There are precious few spots remaining in our kids’ lives that allows them both ‘be a kid’ and learn life lessons at the same time. The little bubbles of life that each summer camp creates fosters the learning of skills that are both distinct to camp and transferrable to all aspect of their future lives.
Alisha and Amoli came home ecstatic, more independent and confident and full of great stories. They seemed to have loved every minute of being there and have made some remarkable friends. It means a lot to us that both our girls feel so much at home at camp and look forward to going back every year.
After running camp for the past two decades, raising our own children as ‘camp kids’, and talking with researchers like Dr. Laurie Browne at the American Camp Association, I’ve come up with the five top benefits of summer camp for kids.
New Relationship Skills
According the Dr. Laurie Browne, head of research at the American Camp Association, relationship skills ‘popped’ the most when looking at the benefits of camp.
Gains in teamwork, empathy, compassion and ‘appreciating people who are different than me’ were among the most powerful amongst the children in their study. Could there be better training for our kids before they head out of our homes?
And, it’s not just interpersonal skills that increase.
Improved Executive Functioning
In essence, our responsibility as parents is prepare our children to leave us. In order do so confidently, we need to make sure our children develop independence, learn control their impulses and lead themselves on a day to day basis.
While school can teach them to read, think critically, and develop good life-long learning habits, teachers don’t have time to focus on these aspects. And, there are not enough awake hours in the day for us parents to spend the time we’d like on it. This is where summer camp steps in.
Living in an intentional community that focuses on helping everyone be a valuable part gives our campers a place to practice those important executive functions. And, summer camp makes it fun.
When you cleaning up your bunk is a competition, when your team can gain extra points for your sportsmanship, when the Food Fairy requires that you say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ before getting your treat… you begin to develop those much-needed executive functioning skills.
And the group that helps our campers most with this benefit of camp?
Connection with ‘Near Peers’
Camp Counselors are the single biggest factor campers experience at camp.
This fact bears itself out in ‘real life’ and in the data collected by the 5 Year study mentioned above. Dr. Browne divides the impact of counselors on their campers into three distinct areas: mentorship, direct teaching, and the importance of being older but still close in age.
Hearing the same messages that their parents say – be kind, make your bed, we’ve got to work together – land home with greater strength just because… well, the counselor is ‘cool.’ Being mentored and led by someone you can see yourself becoming in the near-distant future makes all the difference.
Yes, our campers learn to use a bow and arrow, sail a boat, project their voice on stage, and overcome obstacles better through the efforts of the staff. But, most importantly, our campers see the possibility of their futures in the camp counselors.
A Fresh Start
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell has this to say about summer camp:
"It gets them away from a neighborhood or situation that may exist in their neighborhoods that isn't healthy . . . It teaches them how to get along with other people - both other young people as well as adults. To give our children a safe place to learn and grow–camp does that."
And, it’s no longer just about the physical neighborhood but the digital one as well.
Heading into a new community, one you live in for only a few days or weeks each year, gives our kids a chance to try out new aspects of their personality, demonstrate different strengths, and even try out new names. This happens without the constant glare of social media and the comparison trap it brings.
Couldn’t we all do well with a fresh start from time to time?
All About Fun
Camp is a completely kid-focused community created by ‘experience engineers’, adults who literally spend 10 months planning for two. Our kids will giggle and guffaw, play and practice, make new friends and re-connect with old ones.
By leaving everything at home, they jump into a place that is prepared specifically for them. Yes, there are tears of homesickness from time to time but 90% of all tears pour out on departure day, an easy sign of the beginnings of ‘camp-sickness.’
The memories made and lessons learned about community and friendship at camp serve as rocket fuel for future endeavors and a warm blanket for cold winter nights – both literally and figuratively.
So, there you have it, this camp director’s ‘top five benefits of summer camp for kids.’ To be honest, these benefits are exactly the same for our camp counselor staff as well as our adult, full-time staff. (Me, included!)
Thankfully, we have Dr. Laurie and her team of professionals and volunteers at the ACA to help us delve more deeply into the benefits of camp. I hope you’ll spend a bit of time with her around the campfire to learn more about how summer camp benefits kids.