Moms over overnight camp: Opting for day camps, shorter stays


© Melissa Katz
April 30, 2009

The familiar hum of campfire songs could be a bit softer in some spots this summer. The 12,000 day and overnight camps in the U.S. serving more than 11 million children are facing a tough economy—one that's prompting many families to switch to day camps closer to home and causing others to opt for fewer weeks at camp.

From CSI to yoga camps

Nancy LaPook Diamond of, an online directory with a database of 24,000 camps, has noticed an overall trend toward specialty camps and shorter sessions. She's seen an increase in camps focusing on academics, special needs, teen leadership and community service, among other things. In recent years her directory has added new categories like fashion and CSI, or forensic science. "The directory always mirrors our culture," she says.

At North Carolina's Gwynn Valley Camp, which has a strong environmental focus, Grant Bullard expects his overnight camp to be down about 10% this year, but says enrollment in the day program is strong. At Camp Birch Hill in New Hampshire, shorter stays have become the norm. In the past many campers were staying a full month, but this summer they are seeing mainly two-week enrollments. Among the most popular draws are the camp's more unique offerings, such as paintball and go-carts.

Marla Coleman, past president of the American Camp Association and owner of Coleman Country Day Camp in Merrick, NY, sees a number of specialty offerings on the rise. Among these are camps that foster an appreciation for the natural world and healthy living—with kids’ yoga, for example.

Hillary Chapman-Roberts of agrees that day camps are hot this year. "Sleep-away camps have to stay in a more traditional business model," she says. "Day camps have the freedom to really find a niche market, and they're going after it."

Melissa Katz lives just outside of Boston with her husband Nevin and 4-year-old son Jeremy.