Blog: Bright Ideas

Overnight STEM Summer Camps vs Day Camps in the Chicago Area

Whether headed to an exhilarating game at Wrigley Field or Sox Park, a sunny picnic and volleyball match on the beach or one of the numerous lively festivals downtown, there is no shortage of summertime activities in the Windy City. Opportunities for family fun are abundant in Chicagoland, many with no reservations or scheduling required. Also plentiful are amazing summer learning programs for kids, including all kinds of camps, but these require some preplanning. As parents begin to schedule summertime activities, overnight STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) camps and day camps will surely come under consideration. When determining if an overnight camp or a day camp is preferable for your child, there are all kinds of factors to take into consideration. 

Deciding on a Theme

Once parents have chosen camp as a summer activity for their child, some key decisions must be made. The first is probably the type of camp. With so many choices, some of the most popular include sports, the arts, adventure and STEM camps. Whether selecting a sports camp like the Bulls and Sox Youth Academy or a week-long multi-sport survey, kids seeking athletic fun and challenge will find lots of options in the Windy City. 

Amateur comedians, aspiring actors and even circus fanatics will all find tons of camp options in the area that are perfect for their skills and ambitions. For kids who love to create and experiment, STEM and STEAM camps offer advantages for all ages. With their emphasis on science, technology, engineering, arts and math, they feature hands-on exploration and discovery opportunities to capture the interest of kids from preschool through the teen years. Many have a theme or focus that makes them the ideal choice to match kids’ specific wants or needs. The most important piece of this puzzle is understanding who your child is and what type of camp will best complement their personalities and strengths, as well as offering them challenges and room to grow.

Considerations for Overnight Camp

Overnight camps require a different type of commitment, as kids are typically dropped off at the beginning of the session and picked up at the end. Camp staff support what for many kids is their first experience away from their family. An overnight or sleepaway camp may be the right choice for independent adolescents and teens comfortable spending an extended period away from home. It can be a meaningful right of passage marking a significant developmental milestone. 

For those kids not quite ready for or interested in overnight camp, a day camp can be a rewarding recreational and learning experience. Day camp gives parents an opportunity for daily interaction and conversation about their adventures. Additionally, parents not only get this chance to ask their kids about their experiences throughout the week, but they also have daily access to staff members to get feedback about how their kids are faring at camp. Though day camp requires more daily commitment from parents, many camps support working parents with extended care and optional lunches provided.

Benefits of a Daily Debrief

Unique to the day camp experience is the opportunity for parents to debrief with kids at the end of each day. Research has shown that kids who hear more spoken words as infants and toddlers start school at an advantage to kids who have not. But a study published recently by scientists at Harvard, MIT and the University of Pennsylvania suggests that it may not be the number of words kids hear but rather the back and forth verbal exchange that makes a difference. Researchers found that 4, 5 and 6 year olds who engaged in conversation about their day had greater brain activity, suggesting that talking about learning experiences at home helps to cement them neurologically.  Sharing details of their day through questions and answers may be the key to greater brain growth. Day camp provides the amazing opportunity for kids to experience all the benefits of camp and then come home and further develop their connection with the lessons of the day and with their parents as they explore and process what they’ve learned.

Having a fruitful conversation that helps kids to reflect on their day in a meaningful way involves asking the right questions. As kids think back on new knowledge, it helps them process the content and connect it to things they already know, thus deepening their understanding. It also gives parents true insight into kids’ experiences and opportunities to bond over shared lessons. Here are a few ideas to help stimulate thoughtful reflection:

  • If you picked an emoji to represent your day, what would it be? (or On a scale of 1 to 5, how would you rate your day?) Why?
  • What was one problem your team/group had to solve today? How did you come up with a plan? What role did you play? Did you make any changes to the plan as you went along? Did you try different things?
  • Name one time when you had to step outside your comfort zone or try something new. How did it make you feel? What was the result?
  • What are you most looking forward to tomorrow? Why?

Of course, the follow-up questions are equally important since the goal is to generate back and forth conversation that generates reflection. Let their answers help to prompt additional inquiries. 

Which Camp is Right for Your Kid

With so many STEM camps in the Chicago area, there is sure to be one that captures your kid’s attention. The choices are varied: space camp for Earth & Space Science aficionados, inventor’s workshop or makerspace camps for those who love to tinker and a variety of Life Science experiences from which to choose. Camp Galileo offers unique and challenging options for kids entering pre-K through 5th grade at eight Chicagoland locations. With four exciting themes to choose from, kids will enjoy hands-on, age-appropriate activities that integrate science, art and outdoor play.  

Staff at Galileo Headquarters work year-round to plan creative, engaging, hands-on activities that kids will be excited to share with their parents. For older kids entering 5th through 8th grades, a variety of intriguing majors allow them to zero in on specific interests at Galileo Summer Quest, available in Lincoln Park and Winnetka. From Chefology, where kitchen chemists create unique and tasty concoctions to Robot Pet, where kids construct and program a robotic companion that does tricks for their family and friends, the offerings are as varied as the kids themselves.  

Making Summer Memories

If it comes down to a decision between overnight STEM camp or day camp for your child this summer, give serious consideration to their readiness to be away from home. Think about how involved you wish to be in the daily camp experience. If you decide on a day camp, be sure to maximize the learning by having a discussion at the end of each day. This question and answer exchange can have a profound impact on kids’ understanding and also allows you to be part of the experience. Between sharing this daily debriefing and attending their closing presentations at week’s end, kids will feel supported and know that their interests and endeavors are important to you. This quality time will be valuable, not only for STEAM learning but also for family summer fun and the stuff wonderful memories are made of.  

Check out all the summer STEM camp options for kids in Chicagoland. Sign up for our mailing list to keep up-to-date on our camp happenings and innovation resources. Sign up for a camp session today, or, for more information about Galileo camps, contact us here.