The date was July, 11th 1999. After months of anticipation, a slight bout of carsickness, and a 15-minute hike through the woods, I finally reached Cabin 36. Little did I know that my home for the next 12 days would serve as the groundwork for my lifelong passion and my career. I chose my bunk, made my bed, and said goodbye to my parents while holding the arsenal of stuffed animals that made the journey with me. I was a 7-year-old only child who had never spent time away from home outside of the occasional sleepover at a friend’s house. What happened next, was nothing short of amazing. I learned countless lessons at camp, both about myself and about others while developing skills that have made me a more empathetic and resilient person. At the end of those 12 days, two things were certain. The first, my favorite t-shirt from the Broadway production of The Wizard of Oz was in serious need of a wash, and the second? I would be back.
Below is a list of 10 things that were unknown to me and my parents when choosing a camp. We now know so much more about the importance of summer engagement for children, especially in a post-pandemic world. Did you know these benefits of choosing a camp for your child?
1. Develops life-long skills: Camp offers the chance to try new things and can prompt your child to discover a passion, interest, or activity that they want to pursue. I learned the basics of cooking, how to build a campfire, pond/stream ecology, how to find the big and little dipper, the importance of staying hydrated, and of course how to French braid. I can think of countless ‘firsts’ that happened at camp, that have remained relevant and helpful to this day. One of my most cherished camp experiences (and now a favorite pastime of mine) is horseback riding.
2. Gain independence: Campers learn the importance of saying goodbye to mom, dad, or whoever is at home each time they attend camp. They can learn how to identify feelings of homesickness and learn methods to combat it. I felt a similar feeling when my parents dropped me off in my college dorm room at 18 years old as I had when they left me in my top bunk in cabin 36. Since I knew the nature of the feelings I was experiencing, I knew the solution was to keep myself busy and try to make friends to help feel less homesick. I did this on my own, because camp taught me how to be successful on my own.
3. Promotes healthy routines: Camps allow for children to continue to follow a routine, something that experts agree is important for child development. Even something as simple as a ‘rest hour’ encourages campers to take a break from the high-energy activities of the day, and take time for rest and self-care. I learned the importance of a regular sleep schedule during my time at camp. While it was exciting to spend a night or two awake until the morning hours chatting and getting to know each other, I quickly learned that the next day became almost impossible to function without sleep.
4. Encourages teamwork: The culture of camp will often naturally place campers into inclusive groups that work together towards achieving goals. Even some less traditional components of camp force campers to work on a team such as daily jobs, helping with clean up, and bringing new to camp children up to speed on how a camp operates.
5. Provides an emotionally safe environment: Camps encourage learning through all mediums. We teach children that it is OK to make mistakes, and teach them how to try something different the next time. Camp also allows a safe space for children to build relationships and open up to one another about shared experiences or emotions.
6. Accessible and Abundant: According to the American Camp Association, close to 10 million children in the United States participate in day or overnight summer camps annually.
7. Improves face-to-face relationship building: Face-to-face relationships have been especially challenging over the last year. Camps can operate safely in an outdoor setting which encourages campers to put away screens and connect organically with one another.
8. Increases time spent outdoors and establishes respect for nature: Spending time outside, can help reduce stress in children, and can help them better cope with stress in the future. Camps teach children how to enjoy the natural world around them, and to become stewards of preserving the natural world.
9. Provides children with positive role models: Kids who can rely on adults other than their parents help to broaden their horizons and find success when they are in a situation when they are away from home. Having someone else to rely on can give children an adult perspective outside of the home setting. When camp counselors come from a different background as the camper, they can also begin to broaden their perspective and can begin to better understand their own goals, dreams, and aspirations.
10. Teaches empathy: Camp is a unique environment where children from different backgrounds, who grew up in different areas with different experiences can come together and enjoy the same thing for their time together. Camp breaks down the barriers that often exist in the way that schools create districts and allow children from a variety of backgrounds, home lives, and economic situations to come together and learn about one another. They begin to learn that there is generally always a reason or a ‘why’ behind a person’s actions, thoughts, and behaviors. They learn to anticipate this and start to feel on behalf of these reasons.