Ages 7-17

Located in the rolling hills of Carroll County. Christian camp offering three (age-appropriate) overnight summer camps with options such as horseback riding, skateboarding, adventure camps, paintball, drama camp and more.

Sandy Hill Camp
North East
June 16-Aug. 16
Ages 8-16

Sail and water ski on the Chesapeake Bay, ride a horse, fly down the zipline, scale a 50-foot climbing tower and more. Family-owned, ACA-accredited residential camp. One- and two-week sessions.

West River UM Camp
West River
June 21-July 28
Ages 7-18

One-week residential camps for boys and girls entering grades 2-12. Swimming, arts, music, sailing, boating, sports, games, low/high ropes, giant swing, kayaking, fishing, mission camps, bike camps and youth leadership. Faith-based.

Y Journeys Camp Hashawha
June 30-Aug. 15
Ages 8-15

Weekly themes, from superheroes to “Survivor.” Activities include fishing, canoeing, swimming, hiking, archery, campfires, low ropes course and more. Weekly sessions available.  

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