When I discuss camp with parents, many don’t know why a sleep-away summer camp is so valuable for kids. Some suggest that their children have their own summer camp at home, meaning they go to a lake house or have lots of fun stuff to do. That’s great for their kids, but they are missing the essential reasons for sleep-away summer camp – reasons that have to do with your child’s development. If you’ve ever asked “Why camp?” here’s the long and short of it.
Sleep-away summer camps have been a tradition in the North East for as long as 150 years. Our camp (Camp Waziyatah) has now been in business for 95 summers. Years ago, camp was just a way to escape hot and unpleasant cities and a chance for kids to get back to nature. Now, camp is much more about child development and the statistics are in: summer camp makes positive lifelong changes.
Studies (like the American Camp Association’s “Directions” study) show that camp establishes self-confidence, good decision making, social skills and the ability to make new friends. In short, it helps them grow. That’s why we say we’re “Building Better Kids” one summer at a time.
But growth and self-confidence aren’t the only reasons sleep-away camp is great for kids. Here are a few more:
Kids make new and lasting friendships. My best friend from camp who I met when I was 7 years old became my college roommate and we are still close. The friends you make in camp are bonded by the experience and many last a lifetime. And now, they are more and more a part of a global community. My nephew’s new best friend that he met at camp lives in Paris, and they speak all year long through social networking.
Kids get to challenge themselves and try new things. I learned how to ride a horse, sail a boat, tie a knot, build a campfire, shoot an arrow, pitch a tent, make a best friend, and even how to spot poison ivy. I can tell you that every one of those things has been a skill I have used and enjoyed throughout my life. The challenge of trying new things on your own and accomplishing them is one of the most empowering experiences for kids. You should see the joy and triumph in their eyes when they finally make it to the top of the climbing wall or get up on skis for the first time. And when we mention their accomplishments in a “shout out” at the next camp lunch, the entire camp congratulates them. Try to imagine how amazing and wonderful that is for a child, to be cheered by 150 of their peers and friends!
Kids get to be creative. Traditional summer camps have more than just games and sports. They have theater, music, songs, skits, outdoor experiences and visual arts. During color war (a multi-day all-camp competition beloved by all campers), teams create heartfelt songs about camp (and silly fun ones too), and they are entirely written, practiced and performed by the campers. A child can be the lead in a play or perform a dance learned in dance class. The environment is so supportive that there is no way to “flop”. Everyone at camp understands this and lends their strength to the performer.
Kids learn to respect and love their environment. It’s hard to teach people to care for the earth if they don’t see how beautiful and magical it is. One parent called to thank me for “giving my daughter the stars”. She said that her daughter often stargazes at home with her father, a pastime she learned to love at camp.
Kids get to have FUN! It’s impossible to explain how fun camp is, but look at your child’s face in a picture or hear his stories when he gets home and you will know. It’s an absolute blast with tons to do and never a dull moment. Kids are even happy to go to bed on time at camp because they’re so tired from the non-stop excitement and fun. Believe it. I have made an offer to many kids that if they want to stay up later than our lights-out time, they can just tell me five days into camp and I will let them stay up as late as they want. Not one child has ever taken me up on the offer!
Camp is truly a blast, but what you can’t possibly ignore are the social skills kids get in even a short time at camp. This environment is completely unlike school with its many divisions. There are no “geeks” or “jocks” or “weirdos” at camp – just campers who are embraced for who they are and can be anything they want to be. But more importantly, they simply cannot get these experiences at home with their parents, on vacations, or in day programs. I know you love your children and you don’t want to be away from them, but I always tell moms that if they can’t possibly imagine being away from their kids for a few weeks, then that’s all the more reason their kids need to go. Being away from parents in a camp atmosphere brings about a sense of self and strength that is unparalleled elsewhere. Possibly the most important skill of all kids learn at camp is how to get along with a group of peers.
Camp is all these things, and a healthy dose of magic and wonder, which is truly an impressive mix. And you just can’t get it at home playing video games.
Homesickness is a natural worry for parents and kids alike who are about to embark on a sleep-away camp experience.
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