Cottage or Camp?

How will your children spend their summer? Life skills, friendships and fun are just a few of the benefits of a camp experience, writes Catherine Ross.


As a camp director, I had many conversations at camp fairs with parents, who explained that their children spent a lot of their summer at a cottage. They would then ask, “Is camp necessary?” My answer was: “Cottage children have many advantages, but campers have more.”

Youngsters who spend all or part of their summer at a cottage are indeed fortunate. Cottage life is a welcome change from the busy, programmed, demanding schedule many children maintain during the school year.

Mealtimes are flexible and often enjoyed outdoors on the beach, a hiking trail or around the barbecue. Bedtimes are moveable, allowing children to stay up late on a clear night to watch shooting stars, then sleep in late the next morning. Card and board games replace screen time.

More leisure time is enjoyed outdoors, which all the research tells us is better for a child’s physical, mental and emotional health. Muddy hands, faces with traces of chocolate and marshmallow s’mores and dirty bare feet are OK – at least, some of the time.

But campers tell us of the added advantages they experience at camp.

I learned to be independent and I made lots of new friends. I learned to care for myself while also having all my friends care for me. – Felicia

One of the big advantages of attending camp is that children learn to manage independently of their home and family. Camp provides early, gradual preparation for the time when they may leave home for a longer period to further their education.

Campers experience independence, accompanied by the strong and constant support of a caring counsellor.

They also have the empathy of their cabin mates, who remember being new campers themselves.

Every day they make choices about what clothes to wear, what to eat, what activities to attend and what friends to join in play. Although counsellors are with them all day and night, being one of a cabin group of eight requires more initiative than being one of a small family group.

Group living also teaches co-operation, patience and teamwork. Many of the games and activities at camp are enjoyed with others. Together, the group packs the food and pots (don’t forget the matches!), paddles to the campsite, gathers the kindling and wood, builds a fire, cooks the meal, enjoys the meal then helps to clean the dishes. At camp, no one sits back and observes. Everyone helps!

At camp, children have the opportunity to make new friends who come from different schools, cities, backgrounds, cultures or religions. With the guidance of their counsellor, young campers learn appreciation and acceptance of those who are different from themselves. Many of these friendships continue beyond camp, and have the potential to last for many years to come. Camp friends often become friends for life.

And at camp, qualified instructors teach children skills that they can pursue in leisure time as adults.

I was able to complete my Bronze Cross, which was a huge accomplishment for me. – Anissah

I bonded with my cabin on my canoe trip to Killarney. I was nervous and unsure I could carry a canoe but my trippers taught me and I nailed it. – Jesse

We made a cool sculpture in the art hut this year. I gave mine to my mom. – Keiran

Counsellors who are carefully chosen for their skills, experience and good character, guide the personal growth of their campers. They are good role models who are worthy of the respect and emulation of younger campers:

My counsellor was awesome. I learned that the staff always had your back. – Spencer

I learned how to have more patience and think things through. – Harley

Camp is life-changing, rewarding and I have grown as a person. – Jeri

Camp for me is the best place on earth. At camp you can do what you want and be who you want to be. – Gabriel

Many camps include a training program for older campers that develops leadership skills as preparation to be a camp counsellor, but is equally useful for general application.

Relaxing and playing happily outside at the cottage is good. Making new friends, enjoying novel activities, learning useful skills, befriending an admirable counsellor and experiencing personal growth at camp is even better.

Best of all, mom and dad get to enjoy a relaxing time together, knowing their offspring are having the time of their lives!


Catherine Ross is communications officer for the Canadian Camping Association.