Summer Camp: a gift that lasts a lifetime

Parents who send their children to camp are giving them an experience that will reap lifelong benefits. Sometimes thoughtful grandparents offer such a gift, knowing they could not select a more lasting, valuable present.

While the child is at camp, they can exchange letters or enjoy a visit, and when the child returns, they can participate in the life of their grandchild in a very special way by listening to all the camp stories!

Recently, a friend enthusiastically described how beneficial day camp had been for her hyperactive grandson. At the end of each day, after playing in the out-of-doors with his new friends under the guidance of a patient counsellor, he returned home more relaxed and content.

In fact, recent research indicates that direct exposure to a natural environment is essential to the physical and emotional health of all children. Camp provides a child-centred environment where the hurry, stress and demands of modern life are almost totally eliminated.

As a former camp director, I have witnessed the benefits of a good camp experience. Whether a child leaves home for a full day at camp or attends a resident camp for a week or longer, he develops his independence and grows in confidence.

Camp also encourages children to be self-reliant. As one camp parent expressed it, “I marveled as to how two weeks could make such a difference in such a young life, but it really did. I think developing skills and friendships in a setting away from home builds tremendous confidence.”

At camp, children learn skills that enable them to pursue an active lifestyle, safely and competently. A wide variety of activities caters to a multitude of interests.

As well as encouraging physical activity, some camps offer musical, artistic and intellectual programs. Together, the parent and child need to research and select a program that fits the needs and interests of the individual.

Another long-term benefit of attending camp is the chance to create a group of special friends. Camp friends become lifelong friends. Special bonds develop when children live and play together 24/7.

Recently, as part of my research for a book on an Ontario girls’ camp, I spent the afternoon with a group of women in their seventies and eighties, who first met as young campers and still gather regularly to share their news and sing old camp songs!

Camp is the ideal setting to learn co-operation. Countless opportunities arise every day: cleaning the cabin, gathering wood for the campfire, creating a cabin skit or paddling a canoe. Under the guidance of their counsellor, campers learn to share, to compromise and sometimes yield to the needs of others. As families become smaller, and there are fewer siblings to accommodate, children can learn these valuable lessons while living in a camp group.

Living in the outdoors encourages children to respect and appreciate the natural environment. They learn to walk on paths and not to trample new growth unnecessarily. They learn to build fires using only as much dry wood as is needed to cook their meal.

They discover the wonder of the night sky or the glory of a sunset. Far from the cacophony of the city, they are able to discern the sounds of the forest and sometimes the sound of silence.

After his initial experience in a wilderness environment, one urban youth discovered, “Here you hear things; in the city you can’t hear anything because you hear everything.” Exposure to the natural environment encourages the development of the senses, which enhances learning and creativity.

Campers are exposed to a healthy, balanced lifestyle that encourages good habits: regular, nutritious meals, adequate rest and an abundance of exercise. Even picky eaters learn to be more adventurous in their food choices when they arrive in the dining room after a full active day.

Each day’s program offers maximum opportunity for fun and creativity and minimal exposure to sedentary technology. Social interaction predominates, with some opportunity for solitary pursuits. Throughout the day, campers are guided by young counsellors who are fun, fit, skilled, patient and caring. They are excellent role models for impressionable youth.

Children have so much fun at camp, they are likely unaware of all the valuable skills and lessons they are learning and the long-term benefits they are realizing. But in the meantime, they are building a lifetime of happy memories.

Catherine Ross is the past president of the Society of Camp Directors, executive member of the Canadian Camping Association, a former camp director and author of several camping books, including Camp Counsellor.