A Well-Rounded Experience
The same types of activities are generally offered at both all girls' and all boys' camps, yet parents may choose an all boys' camp, for example, for an intensive sports experience in addition to the other traditional camp offerings. "At a well run boys' camp, there's going to be just as much arts and crafts, theater, horseback riding and anything else that's thought of as 'girls' activities," says Dr. Thurber. For boys, there are also noncompetitive camps that don't place such a strong emphasis on sports but still include all of the same activities. At all girls' camps, there is a large array of offerings including sports, outdoor and wilderness, the arts, camping and water activities with an added focus on tradition and the importance of friendships. "At these camps, it's all about making solid, true-blue, for life friends. And most girls wouldn't trade the all girls' camp experience for anything because of the depth and strength of the friends they've made," according to Levison who says that many parents believe that these solid friendships for both sexes are made more easily in a single sex environment.
When the Model Fails
According to Dr. Thurber, there are a small number of poorly run camps that do not fulfill their missions and as a result, the experience can be detrimental. Sometimes, the focus on pro girl and pro boy can be taken too far, and peer pressure and competition can become augmented and distorted. For example, an all boys' camp may develop a negative atmosphere where healthy competition no longer exists, and at an all girls' camp, appearance and status can take precedence. These kinds of situations can usually be identified through visiting the camps and speaking with families whose children return each year, Dr. Thurber says.
So how do you know if a single sex camp is right for your child? After reviewing all of the information provided by the camp, including brochures, videos, and websites, speaking to the camp director and attending an open house can also help to determine if a particular camp will be a good fit. "It's more important to find a quality camp that is accredited, has a good reputation, a long director tenure, a high staff and camper return rate and top-notch staff training, and then you can decide between single sex or coed," according to Dr. Thurber, who says that although parents usually make the final decision, children and their parents should have a discussion about the pros and cons together. "Children who feel that they have taken part in the decisions about camp are much less likely to be homesick."
Determining what you're looking for in a camp experience and why you're looking at a single sex camp, can also help you make the decision. "Depending on those answers, parents will be swayed one way or another or they'll determine that it really doesn't matter," says Nienow. Some single sex camps also have opposite sex sister camps that operate independently but share the same open and close dates and may also host special events together. This arrangement can make it easier for parents to have both son and daughter at neighboring camps and it can also provide some socialization with the other sex. "In most cases, parents are okay with this arrangement where there is some interaction but without the ongoing dynamic; they want the bulk of the experience to be without the other sex," says Nienow.