It is difficult to give a brief explanation of what American summer camps for children are like because of the wide differences to be found amongst them. There are three major kinds of camps: organizational camps, private camps and institutional camps.
Organizational camps are sponsored by such groups as the YMCA, YWCA, Girl Scouts, Church denominations, etc. Children in these camps are sometimes from homes in the lower economic levels, and from many different cultural and racial origins, but they may also come from middle income families. Campers pay a moderate fee, with many children receiving scholarship help. They stay in camp for periods ranging from one to eight weeks.
Private camps are owned by an individual or family, usually by the camp director. Children are generally from middle and upper income families. These camps vary greatly in educational policy and program content, according to the particular purposes of the director. Each camper pays a fee and stays in camp from one to eight weeks.
Institutional camps include those for mentally and physically handicapped people. These camps are for children and adults who have special needs and require special attention. Working in these camps is very demanding, and sometimes specialized experience is required.
Camp enrollments can range from 25 to 500 children. Some are for boys only, or for girls only; many are for both. All camps include such permanent buildings as a dining hall, office headquarters, recreation hall and infirmary (small hospital). In addition, most camps have permanent cabins for housing the campers. Some provide running hot water, indoor showers and toilets. Scout camps tend to be more rugged, with campers and counselors often living in tents outdoors.
It should be noted that while camping in other countries is often an informal arrangement, with the emphasis on outdoor camping and cooking, hiking, sports, etc., American camping usually combines these activities with a program of handicrafts, dramatics, woodcraft, animal care, and special athletic instruction within a more structured environment. Overnight camping, long hikes and canoe trips are planned as special activities.
While camps vary widely in their program schedules, the following is given as a typical arrangement of the day's activities:
Bed time for campers depends, of course, on their age. Teenagers retire somewhat later than younger children. Normally, cabin counselors are expected to stay up with the children. Counselors are usually free after the children go to bed, and may gather for late coffee and discussions.