Making Friends and Having Fun

– By Dr. Dana Harris


Parents, Grandparents, Caregivers… brace yourself as elementary, middle and high schools prepare to close its doors for summer break in just a few short weeks! As the thrill of warmer temperatures, sunny beaches and images of a luxurious vacation begin to emerge, for those of you with school-age kids, it also means pulling out the summer calendar and those appealing catalogs in hopes of finding the most suitable activities guaranteed to keep your kids physically active and socially engaged during the hot summer months ahead. Summer camps are a great option that have been in existence for more than 150 years. And while it’s amazing to see 14 million children across the globe head off to camp this summer, it’s the benefits and the outcomes; the stories of positive impact that really stand out.  Without question, summer camp offers a structured opportunity for your child to learn and grow in ways that you never imagined. It’s a unique opportunity that will empower your child to foster lifelong memories.

According to the Center for Disease Control, obesity in children has doubled, and in teens has quadrupled in the last 30 years. Thanks to the many activities that summer camps offer, kids can remain healthy and physically active.  What’s more is that summer camps are also working to offer healthier food choices for the young energetic camper. Summer camp is a community away from home and school where kids learn to work with each other and adult mentors, build relationships and manage conflict. In fact, it’s the best of both worlds – the child gets the irreplaceable experience of summer camp while parents retain their piece of mind. Whether you’re contemplating on sending your child to the little camp down the street or an overnight outfit a few states away, it’s every parent’s concern to select a quality camp that sets high goals, demonstrates quality standards and provides an enjoyable learning experience in which your child can grow and thrive in today’s world.  Listed below are a few noteworthy tips on how to pick a winner!

• Summer camp builds resilience.  Camps provide children with new challenges and obstacles – all which children can overcome with enough hard work and persistence. The summer camp experience reinforces independence and empowerment. Even if you think your kids are independent, nothing brings out and tests that independence more than giving them time away from you, on their own. Kids go from home to school to extracurriculars with each environment contributing to their overall development.  Summer camp is another unique venue for growth, allowing your child to become independent and self-confident while socializing and making new friends and even learning new skills. Today’s options are far more varied than you might remember from your own childhood. The way children are learning these days is a never-ending process that continues to revolutionize the way camps are organized. Several camps today offer a wide range of activities applicable to future careers, while providing tools to problem solve, create when in teams and use critical thinking skills aimed at building all-around resilience.  This is a culmination of many benefits such as new friendships, confidence, independence and a sense of belonging.  All these things contribute to the development of your child as they make strides from being a kid to a strong considerate and competent adult.

• Camp fosters teamwork.  At camp, your child will learn independence and self-confidence as they meet and listen to caring counselors and instructors and make new friends in a stress-free environment.  As a camper, your child will also gain a new sense of responsibility on how to get along with people from varied backgrounds.  Attending camp can furthermore facilitate an environment where kids learn the prerequisites of success. They must learn to work together with their peers and their camp leaders.  Whether they are working to build a camp fire, playing a game or preparing a meal, campers learn to problem-solve to accomplish their goals. Through teamwork, kids learn that they are each an integral part of the camp community where they can feel a sense of acceptance and belonging.

• Camp builds leadership skills.  Summer camp does a really good job teaching kids that it’s okay to fail and helps them recognize their limitations while affording them an opportunity to see things that are not fixed and can be improved upon.  By allowing kids to exercise their leadership skills, take risks and face challenges, camps are helping children build their independence, resiliency and self-esteem in a safe, supervised and supportive environment.  Whether it’s by cleaning their cabins without being asked, helping younger campers find their way to the dining hall or contributing their talents to a play or talent show, youth of all ages are learning to take initiative. And learning to take the lead essentially teaches youth how to be good citizens—a skill that has become increasingly valuable in the 21st century.

• Camp helps with mental stimulation and physical activity.  At camp, kids are afforded the opportunity to see what they’re missing and form lifelong bonds and connections with the natural world they may have never experienced before.  A bond with nature is profoundly missing in the lives of many children today unlike a generation ago. Along with banning the use of electronics, many camps provide a daily routine that involves waking up early, getting lots of physical activity, eating regular meals and spending extended periods of time outdoors. Participating in a summer camp program is a wonderful antidote to “nature deficit disorder,” to the narrow experience of modern indoor life.  The outdoor experience enriches kid’s perception of the world and supports healthy child development. 

• Camp instills appreciation and gratitude.  One of the major benefits of camp is the social skills that develop especially around interacting with other people in a positive way.  The camping experience really develops emotional intelligence in children by making them more empathetic. Camp gives children the playtime they need while encouraging creativity and social engagement.  Kids learn to set their own boundaries. While the camp experience may simply seem like a quintessential summer pastime for kids to learn to swim, sleep in a log cabin, sing around the campfire, learn to fish or simply appreciate nature, the overall experience is quite beneficial by rewarding our youth with personal development skills that can help them in the classroom, in their relationships and in whatever passion they choose. It’s a slice of carefree living where kids can relax, laugh and just be silly all day long.

The benefits of camp are plenty, from lifelong lessons beyond the classroom and the value of playtime to appreciating nature and building confidence and leadership skills. Perhaps, best of all, camps offer kids a chance to feel like they belong.  Let’s face it, camps are fun and entertaining.  In today’s world, a camp could not stay in business for generations if it were unsafe or poorly run. According to the research, which involved more than 5,000 families, 70% of parents said camp helped improve their child’s self-confidence and 74% of kids reported the experience encouraged them to try things they first found scary.

There are many factors that go into the decision to send your child to camp, and it shouldn’t hinge solely on whether they need to be entertained for a week, month, etc.  When you are doing your homework on which camp is best for your child, word of mouth is probably the most common way parents become familiar with programs, but it shouldn’t be the only thing you consider.  Make sure you understand the program’s values and mission and see if its activities match both the goals and your child’s interests. One of the best ways you can ensure a camp is right for your child is by visiting it yourself. Sure, you can find valuable information on a website or social media but seeing the program in person can make the selection process so much easier.  It enables you to experience the atmosphere, allows you a chance to meet the staff in person while affording you an opportunity to ask whatever questions that come to mind.  And if you leave, feeling positive vibes, you will have likely found the camp that’s a good fit for your child. 

This article appears in the April 2019 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
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