Drawing on personal experience, I can’t say that summer camp is all fun and games. I remember my grandmother picking me up from Tanglewood, a summer camp in Maine, when I was ten years old, muttering obscenities as she examined my mosquito-ravaged skin, a real impressionist painting of insect bites. I remember making friends, but also meeting kids I didn’t like; I remember not getting into the activity group I wanted; I remember not enjoying the food. But I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything, because, in my opinion, that’s exactly the point of summer camp: It’s a dose of life away from home.
In a report conducted by the American Camp Association in 2005, results indicated that children who attend camp experience significant growth in self-esteem, independence, social comfort, adventure and exploration, and values and decisions, to name a few. I think most would agree – it makes sense. Kids need time away from home in new environments to develop and grow. New situations give rise to new skills, unfamiliar challenges establish character.
I don’t think I can say that ten-year-old me particularly relished the idea of making new friends, but in a situation where you’re surrounded by people your own age and you don’t know anyone, it’s bound to happen. Experience encourages confidence in one’s abilities and instinct, and that’s not something that can be taught. While I may have been embarrassed at first when I accidentally put mayonnaise on my peanut butter and jelly instead of fluff, it certainly made for a fun story as I entered fifth grade.
Be it fishing camp, theater, aviation, crafts, or what-have-you, summer camp provides a chance for children to step outside of their comfort zone in a safe, nurturing environment. In the 2005 ACA report, 92% of campers reported that “Camp helped me feel good about myself.” In this sense, summer camp is an invaluable tool in fostering self-confidence in children. Like school, summer camp is an environment outside of the home where kids can get to know themselves, along with others, by overcoming challenges.
No, I didn’t want to wake up the camp counselor to ask for bug spray at ten o’clock at night, but I did it anyway. Yes, I would have preferred to be in the “River” activity group over the “Trail” group, but I learned I could have fun wherever I was. And, honestly, I still enjoy pizza bagels to this day. The point is, we all need to stretch ourselves. Why not give your child the opportunity this summer?