Is a month a long time? That depends on how you look at it – a month of vacation will seem to fly by, but a month during Lent when you’ve given up your favorite treat feels a lot longer. What about a month at camp? At Falling Creek, we offer 1 week, 2 week, 3 week, and 4 week sessions, and we often get asked which length is the right choice. The answer varies from camper to camper, depending on things like maturity, comfort level away from home, and sometimes prior camp experience. However, framing the camp conversation around “length of time” alone can be a hindrance, placing too much focus on the session length rather than the session experience.
Each of our four sessions vary in length, but they also vary in overall experience, based on slightly different goals for each session. For young boys in grades 1-4 who are brand new to camp, our one week Junior Camp session is often a good starting point. The goal of the Junior Camp session is to have fun and build confidence away from home. This session is different than our other three because boys move around as a cabin, sampling each activity once rather than signing up for their own schedules. Another option for some campers is our 2-Week session. Though it is still a shorter length session, boys get an extra week to “settle in,” are able to sign up for their own daily schedules, and can begin to take trips out of camp.
In our three week June Camp session, boys are able to build on their experiences and really begin to work on activity progressions. With three weeks to grow, boys can work up to longer trips or more challenging activity projects. Because this session is longer, the primary goal shifts from simply having fun, to more long term growth like building self-confidence and improving skills, as well as enhancing friendships. Finally, our four week Main Camp session allows the most time for meaningful friendships to form and for our camp community to create a strong bond. Boys often return year after year to build on their previous activity progressions or challenge themselves with longer trips. Our oldest campers are also able to experience a central focus on leadership opportunities, but young campers who choose to come to Main Camp also thrive – this session is not limited to older boys only. Many of camp’s favorite traditions take place only during Main Camp, such as the Ironman triathlon, 5-Year Dinner, the STEEL program, the Journeyman and Keeper of the Flame progressions, and Honor Council.
If your son is on the fence about moving to a longer session, we encourage you to have a conversation with him about what he wants to get out of the camp experience, rather than focusing on overcoming a set “length of time”. Ask your son what he loves about camp, what activities he really likes, and what goals he has for the next summer. If he really enjoys the climbing wall for example, you can discuss how he would be able to progress on real rock, starting at Gilbert’s Rock and one day working up to a 5-Day Linville Gorge climbing adventure. If he doesn’t have enough time to progress to that next level in the same session, you can begin the conversation about moving to a longer session that would enhance his experience.
Moving to a longer session may not be the right choice for every boy, but removing “length of time” from the conversation might help you make the right decision together. Being anxious about a new session or having some initial homesickness is normal, but boys also mature a great deal during the 9 months between summers. Think about the difference between a short vacation trip and a semester study-abroad trip. Both are fun and memorable, but you gain so much more when you allow yourself to be immersed in a community for longer, including deeper friendships, more meaningful experiences, broader growth, and more personal development.
Does research show that there are more benefits from a longer camp session? Dr. Cait Wilson published a paper on her findings, which you can read here on the American Camp Association website. She found that though all experiences at camp have a positive impact, the longer a camper attended, the more their development increased.
Though you can’t really go wrong with any camp session choice, we encourage you to think about the overall camp experience and your son’s goals for the summer, rather than focusing on the length of time itself.