Camp is an Important Experience for Kids

two kids explore in the woods

Summer camp is an annual fixture of many kids’ lives. For some families, camp serves primarily as a form of childcare when schools are out. For others, camp represents an intergenerational legacy that becomes an important part of a young person’s identity. A wide range of camp experiences exist – from traditional overnight summer camps that feature archery and campfires to activity-specific programs that help hone skills in music, theater, or sports. As many young people face growing pressure on their time and academic achievement, camp may feel like an old-fashioned way to spend the summer. With so many options out there for youth-focused summer programming, why does camp remain a valuable experience distinct from school or family time?

One important benefit of going to camp is the opportunity for young people to gain independence. Spending time away from home can feel scary for many kids, but it’s also an important step in taking responsibility for themselves and their belongings. Youth also have the chance to see how they fit into a new community outside of their typical family dynamic while at camp, which can help kids gain a more confident sense of individual identity.

In addition to asserting age-appropriate independence, campers also learn teamwork and communication skills. This process occurs through informal interactions around mealtimes and managing shared spaces at camp and through formal activities like sports, skits, and facilitated reflections. Being at camp necessitates working with peers to accomplish tasks and make new friends.

kids roast marshmallows together

While teamwork and communications skills are included in many schools’ curricula, the chance to engage in free play for extended periods of time is an important aspect of camp that is often impossible in a school setting. Play is an essential component of youth development and helps support socially, physically, and emotionally healthy kids. Spending time in environments designed to support youth exploration and play is not only a fun way to spend the summer, but an investment in a healthy future.

a group of children on a camp ropes course

While camp is often filled with fun and exciting activities, it’s also an opportunity for kids to try things that initially seem scary or hard. A survey from the American Camp Association found that 74% of campers nationwide did things that they were afraid to try at first. Overcoming challenge in safe environments helps youth boost confidence and resilience, both of which are important characteristics to bring back to school and family life once camp is over. Depending on the individual, overcoming challenge might look like speaking in front of a group of other campers, trying a new activity like swimming or archery, or learning to make friends from different backgrounds and places.

many children running together outside

All of the factors described above are important for youth development in any year. But, with school and so many youth-focused programs disrupted during the pandemic, camp may be an especially important experience for kids in 2022. Feeling free to explore, try new things, and connect with peer and adult mentors are all at a premium after almost two years of instability and uncertainty. Many camps invest in training counselors to support social-emotional learning and healthy relationship building. Young people need this kind of loving and supportive environment now more than ever. So although camp may feel old-fashioned to some, a chance for kids to simply enjoy some summertime recreation may be exactly what they need.