Summer camp in Canada has historically been part of our cultural fabric. Thousands of kids as young as 7 or 8 years old are shipped off by their parents to outdoor summer camps each year. There, they have up to 4 weeks playing and exploring in the outdoors and to reconnect with their ‘second’ family.
What is it about outdoor summer camp that keeps kids coming back? Well, it is because the positive effects of these types of experiences are felt by both kids and their families.
As someone who works with families, I don’t think we realize how constrained our kid’s daily lives are. As parents, we obviously want the best for them, but this desire often translates into competing and overwhelming expectations. We also need to remember that we are not the only ones placing expectations and constraints on our kids. We need need to consider the expectations and constraints placed by their teachers, coaches, peers and even themselves. And often, classroom walls and even those imaginary borders around our cities can make anyone feel trapped. For many kids, this sense of constraint and pressure make up the environment in which they try to function every day.
Unfortunately, for many kids and youth, they are unaware of how great if feels to break free from these real and/or perceived pressures and constraints.
In this environment, are we letting kids learn who they are, or are we telling them?
When kids get the chance to break free and attend something like an outdoor summer camp, the positive effects are tremendous. When placed in a natural setting, away from the pressures of home, school and peers, here is what you can expect:
Increased confidence – A camp experience provides kids a safe environment to be who they really are and be okay with it. They are participating in multiple activities that increase their skills – both social and practical.
Improved emotional and physical health – When kids are at camp they are swimming, hiking, running, canoeing and much more! All this physical activity, undoubtedly improves physical health. Studies show that good physical wellness supports emotional and cognitive development.
Improved ability to form friendships – Camp friends are your lifelong friends. Campers are coming to camp for the same reason and are all equally vulnerable. Their armour is left at home which makes it easier to form authentic relationships.
Increased sense of independence – Sometimes it is hard to leave the comforts of home, but the pride derived from overcoming your fears or learning a new skill is priceless. Campers are continually tested on their ability to take care of themselves (don’t forget that bug spray!) and their things (where is my sock??!!).
Ability to self-reflect – Our children’s lives are hectic. If they are not busy doing homework, or going to soccer or practicing piano, their minds are often preoccupied with things they need to do or with other worries. Perhaps even more disturbing is that social media and screen time is taking over so much of our children’s time and providing too much immediate and shallow entertainment. When do they take the time to slow down and really think, absorb and learn? Outdoor summer camps force kids to slow down. We take away the distractions. Furthermore, we as humans are part of nature. When we take the time to be outdoors, we can reconnect and find our true self.
These are just some of the reasons why outdoor summer camp is important. Our world is quickly changing and impacting our kids in a number of positive and negative ways. Outdoor summer camp is a tried and true experience that provides countless positive outcomes for our kids. And indeed, if kids do not feel that they are prepared for these types of experiences, we need to encourage them to be bold enough to try.
Read about the impact outdoor summer camps has on self confidence and their social capital here.