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Why Every Child Should Go to Camp

(Originally published in the Ottawa Citizen)

By Matt Barr of CAMPS CANADA

There are hundreds of reasons for kids to go to camp. Here is a partial list followed by expert advice:

Every child should go to camp to:

  1. make new friends (the number one outcome cited by children who attend camp)
  2. learn new physical skills (arts and crafts, sports, swimming, waterskiing, archery)
  3. learn new social skills (communication, leadership, teamwork)
  4. gain an appreciation of people's different abilities (we are all gifted in some way or another)
  5. experience the feelings of love, safety, and security
  6. enjoy being a kid and clowning around
  7. experience the freedom to make choices, decisions, and mistakes
  8. do chores without being paid (kids help to clean up after lunch and to keep the camp area clean)
  9. have one outstanding teacher (we have lots of the non-academic kind here)
  10. see positive adult role models in a fun environment
  11. experience a community where everyone is welcome regardless of race, colour or religion
  12. learn how to swim (many camps provide daily swimming opportunities)
  13. receive praise for who she is and what she has accomplished (counselors do this all the time)
  14. turn off the television for a week (there are no TV's at most camps)
  15. to gain leadership skills (within a group of their peers)
  16. experience many things for the first time
  17. build confidence in all the things they can do
  18. feel comfortable being themselves (all personalities are encouraged and celebrated at camp)
  19. learn to adjust to new environments, various social situations
  20. gain a greater sense of personal satisfaction, self-esteem, and leadership
  21. develop personal habits that lead to a healthy lifestyle
  22. discover and explore their interests, values and talents
  23. participate on teams
  24. take responsibility for others and help out
  25. increase their problem-solving skills
  26. meet a new circle of peers (outside of their school friends)
  27. create life-long friendships
  28. learn to adjust to new environments
  29. gain a greater sense of personal satisfaction and personal habits that lead to a healthy lifestyle
  30. trust their own instincts and gain a sense of independence
  31. MOST IMPORTANTLY . . . to have fun

A camp experience is without equal. Even those campers who during the school year have behavioural problems, difficulty concentrating or who cannot relate well to their peers are highly successful. How is all of this accomplished in a recreational/educational setting that is overseen by a few camping professionals, but is administered for the most part by high school and university students. The answer is complex; however, the key to the success of camp is that all its efforts are focused on the individual and not on the program.

The program is the tool. The medium is the out of doors; the strategy is to earn the trust of the child in order to make the experience positive, non-threatening, creative and enjoyable. The camping community has long realized that when a child is placed in a trusting, nurturing environment devoid of the pressure to pass or fail and without competition, the motivation to learn is greatly increased. Each summer it is evident by the smiles on their faces, and the laughter we hear that campers are extremely happy in the camp environment. They learn to be self reliant, cooperative, understanding and sensitive. As part of a relatively small group they make friendships and establish bonds that will last a lifetime. The trust that is established allows them to take risks, experiment, challenge themselves and learn from these trials. Day to day they face a multitude of real life situations for which they find their own solutions or work closely with others to resolve them. They develop logical thinking. They assume various roles within the group based upon their strengths. They are better able to make choices for themselves that meet their needs and the needs of others. They become part of a community as they get caught up in the enthusiastic displays of spirit and singing that make camp distinct. Moreover, without realizing it they develop skills that relate directly to academic subjects such as geography, mathematics, kinesiology, meteorology, biology, natural sciences and languages. Their ability to communicate with their peers and their leaders is enhanced. They learn to accept and appreciate individual differences and are willing to reach out to assist others or allow themselves to be helped. Through challenging and creative activities they develop skills that will be useful as they cope with everyday life. From each experience they become more self confident and develop an increased self esteem which allows them to continue to reach out and look for more. All this in a fun-filled, stress free environment.

Camp is a place where strengths are reinforced, where people recognize and accept that all of us have varying abilities and talents. In so doing, each participant can applaud the efforts of peers. Feeling that support, the young person is willing to attempt more complex and challenging activities without the fear of failure. In this environment the “poor student” has an opportunity for recognition and leadership that may otherwise be denied. Camp is for every child regardless of talent and ability.

* RESEARCH FINDINGS (AMERICAN CAMP ASSOCIATION)

The American Camping Association (ACA) studies report that people who participate in camping and recreation experiences are healthier and have fewer problems as a result of their experiences. Similar findings would be expected for Canada.

  1. The largest research study of camper outcomes ever conducted in the United States.
  2. Conducted by a respected, independent research group.
  3. We asked over 5,000 families about positive identity and social skills acquired at camp:

CAMPERS SAY

  1. Camp helped me make new friends. (96%)
  2. Camp helped me get to know other campers who were different from me. (94%)
  3. Camp helped me feel good about myself. (92%)
  4. At camp, I did things I was afraid to do at first. (74%)

PARENTS SAY

  1. My child gained self-confidence at camp. (70%)
  2. My child remains in contact with friends made at camp. (69%)
  3. My child continues to participate in activities learned at camp. (63%)

Camps are uniquely positioned to provide all of these developmental needs for children. Consider camp as the perfect partner to family, school, and community youth activities in helping your child learn independence, decision-making, social and emotional skills, character building and values - all in an atmosphere of creativity and enrichment under the supervision of positive adult role models.

In today's pressure-oriented society, camp provides a non-threatening environment for Canada's youth to be active, to develop competence in life skills, to learn about and enhance their own abilities and to benefit from meaningful participation in a community designed just for them.

Advice from the Experts

The camp experience is recognized by child development professionals as valuable in helping children mature socially, emotionally, intellectually, morally, and physically.

"The building blocks of self-esteem are belonging, learning, and contributing. Camps offer unique opportunities for children to succeed in these three vital areas and even beyond home and school." Michael Popkin, Ph.D., family therapist and founder of Active Parenting

"The biggest plus of camp is that camps help young people discover and explore their talents, interests, and values. Most schools don't satisfy all these needs. Kids who have had these kinds of (camp) experiences end up being healthier and have less problems which concern us all."

"At camp, children learn to problem-solve, make social adjustments to new and different people, learn responsibility, and gain new skills to increase their self-esteem." Peter Scales, Ph.D., noted author/educator, and Senior Fellow, The Search Institute

Noted experts in child development have expressed their thoughts on summer camp as a valuable resource for giving children the value of belonging to a community of their own. This critically important sense of community for children is rooted in enabling and empowering children to be belonging, cooperating, contributing, and caring citizens.

Bruce Muchnick, licensed psychologist who works extensively with day and resident camps, said, "Each summer at camp a unique setting is created, a community is constructed that allows participants to get in touch with a sense of life that is larger than one's self. The camp community seeks to satisfy children's basic need for connectedness, affiliation, belonging, acceptance, safety, and feelings of acceptance and appreciation."

Bob Ditter, licensed clinical social worker specializing in child and adolescent treatment, added, "It is in the crucible of this community that children gain self-esteem with humility, overcome their inflated sense of self, and develop a lifelong sense of grace and wonder."

Michael Brandwein, noted speaker and consultant to the camp profession, continued, "What makes camp a special community is its focus on celebrating effort. In this less pressured atmosphere, children learn more readily what positive things to say and do when they make mistakes and face challenges. Brandwein also said, "The traditions and customs of each different camp are like a secret code that allows those who know it to feel embraced by something unique and special."

He continued, "Campers are urged to include, not exclude, others. They are praised for choosing new partners and not always the same ones. They are encouraged to respect the differences between people. In an increasingly sarcastic, put-down-oriented world, camps aim to be an oasis of personal safety where demeaning comments and disrespectful behavior are not tolerated, and children are taught responsible and positive ways to resolve conflicts."

* excerpts extracted from the American Camp Association website at: http://www.acacamps.org

Matt Barr is the owner of Camps Canada, a summer camp based in Ottawa, Ontario. As a voice for Canadian Camp Owners and Camp Directors, Matt is a frequent guest on radio and television programs across the country discussing the latest trends and issues in summer camps. He can be reached by email at: matt@campscanada.com