Send Your Kids to Summer CampSummer is right around the corner, and it’s time to consider what the kiddos in your life will be doing with all that free time. Each year more than 14 million children attend day and residential camps in the US according to the American Camping Association (ACA). As a professional who has spent years working with teens, I highly recommend all caregivers send their kids to camp. I was one of those “city kids” who was taken to camp for the first time in elementary school by the YMCA. That experience lit a fire in my heart for the great outdoors that later led me into the Boy Scouts where I ultimately advanced all the way to Eagle.
Why Kids Should Camp
I understand some caregivers are concerned that their child isn't ready for summer camp or doesn't have the personality best suited to enjoy camp. Camp is good for all kids, even troubled kids or those who struggle with school can do very well in outdoor situations (Thurber, Scanlin, Scheuler, & Henderson, 2007). Adults need to stop thinking in terms of who can't or shouldn't go to camp and instead look for ways they can. With over 14,000 camps to choose from, a little research should highlight several opportunities every child could enjoy.
However, going away to camp for the first time can be daunting for a child. As an adult leader in the Boy Scouts, I quickly learned that the most critical aspect of preparation is for caregivers to actually believe their child will have a wonderful experience at camp. Any discussion about camp should be upbeat and positive, focused on fun and learning. It also helps if the child can go with a friend, providing a safety net as they branch out to new friends and experiences.
A caregiver’s natural inclination to remain in daily contact with their children can have a negative effect on the child's and caregiver's development. According to the ACA, almost 75% of camps have a technology "ban" and many of the rest strongly encourage children to leave their cell phones and other electronic devices at home. Encouraging children to break the rules and sneak their phone into camp so they can talk or text with the caregiver is detrimental on a variety of levels. Sneaking in an electronic device opens the door for the child to disengage with other campers and robs them of the whole experience. Summer camp also provides children with a critical opportunity to disconnect from electronics and allows them to appreciate nature, physical activity, and the bonding time with peers. Considering how little 'electronic down time' kids actually have these days, this point is critical (Harris, 2015).
Camp Benefits for Caregivers
While summer camps provide an atmosphere that fosters growth and an environment where children begin to develop self-esteem and social skills (Tapps, Symonds, Baghurst, & Cho, 2017), they are not the only ones who benefit from summer camps. Caregivers benefit from sending their child to camp because they are able to establish stronger relationships built on trust with their children. I have seen the relationship between caregivers and their children also grow while the child is away. I think it's good for caregivers and kids to have some space from each other from time to time. Camp provides a good opportunity for emotional growth that may not occur at home.
As children continue to grow into becoming young adults it is important for them to feel independent and have self-confidence but even more important is having a strong and healthy relationship with their caregivers. While it may seem that the archery, swimming, theatre, dance, acting, and art camps may just be for the child attending, the caregiver’s relationship with their child also grows in a positive direction. When a child comes home from day camp or a weeklong resident camp, they are excited to see their caregivers and tell them about all of the friends they made, the fun activities they participated in, and what they learned. The child will bring the caregiver into their lives on a deeper emotional level which will create stronger bonds as the child grows into young adulthood.
Research shows that after sending their kids to camp, caregivers report seeing growth in their kids in the areas of leadership, positive values and decision making, positive identity, making friends, spirituality, environmental awareness, social comfort, independence, peer relationships, and adventure/exploration (Henderson, Whitaker, Bialeschki, Scanlin, & Thurber, 2007). Summer camp experiences have the potential to create wonderful memories that will last a lifetime. This summer is the perfect opportunity for all children to make positive new memories.
Written by Dr. Dallas Stout, University of the Rockies Adjunct Faculty
American Camping Association. Retrieved from: www.acacamps.org
Harris, M. (2015). The end of absence: Reclaiming what we’ve lost in a world of constant connection. New York: Penguin.
Henderson, K.A., Whitaker, L.S., Bialeschki, M.D., Scanlin, M.M., & Thurber, C. (2007). Summer camp experiences: Parental perceptions of youth development outcomes. Journal of Family Issues, 28(8), 987-1007.
Tapps, T., Symonds, M., Baghurst, T., & Cho, D. (2017). Recreation camp attendance: A way to develop social skills?. Journal of the Oklahoma Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance, 54(2), 89-98.
Thurber, C.A., Scanlin, M.M., Scheuler, L., & Henderson, K.A. (2007). Youth development outcomes of the camp experience: Evidence for multidimensional growth. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 36, 241-254.