We often hear how camp experiences benefit kids at school, providing them with lessons that transfer to the classroom and support learning. All you need to do to confirm this is to ask a teacher! Teachers are some of a camp’s greatest fans! They actually invented camp, right here in New England. A century and a half ago, educators at the Gunnery School in Connecticut created a group experience in the outdoors that grew into what is now an international movement: summer camp.
It may surprise you to know that camp also makes a child “college ready,” and this holds true regardless of your child’s age. College is expensive and acceptance is startlingly competitive. After the long journey to college, and the rigors of choosing and being accepted, families hope their students will thrive after they arrive. Those stakes can be high.
Camp gives kids an edge, teaching them life skills and group living skills. It fosters resilience and helps development in three critical areas: 21st-century skills, successful separation and independence.
Rapid change and reform are constants in school systems across the country. Camps partner with schools to set children up for future success. Creativity, innovation, critical thinking, problem solving, communication and collaboration are all influenced by experiential learning at camp.
Being a contributing member of a camp group involves numerous opportunities to collaborate and communicate, and many who are successful at camp become college leaders. Whether campers are resolving a conflict or facing a group challenge, they are developing and practicing skills and strategies for college and the workforce. Camp life also presents natural opportunities for public speaking, which transfers over to college classes that often assign individual and group presentations.
Activities at camp involve creative thinking and problem solving, such as planning a meal for a hiking trip where campers want to carry a minimum of weight yet have enough to eat, ropes courses where the group has to work together to overcome obstacles, and real life challenges like fixing a flat tire on a bike trip or safely waiting out a surprise storm.
When they participate in fine arts or performing arts programs, campers are actively creating: How about having to make a video of this week’s activities set to the soundtrack of the counselors jamming around the campfire? The same with camp games: Water-balloon tennis anyone?
Summer camp also positively influences career skills, including:
• working positively and ethically;
• managing time and projects effectively;
• participating actively;
• being reliable and punctual;
• presenting oneself professionally and with proper etiquette;
• collaborating and cooperating effectively with teams;
• respecting and appreciate team diversity; and
• being accountable for results.
Development at camp is age-appropriate and campers are given increasing responsibility, so the tiniest day campers might have the responsibility of packing their own day packs while the oldest campers might be called on to lead and organize a camp event.
Separating from parents and siblings for a day or a stretch ranging from one week to eight weeks isn’t easy! But having that experience makes going off to college easier.
Starting with day camps, children learn to separate. Saying goodbye at the bus stop or at drop-off, being accountable to the group and other adults for the day and then being reunited with the family at day’s end all support healthy separation in a way that’s different from school.
Both day and overnight camp experiences help children learn how to be independent when they’re away from parents and how to rely on trained camp staff to help when an adult’s help is necessary. Overnight camps are prepared to identify homesickness and help campers through it successfully.
Separating is emotional, and it requires a huge act of trust on the part of both campers and parents. When campers go off to college, separation is not a new experience. They’ve done it before. They have left for camp, communicated with family while there, rocked the camp experience (or at least survived it) and they know what it means to live and thrive away from home. When they’re not focused on a successful separation, there’s a lot more time for studies, for friends and for an appropriately independent life as a young adult.
Once a child learns to separate, they’re on the road to independence. While camp is not quite like college, there are similarities, including:
• finding food to sustain you in a dining hall;
• sharing a dorm room – perhaps with more than one person;
• finding friends who share common interests;
• keeping track of clothing and other belongings;
• cleaning up after yourself; and
• finding your way, literally and figuratively.
Going to an overnight camp is a lot less complicated than going off to college, which makes it a great first step!
Preparing and packing for camp, living with the possessions you’ve brought there and being away is preparation for doing all of that on a larger scale at college. Interacting with people the same age, in the same swimming class, with similar interests or in the same cabin, prepares campers to interact with dorm mates, lab partners, an advisory group or a campus employer. Conflict resolution and collaboration, teamwork and trial and error, and understanding how to lose and win with grace are all very valuable experiences to have before going to college.
And lest you think that camp experiences position only the first-year college students to do well, think again! Camps employ large numbers of older undergraduate and graduate students. Older college students return to camp because of the level of growth and learning that working with and teaching children in a summer camp setting affords, and this contributes mightily to their success.
Provided by the American Camp Association, New England, a 501(c)3 organization that accredits summer camps and serves as the region’s resource for families and camps; acanewengland.org.