Every time a new school year starts, there's a crop of news articles questioning decrying the value of the traditional summer vacation break. The CEO of the American Camp Association offers another perspective.
by Peg L. Smith
Schoolroom education is designed to teach our children, but is it teaching them everything? While education is critically important to a child’s development, we must be careful not to ignore the education a child receives outside of the classroom. Life skills, such as independence, self-esteem, and relationship building, are learned by doing.
How do we create learning environments when parenting children that develop the skills and competencies required to be successful? We could start with a positive camp experience. A quality camp experience provides our children with the opportunity to learn powerful lessons in community, character-building, skill development, and healthy living —lessons that lead to a healthy, productive, and successful adulthood.
● Camp promotes community. Camp creates this great space that shows kids how to live together and care for one another. There are norms and negotiation of boundaries; there are rules. Camp is a place where kids can “practice” growing up by stretching their social, emotional, physical, and cognitive muscles outside the context of their immediate family. This is what childhood is supposed to provide.
● Camp teaches critical thinking. We need to remember how important it is to be actively involved in the learning process. In our 21st century, problem solvers will be essential. Yes, we need the science, math, and biology—but without the ability to relate, connect, empathize, or inspire innovation, how will our kids be able to make a difference in the challenges now facing us?
● Camp embraces the natural environment. While children have fewer and fewer opportunities to be outdoors, the camp experience advances outdoor learning.
As we become more concerned about saving the planet, we run out and make DVDs and videos about it. However, the environment needs to be experienced to be appreciated. Kids need to catch tadpoles in the creek, wander among the trees, and feel the sun on their faces to understand the importance of those things. What happens to a generation that grows up not seeing stars in the dark of the night?
● Camp creates future leaders. The camp experience offers kids a close-up look at compassionate leadership through the camp director, counselors, resident nutritionist, and other camp personnel. And, kids get loads of opportunities to practice being a leader themselves—song leader, lunch table leader, team captain—the list goes on and on.
● Camp is an equal opportunity life changer. It addresses universal childhood needs not specific to a particular racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic group. Nobody is left out. The camp experience and the life lessons learned at camp cross all boundaries.
● Camp has a lasting impact. One of the greatest gifts you can give a child is a sense of success and achievement. Camp teaches kids how to be active participants, ask questions, ask for help, and try new things. They leave understanding that it’s okay to feel a little uncomfortable sometimes, because that’s generally what happens when you’re getting ready to learn something new.
The camp experience translates into real-world experience. Children learn that “I can” is much more powerful than “I can’t.”
“Fun” is a child’s “work”
We need to advocate for our young people. We should promote opportunities for kids—give them camp experiences that serve as an antidote for the world’s challenges.
We need to recognize this is not a series of frivolous activities. We often think if it looks like fun it must be unimportant, but “fun” is a young person’s “work”—to learn; to grow; to be productive, creative, and happy. If they don’t do that work, they won’t turn into healthy adults.
Now more than ever, kids need camp.
Visit CampParents.org to find out how you can change a child’s life by giving the benefit of a camp experience.
With nearly three decades of experience working with children, youth, and families, Peg L. Smith is the chief executive officer of the American Camp Association® (ACA) the only national association that accredits camps and promotes a safe and fun camp experience with developmental benefits backed by independent research.
Photo courtesy of American Camp Association® (Chewonki, Maine)