Sleep-Away Camp Survival Guide

Choosing a summer sleep-away camp for your child can be a stressful task: What’s the best one? Is my child ready? How do I prepare him or her for homesicknesses? Fret not, The Camp Lady is here to help!

Patti Roberts, director of Student Summers aka The Camp Lady, has been in the business of making the perfect match between families and camps for more than 20 years.  With five offices on the East Coast, Roberts and her team have traveled the country researching camps—and have walked more than 1000 miles of camp trails along the way—to provide this free service to parents looking for the camp that is right for their child.

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Here, Roberts answers some the most commonly asked questions about sleep-away camp, as well as providing a list of benefits.

WESTCHESTER MAGAZINE: What’s the best age to send a child to sleep-away camp?

PATTI ROBERTS: It varies. Some parents who were campers, and understand camping and loved it, are willing to send their kids at 8 or 9. Some parents, to whom it’s a very foreign concept, are far more comfortable at 10, 11, or 12. It’s a very different experience [than day camp]. You have to want and be willing to send your child away, versus having them come home on a bus every day. That’s a very personal thing.

WM: What if the parent thinks the child is ready, but the child is reluctant?

PR: I work with thousands of people a year, and 99.9 percent of the families who are looking for camp, whether it’s mom or dad or the kids who are reluctant, or a combination—end up loving camp. There are a small percentage who are just not campers. I say to parents, “You know your child the best.” Some kids you can push. I have two daughters; I know the child I can give the nudge to and feel good about it. And the other one…she knows herself better than I do. I always tell parents, if you do believe your child is a camper, there is a camp for your kid.

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I’m an advocate of families meeting camp owners. Above and beyond the facility, is the relationship between the owner with the parents and the child. I think a lot of times a camp owner can see through [a child’s hesitancy] and can tell if it’s a true hesitancy and we’re going to have anxiety or if it’s a momentary thing that they think they can work through. Camp owners are very happy to come to your home and talk to you. There are a number of times a camp owner would call me and say, “They are not ready for camp.”

WM: How does a parent find the right camp for their child?

Between a website, DVD, a video, and being able to meet a camp owner you can really get a good sense about a philosophy and what they believe in. That’s why it’s important to meet a camp owner because you are buying into them. And you want them to have the same philosophy as you do at home. You want them to be able to carry out lots of the things you do at home rather than do the polar opposite and undo all that you do at home.

WM: Should a child go to camp with a friend?

PR: It’s better not to go with a friend. With girls, if the drama happens at camp, and there is a home-front friend, the drama follows them home. For boys, it doesn’t matter that much. The possibility of problems can arise far more than if they start it as their own adventure.

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WM: How do you prepare your child—and yourself—for sleep-away camp and dealing with homesickness?

PR:I don’t think there is much you can do because it is the unknown. What we tell parents to do is to write a letter so when the kids arrive at camp, there is a letter from mom and dad waiting for them. Some people say when you write a letter to them don’t tell them what they are missing at home. But what are you going to fill a letter with? The whole expectation is that camp is far more exciting than home. For parents, when you receive their first letter or see them on visiting day all of your fears just leave your body and you all of a sudden realize the gift you are giving your child.

The bottom line is, it’s okay to be homesick. It’s normal. It’s okay to miss home. Homesickness isn’t a bad thing; it’s bad when it’s debilitating.



5 Benefits of Sleep-away Camp

1) Unplugging and getting outdoors

“Most camps don’t allow electronics, except maybe an old-fashioned iPod for music with no screen because it’s the whole point of unplugging. They want them out running around playing games and sports and not on their bunk playing with their fingers like that. Most camps don’t even have cell phone service.”

2) Building independence and self-confidence

“Most of these children who are going to sleep-away for the first time have never left home or been away from their parents. When they go off to camp, they learn how to fend for themselves, get themselves dressed, clean up their area and make their beds. It helps them earn self-confidence and independence.”

3) Expanding horizons

“They may think they don’t like to do certain things, but when they try it at camp, they love it .They do it because everyone does it and everyone tries it, so it’s far more accepting than trying it at home with a bunch of kids who are really good at it.”

4) A chance to reinvent yourself

“In their younger years and even in their teenage years kids get pigeon-holed, especially kids who live in a small town. You grow up—from kindergarten until college—with the same kids. You are a “fat kid”, or a “dumb kid”, whatever it is, when you go to another scenario, you can really reinvent yourself in a different environment with new friends. Having the ability to make new friends, try new activities and learn to be independent are all gifts.”

5) It’s a vacation for the whole family

“There are people that I work with who say they have an 8-year-old and a 10-year-old. And they question if they can send them both away together. My comment always is, not if you don’t have to. Because that 8-year-old has never been an only child. So give that child that one summer without their older sibling around. And then if they want to go, let them go.”

For more information about Student Summers go to or contact Patti Roberts directly at  (973) 992-8198,

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