Many of the positive skills children learn at summer camp are called upon later in life. Dr. Stephen Fine, the director of the Hollows Camp, has researched summer camps in terms physical fitness, socialization and personal growth. He provides this list of benefits:
Health and Well-being
"When you go to camp, children are going to get fit," says Dr. Fine. "During the school year, children sit at their desks, watch television, and ride in cars. There’s no opportunity to walk around naturally. At camp, the very act of constantly being in natural movement makes you fit on a day-to-day basis routinely. On top of that you’re going to be swimming, climbing or playing sports."
- Studies show that the outdoor activity, social interaction and balanced diet at camp can greatly improve a young person's overall well-being, and can lead to establishing healthy lifestyle patterns.
- Camps that are accredited members of the Ontario Camping Association follow the Canada Food Guide.
“When you’re a skinny 12 year old you might feel a little insignificant. That feeling disappears at camp because you’re with your peers and camp leaders who are young enough to relate to,” says Dr. Fine.
- Kids of all abilities achieve personal bests and are recognized by peers.
- Camps allow kids to try out new things and take risks in a low-stress, spirited nurturing, outdoor environment.
"For children, there's a weaning process away from family and the home," says Dr. Fine. "Summer camp is an opportunity for kids to learn they can exist outside the home without their parents taking care of every need all the time. It gives them an opportunity to do kids' stuff."
- Homesickness is a common and normal first response to a new environment away from home, but it goes away.
- Peer support in a caring environment quickly allows the individual camper to overcome perceived needs for constant parental dependency.
- Sending children to summer camp also benefits for parents, and gives them time to reflect on what took place in the school year.
"Working in groups, children learn to keep their cabin and the camp neat and clean," says Dr. Fine. "They take ownership and leadership of their surroundings."
- Leadership is developed by giving young people responsibilities that may not be expected of them elsewhere.
- Children learn to be good citizens, to have civic pride.
- Children learn how to diffuse tense situations by becoming mediators and moderators.
"There's a broad friendship base at camp," says Dr. Fine. "Outside of camp, where are children going to have opportunities to meet, interact and live with people with different cultural, social or financial backgrounds?"
- It takes courage to go to camp alone, but that feeling of aloneness ends at the moment of arrival.
- Friendships make a camp experience unforgettable.
Adventure and Exploration
"Kids are really living in planned landscapes now. The majority of kids live in environments that don’t offer any surprises or don’t offer any inkling of adventure," says Dr. Fine. "There are exciting places to explore at camp, and you can lose yourself a little bit in the fun and adventure. It’s not a theme park. It’s a real world adventure that's deemed safe."
- Taking healthy risks in a controlled environment allows a safe yet challenging outlet for a child's instinct to explore.
- Camps provide real-life activities in natural settings unlike theme parks or video games.
- Children have time to explore nature at their own pace by looking at insects or poking around in sand.
"Being in proximity with nature has therapeutic effects on people," says Dr. Fine. His research shows that natural settings help people focus and alleviate stress caused by living in urban and suburban settings. "Just looking out a window and seeing a tree in the breeze can change how you function cognitively and emotionally.”
- Fostering respect for nature is important at most camps.
- Campers participate in recycling and composting.
Values and Decisions
"At camp, children learn values through the respect of others, the environment and living creatures," Dr. Fine says. "When it gets dark, children learn that they don't have to turn a flashlight on. Their eyes will adjust. But if you never have the opportunity to try, you’ll never learn. These are basic things that our ancestors knew, but we have forgotten over time."
- Camp directors and staff work towards the development of positive values and overall strength of character within campers.
- Research conducted with camp alumni shows that camp experiences figure prominently in the long-term as the basis underlying successful networking, ethical conduct, and positive parenting.
"Communal living in natural settings can often influence spiritual growth -- personal reflections on self, nature of being and the universe," says Dr. Fine.
- There are camps with specific spiritual missions and camps that are non-denominational.
- Through daily experiences around the camp, children can learn about morals and ethics.
- Parents looking for a spiritually based camp should research them well.
For more information on camps in Canada check out Camps.ca.