Five Reasons To Send Your Kids to Summer Camp

Group of people amongst tents in fieldAs parents plan summer activities and events, many might put thoughts of summer camp on a backburner, or dismiss the idea altogether. Many moms and dads are worried at the thought of sending their children away. Young children worry about getting homesick (or is that screen-sick?) In some cases parents may remember negative experiences from their own youth.

Not only do families need to look past these superficial, easy-out objections, they should consider the many valuable benefits of summer camp.

The following are five excellent reasons why you should be sending your child to camp this summer:

Physical activity and physical literacy

At summer camp, kids get active in ways they may never have done so before. They acquire what Kelly Murumets, chief executive at ParticipAction Canada, calls “physical literacy.” They acquire new habits and awareness of their physical selves; by necessity, says Murumets, “they adopt more physically active lives.” As a result it is easier for them to be more physically active throughout the year and also into their later teen and adult years.

New ways of playing!

The value of play is understood and emphasized by child psychologists the planet over. Michelle Brownrigg, an executive of Active Healthy Kids Canada, notes that there is a vast array of social skills that can be learned only in unstructured play. She adds that in the past decade alone, unstructured playtime is “one of the most decreased areas of discretionary time.” According to Brownrigg, both boys and girls today participate in far too few activities that are not “focused on a competitive end.” Many camps encourage kids to take free time to play without structure and even invent their own games and other forms of play.

Time at summer camp improves kids’ self confidence

Being sent away to summer camp may be a kind of tough love for many children who have been over-protected or are perhaps too introverted for their own long-term good. While it is of course inappropriate to force kids to do something they do not want to do, most kids will recognize and admit that there have been times where their confidence has blossomed when they have been taken out of their comfort zones.

Troy Glover is a researcher at the University of Waterloo who has studied the effects of the summer camp experience on children for several years. He writes that summer camps “develop emotional intelligence in children by making them more empathetic.” Not only that, but typical summer camp involvement like “getting up in front of the whole camp to do an announcement or lip synch or perform in a play [helps] kids gain self-confidence in front of a large group.”

Conquer Nature Deficit Disorder
Never heard of Nature Deficit Disorder? Richard Louv invented this term in his 2005 book, Last Child in the Woods, as a pithy way of describing an unhealthy imbalance in many children. On one side of the coin, there are too many children too comfortable wiling away hours on screens, while on the other side parents –albeit well-intentioned – tend to overprotect children. These and other factors create a condition where children are increasingly alienated from nature. And they suffer because of it.

Alienation from nature makes children irrationally fearful of nature and natural events. Louv also cites a study by the California Department of Education showing that sixth graders who were involved in outdoor-based school programs improved their math and science scores by 27 per cent. In addition, they were more cooperative, better at conflict resolution and increased their classroom involvement.

Perhaps most importantly, and a fact that anyone who has spent time outside on a beautiful day will agree with, nature is a great destressor. Louv asks, “How can we underestimate children’s need for respite from CNN, school stress or family tension?” Throughout his book, Louv details many other reasons children need nature and vice versa.

Unique summer learning

Outside, engaged in nature, forced into activities they may not be familiar with or otherwise active in, kids inevitably learn new things in new ways. Their minds are active in areas that are strange to them.  They get hands-on experience over academic learning. Tom Potter is a researcher at Lakhead University who believes that summer camp activities provide emotional learning which is more profound than cognitive learning.

There are a number of ways in which camp learning is absolutely unique:

  • There are many unique outdoor activities that provide unique learning and skills, including canoeing, orienteering, campfire building, geocaching and more
  • Kids do not realize how much they are learning because they are just having too much fun
  • Many camp activities offer an immediate feedback loop. When kids are trying to steer a sailboat and its’ not going the way they intend the lesson is instantaneous.

Glover admits that he himself, like many of today’s parents, wants “to bubble wrap kids.” But he adds, “Camp is an opportunity to elude that bubble wrap and to let kids explore who they are and what they can do.”

This is a guest post by Jim Huinink, Director of Web for camps.ca, a Canadian portal on summer camps.

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