Summer camp is more than just a way to get your child out of your hair for a week or two during summer break (though that most definitely can be a plus). At summer camp, kids have fun, make new friends, learn new things, and grow into independent human beings.

But there are so many different types of summer camps out there — which is right for your child? Let’s break down the summer camp options you and your child have to choose from.

What are the different types of summer camps?

There are three broad categories of summer camps: day camps, sleepaway or residential camps, and virtual camps.

Day camps

In a day camp, kids go to a community or recreational center in your area during the day, where they participate in supervised activities and hang out with other kids. At the end of the day, they go home to sleep at night.

Sleepaway/residential camps

In a sleepaway or residential camp, kids stay away from home overnight, often at a location in the wilderness. During the day, they participate in supervised activities and socialize, and at night, they sleep in cabins or even under the stars.

Virtual camps

In a virtual camp, kids sign onto classes and workshops online with expert instructors and counselors on topics that interest them, often with other kids who share their interests. In these remote small-group learning experiences, kids still make new friends, learn new skills, and stay occupied, which can give parents a break (especially during the time of social distancing). There are also virtual camps that are more self-directed and flexible. Virtual camps are usually less expensive than in-person camps.

Within each of these categories, there are summer camps designed for specific populations of kids, like those from underprivileged backgrounds or those with special needs.

How long is a typical summer camp?

There are summer camps of all lengths. Sleepaway or residential camps often last several weeks, while day camps and virtual camps are more commonly limited to a smaller number of weeks or days. You can also find self-directed virtual camps that give parents and kids the freedom to either follow a provided schedule or create your own.

What activities can be done in summer camp?

Across the three broad categories of summer camps, there are programs that focus on every interest under the sun. Here are just a few of the activities that your child can explore in summer camp.

Academic enrichment

This doesn’t mean your child will be trapped in a classroom at camp against their will while they’re on summer break. Instead, academic enrichment camps give your child the opportunity to dive deeper into a subject that genuinely excites them—whether that’s STEM, leadership, or even economics, philosophy, or politics (for older kids)—and meet other kids with the same passions.


Summer camp is a great place for kids to get active. And if your child has been looking for the chance to become an athletic superstar (or just to have fun playing a lot of their favorite sports), there’s a camp for that. Basketball, football, baseball, martial arts, horseback riding—your child can attend a camp focusing on one sport or go to a camp offering a wide variety of physical activities.


Band camp and theatre camp are two of the classic summer camps for kids. And now there are also camps focusing on everything from painting to dance to filmmaking and beyond. Your artistically-inclined child could create their masterpiece this summer at camp.


The Platonic ideal of a summer camp for many Americans is a cluster of cabins out on a lake in the forest (complete with fire pits and a tire swing).  And indeed there are plenty of camps where your child can go hiking, canoeing, and exploring in nature.

What is the best summer camp?

The best summer camp for your child is whatever camp excites them most and works for their temperament. Ask them what kind of activities they’d like to do at camp, and look through the options together. Also, check in with them about how independent they’re feeling. If they’re eager to spend some time on their own, try a sleepaway or residential camp. But if they’re not sure if they’re ready to leave home yet, you can start out with a day camp. And of course, if in-person gatherings aren’t safe yet, there are plenty of great virtual camps online—like these virtual summer camps from top providers on Sawyer!