The Benefits of Summer Camp
Summer is coming.
Our cultural obsession with the phrase “Winter is Coming” has parents across the nation chuckling.
Sure – we love Game of Thrones as much as anyone. And we fear the White Walkers as much as anyone: they’re scary.
But for some parents, nothing strikes fear into their hearts like planning summer for a teenager.
For them, summer is the real thing to fear, not some TV show.
In the U.K., they even have an acronym for it: FOSH.
Fear Of Summer Holidays.
Why fear summer break?
Because summer is all fun and games for kids and teens. But for parents, the non-vacation parts of summer can be a source of real anxiety.
First, there’s all that time to fill. In most school districts in the U.S., summer lasts just over two months, so that’s eight weeks to account for. At five school days a week, that’s a full forty days. We’ll skip the Biblical references, but we will note that for most parents, the prospect of filling those days is epic.
Next, there’s the phenomenon known as the summer slide. Statistics show that over the summer, children can lose up to two months of the educational gains they make during the school year.
Finally – and this is the truly scary part for parents of teens who may be at-risk – there’s the prospect of getting in trouble or developing new and undesirable habits. Without the consistency of a school schedule to keep them busy, teens can easily get off track. Add the influence of a troubled peer, and any number of unwanted behaviors may arise, such as drinking, smoking, and experimenting with drugs.
That’s why parents fear summer – but they don’t have to.
Granted, no matter where teens end up—it’s essential to keep them active and engaged during the summer. So what do you do? Make them get a job? Send them to a rigorous academic program? Ship them off to relatives?
In some cases, the answer is None of the Above.
Over the past ten years, research has revealed that it’s not necessarily summer school or rigorous academic programs that can keep teens on track over the summer: it’s summer camp.
Benefits of Summer Camp
The American Camp Association (ACA), the gold-standard camp accreditation organization in the U.S., released a comprehensive report in 2005 entitled Directions: Youth Development Outcomes of the Camp Experience. It was the first large-scale study of the impact of summer camp on youth ever conducted. It included the input from the staff and administration of over 80 summer camps. Thousands of families responded to surveys and offered their opinion on the effect of summer camp on their kids.
Conclusions from the ACA report indicate that when they go to summer camp, youth:
Develop Positive Character Traits.
Spending time away from parents, living with a new peer group, and learning to get along with people from different backgrounds results in increased levels of independence and self-confidence.
Increase Social Skills.
Summer camp helps youth make friends, form lifelong friendships, become comfortable in new social situations, and develop a variety of social and leadership skills.
Increase Physical and Mental Skills.
Daily contact with nature – mountains, woods, lakes, rivers, and streams – teaches kids the basics of ecology and gives them an increased appreciation of natural sciences like wildlife. Adventure sports and outdoor activities sports teach youth to venture outside their comfort zones, test their limits, and discover physical skills and capabilities they never knew they had.
Develop Positive Values.
Because most camps are small tight-knit communities, administration and staff work to foster an open, inclusive environment in which communication with peers and counselors is vital to smooth day-to-day functioning. In this context, youth get instant and direct feedback on their actions from counselors and peers, which teaches them to create a set of values based on experiential knowledge. At camp, youth often learn to think – for the first time – about how their actions affect others. With the help of counselors, they’re able to consolidate these lessons in empathy and transfer them back to life at home.
Connecting the Dots: Skills in Action
The ACA report shows that youth develop all sorts of positive personal traits during their time at summer camps, but what does all of that have to do with school?
“Think of it as cross-training for the brain,” says Sarah Herman, former Director of Interlocken Summer Camp in New Hampshire, and current Head of School at Our Sister’s School in New Bedford, Massachusetts. “The skills kids learn at camp, whether they’re social skills like how to make new friends or lead a group activity, or outdoor skills like how to paddle and roll a kayak – the process of learning these new skills keeps their minds active and engaged. When they return for school in the fall, their minds are primed to process new information on a whole new level.”
We know, we know.
Summer is not only coming, it’s basically here. We urge parents still looking for something safe, fun, and productive for their teen to do this summer to consider a sleepaway camp – the benefits are greater than most people think. Independence, leadership skills, social skills – a summer camp might your teen grow in ways you never imagined possible. And there’s that added bonus: with programs up to six weeks long, you may be able to get all your summer planning taken care of all at once.
A note on cost: parents concerned about the financial burden of summer camp should know that over 9,500 camps in the U.S. are operated by non-profit groups, 90% of ACA accredited camps offer financial aid, and every year, families receive over a million dollars of tuition assistance for summer camps.
Angus is a writer from Atlanta, GA who writes about behavioral health, adolescent development, education, and mindfulness practices like yoga, tai chi, and meditation.