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June 13, 2024

Where Every Family Matters

What Makes Sleep-Away Camp the Real Deal

Hello to kids learning character, responsibility and a prolonged sense of independence — all without you.

From whitewater rafting to performing arts and cooking, today’s sleep-away camps appeal to a wide range of kid interests while still providing the long-term benefits summer camp is known for.

In addition to acquiring new skills, kids learn how to collaborate and live in a community at camp, gaining self-confidence and independence through problem-solving and teamwork.

“All those things are life skills and life assets that every parent wants for their child,” says Jill Tipograph, a camp consultant and self-published author of Your Everything Summer Guide & Planner (2010).

According to the American Camp Association (ACA;, 75 percent of camp directors report adding new activities and programs to accommodate trends in popular culture. The top three activities camps are integrating into their programming include performing arts, experience adventures and most recently, culinary.

“Culinary is the hottest and newest in terms of camps investing in building kitchens and bringing in specialists to teach the kids,” Tipograph says. “The other part that goes along with culinary is the whole, farmed table — taking things from the gardens and cooking them,” Tipograph adds.



Specialty camps are designed for kids interested in pursuing a specific interest. Traditional camps, on the other hand, offer a combination of programming. Children can try different activities, including those they may not have tried otherwise, whether stained glass design, rock climbing or singing in a recording studio.

“I feel that if children start their camping career on a purely specialty track, parents can miss out on what camp can do for their child,” Tipograph says.

In other words, while your child may play select soccer all year round, during the summer, you may want to widen his experiences by NOT choosing a soccer-only camp. Many camps offer a variety of specialty tracks.
One example of a traditional camp that offers a variety of specialty tracks for campers is Riverview Camp for Girls, located in Mentone, Alabama. Riverview attracts campers between the ages of 8 – 17 from all over the South and beyond.

Camp Director Susan Hooks says offering a wide variety of activities fulfills girls of all kinds and interests.


The biggest consideration you have when deciding about a residential camp for your child is — your child. How mature is he?
Most kids are “ready” to be away from parents by ages 9 or 10, but consider your child’s physical and emotional aptitude first. Has he spent time away from home before? Is he longing for more experiences and indicating that to you?

Next, make a plan. Start researching camps a year ahead of time. You can begin with the ACA website, but it’s even better to start asking around. Talk to friends and family, check out websites and think about visiting prospective camps. Many overnight camps offer family weekends in the fall.
Another great option for camp exploration is to attend Nashville Parent’s 23rd Annual Summer Camp Adventure Fair on Saturday, Feb. 16 from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. It’s at CoolSprings Galleria (1800 Galleria Blvd., Franklin), and admission is FREE! The Summer Camp Adventure Fair brings local and residential camps to YOU for easy access to camp directors and associates.
Meeting with camp directors is imperative in order to get a sense of  his personality, trustworthiness and compatibility.
“You need to see how he interacts with your child,” Tipograph says. “They [directors] set the tone and the philosophy for the camp and it trickles down. How they relate to you and your child is the same way they train their staff to do the same.”

Christa Melnyk Hines is a freelance writer and mom.

About the Author

Susan Swindell Day

Susan Day is the editor in chief for this award-winning publication and all-things Nashville Parent digital creative. She's also an Equity actress, screenwriter and a mom of four amazing kids.