Camps are fun. But why are they important? Is there more to them than just silly games and crazy songs? Way more. In a world gone Wii, sometimes the great outdoors is just that: great. Metro Parent asked some of the Michigan people who run camps, those who have a real passion for the camp experience and parents for 10 reasons why every child should go to camp.
1. Exposure to diversity
Camp connects kids to those who they may not normally meet, says Billy Rankin of YMCA Camp Chingachgook on Lake George in Kattskill Bay, New York. “That’s very practical to their everyday way of life to give them that exposure early on,” Rankin says.
Kids learn the world is a big place with lots of people, who might do things differently than they’re used to. That includes other kids from all over the state and beyond – and the camp’s counselors and leaders, who serve as positive role models who can leave a huge impression. They’re not seen as strict “law enforcers” but older, “cool friends” who care about them.
2. Self-esteem boost
When kids are at camp, they don’t have mom and dad there to help them approach people and make connections. They have to put themselves out there, says Barbara Broadbridge of Camp Deerhorn in Wisconsin. “It teaches the kids confidence when making friends from all over.”
Learning how to canoe or developing archery skills also makes a child realize how capable he or she is to learn and grow. According to the American Camp Association, 92 percent of kids who attend camp say that the people at camp helped them feel good about themselves.
3. Attune to nature
“Camp gets kids outdoors and enjoying nature,” says Lisa Stone, formerly of Girl Scouts Heart of Michigan Camps in Kalamazoo “It’s a need for kids that probably doesn’t get met.” Stone isn’t alone in seeing how important camp has become in filling an important gap in modern kids’ lives.
Kids today spend much less time outdoors, causing a “nature deficit” according to many reports and a popular book on the issue, Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv. But camp reconnects them with nature, seeing things like frogs and trails in person and experiencing swimming in a lake or biking along a path.
4. Develops independence
“It’s a great way to encourage self-development and also develop independence,” says Debbie Whelan of Ypsilanti. Kids are empowered at camp to take care of themselves, with guidance from camp counselors. Bedtimes are set and schedules are packed, but children still have to get themselves up and ready, make their camp beds and find their way to the mess hall. And kids a little too attached to mom and dad can learn how to trust themselves to make decisions and take care of themselves.
5. Instills leadership skills
“It teaches them important leadership skills,” says parent Gary Myers of Battle Creek. Because camps allow kids to make choices and direct summer projects, they’re natural leadership training places. These kids are less likely to be affected by peer pressure and more likely to set the pace and tone for other kids – and feel empowered in tasks they take on throughout their lives.
6. Gives wonderful memories
“Camp builds good memories for the future, to enjoy the summer with a lake-front experience, swimming and meeting new friends,” says parent Tanya Williams of Commerce Township. Kids have tons of memories of the good times, silly shenanigans and fun activities. It’s a time of discovery and self-improvement that stays with a kid long into adulthood.
7. Helps them make friends
“They get to become lifelong friends with people they don’t necessarily live right next door to,” says parent Joan Larsen of Ann Arbor. “They can make friends with people from all over the state.”
This offers a unique opportunity for your child to branch out in the buddies he or she has. Navigating and building these friendships over the summer also teaches children how to be more socially confident – something they can take back to school with them in the fall.
8. Gets them active
“Camp helps kids learn how to be kids again,” says Carl Fleming, formerly of Camp Copneconic in Fenton, Michigan. “In this technology-filled world, camps cut back on distractions.” Many effectively ban cell phones and computers, so kids can truly take advantage of all summertime has to offer. That means those prone to sit on their duffs and text or play video games are forced to get up – and get moving!
9. Develop interests
“Camps are a nurturing environment for a child to explore activities and programs that could turn into lifelong passions,” says Diane Gotelaeve of Saline, of Summers-Knoll Camp in Ann Arbor. With so much to do at summer camp (archery, swimming, canoeing, crafts, etc.), there are many fun activities for kids to discover.
That’s why it’s the perfect place for your child to tap into an interest that he or she wants to carry on after camp is over. Did your daughter go ga-ga for horseback riding? Perhaps she’s a budding equestrian who would enjoy regular lessons.
10. Occupies the summer
“I have to work!” says Diamond Zhu of Dearborn Heights, expressing what for many parents is the most practical reason. After all, when school lets out, kids have to go somewhere to spend their time. Camp isn’t just a “parking spot” for kids, though: It also offers fun, excitement and lessons that last.