Skip to Content

Sleepaway Camp vs. Day Camp

When deciding which summer camp is the best for your children, one of the first decisions you’ll need to make is whether to attend a day camp or overnight camp. Well, what exactly do a day camp and an overnight camp consist of? In the following guide, we go over what each type of summer camp is and isn’t, as well as discuss some of the key differences between the two.

The more knowledge you have about their differences, the easier your decision will be. Making summer more enjoyable and fun for kids is the goal, and the experiences at each of these types of camps are quite similar but very different in some aspects. 

What Is A Day Camp?

A day camp is a summer camp that allows children to spend the entire day there and go back home in the evenings to rest. The days are scheduled very similar to a typical school day, so it can get kids into a routine to prepare them for a return back to school when the summer ends.

This schedule can keep children focused on fun and constructive uses of their time during the summer months so they don’t experience the fairly typical summer learning loss. Day camp engages many of the same areas of the mind and body that traditional school does, as well as encourages kids to be social with one another in a safe and positive environment. 

Camp Hi-Rock
Camp Hi-Rock

Day camp offers more than just an education, with fun outdoor activities often being the main priority. Although there are many STEM camps that offer an excellent mixture of both.

Many of the programs that host overnight summer camps also host a pared-down, day camp version as a precursor to the real thing. It’s a fantastic way to let children learn about camp life before they decide whether or not they’d like to attend an overnight camp.

What Is A Sleepaway Camp?

Sleepaway camp is a traditional summer camp experience where campers stay overnight in cabins or tents, get served three meals a day, and have a daily itinerary full of fun camp activities and camp-wide events. Every day begins with a wake-up call via bell or song, and the rest of the day is structured around a huge selection of indoor and outdoor activities.

Pali Adventures
Pali Adventures

Over the course of a stay ranging anywhere between 5 days to 2 weeks and even up to 8 weeks, children can enjoy 3 square meals a day, their choice of preferred activities, and modern sleeping quarters that rival any all-inclusive group stay.

These are the sort of camps that encourage families to return year after year so their kids have a chance to spend time with their camp friends again. Some overnight camps even become a family tradition, receiving the same successive generations of families.

Overnight camps are available in every state within a reasonable distance from the major metros, making them a convenient option wherever you call home. However, many parents send their kids to premier summer camps across the country to other states or internationally to other countries. 

Day Camp & Sleepaway Camp Differences

The differences between the two types of summer camps are night and day. All jokes aside, there are some key differences and below we outline a few of them.

Camp Kingswood
Camp Kingswood

For one, day camp is excellent for younger kids. Younger kids tend to do better with day camp because it allows them to go home to sleep in their own room every night. This means they can be well-rested for the next day at camp. It’s a great way to transition children into the idea of overnight camp later on when they are ready.

Overnight camps limit communication with your children. One of the main hallmarks of sleepaway summer camps is getting kids to be present and enjoy the outdoors and all of the activities available to them as well as helping them become more independent and self-confident. 

This means that many sleepaway camps limit communication between parents and kids to certain times and means of communication, such as email or written letters. This is all for the benefit of the campers and the reason it’s great for kids is because they can focus on enjoying themselves without the normal technological distractions or feel homesick.

Day camp can also be any time of the year. There are day camps available that are scheduled for the evenings and weekends so that children can attend when they have free time outside of extracurricular activities. 

It’s also common to see day camps targeted for fall, winter, and spring break times to keep kids active and engaged through the school holidays. This means that no matter what the given season, children can attend day camp. 

When it comes to summer camp costs, traditional overnight camps are typically more expensive and it should come as no surprise. All of the added benefits of traditional summer camps, like a full-time nurse, sleeping quarters, meals, and the associated utilities, add a substantial burden on the camps themselves.

But what children get for the added expense is worth it because it becomes an all-inclusive stay complete with a calendar chock full of activities. The potential lifetime worth of memories alone is worth throwing in a little extra.

Another difference is that day camp can be in nearly any setting. Residential camps are traditionally surrounded on all sides by nature, encouraging children to grow closer to the natural world and slow down. 

Meanwhile, day camps can be situated nearly anywhere and are often in or near major metropolitan areas like Los Angeles or Boston. It’s not uncommon for day camps to be near college campuses or to make use of public sports facilities for outdoor activities. If you live in the United States, most sleepaway camps will be accredited by the American Camp Association while only some day camps are.

Day camps are available for a wide array of hobbies and interests, including chess, computer programming, and every sport under the sun. This means that children can be immersed in the activities they enjoy the most and learn the associated skills. However, some overnight options also incorporate these unique activities into their programming.

So which one is better? Well, the answer is that there really isn’t one better than the other. It depends on what your children are looking to get out of it. Generally, overnight summer camps are a great experience for older kids to build up their independence and leadership skills, form strong friendships with campers, and learn new things. Day camps are a great way for younger kids to participate in curricular activities, stay active during the school break, and avoid the summer slump.