Child development

Camp experiences nurture child development outside the traditional school setting.

For over a century and a half, young people have gathered in the woods, at the beaches, on top of mountains, and even in cities for one of New England’s great traditions, summer camp. Since its inception at the Gunnery School in 1861, camp has provided opportunities for children to explore, take chances, learn and grow. Whether overnight adventures or daily excursions, camp experiences support optimal child development in several ways.

Adventure, exploration, and positive risk-taking

Camp is a place away from parents, teachers and other traditional authority figures. Instead, camps have directors and counselors whose sole purpose is to ensure campers are having fun in a safe, structured environment. Without knowing it, campers allow these fun-drivers to push them into trying new things or test their limits. For some campers, risk means trying the zip line. Others might find a new adventure by finally joining their camp’s theatre production. And for many youngsters, simply going to camp is their first exploration away from the comforts of home.

Skills at camp

Schools focus on specific learning outcomes and deliver a similar curriculum to all children in a year of learning. However, camp offers opportunities to further develop soft skills not explicitly targeted, as well as different tangible skills rarely found in schools.

From archery, waterskiing and volleyball to arts and crafts, theatre and rocketry, camps offer valuable new experiences and skill-development that campers won’t normally find back at school. These creative explorations support academic achievement for children. It provides context of a world where the data and lessons learned in a classroom may be applied one day. Camp keeps the brain active by shifting focus without shutting down. And at the end of the summer, these active brains have an easier transition back to formalized learning, for they never went fully into sleep mode.

Camp also helps children and young adults develop the soft skills employers are looking for. By the nature of camp, being with a group of peers and counselors away from the safety net of home, it guides campers and staff to use and hone their interpersonal, communication, critical thinking and problem-solving capabilities. Once again, these soft skills compliment the academic focus in school in shaping a well-rounded student.

Summer learning loss

Campers develop skills over the summer, and that process feeds into the next school year. Time and again, research suggests children not engaged in quality learning experiences lose ground academically against their peers during the summer. By providing opportunities not often found in traditional education and creating safe environments for children to explore, camp is a perfect, balanced compliment to the school year. Newton’s first law dictates that an object in motion stays in motion. Camps apply this to the brain. Keep a child’s brain eager and active over the summer, and that activity continues once school returns.

No one questions whether education is integral to a child’s development. But formal education only covers nine months out of the year. The benefits of camp are broader than those covered here.

To learn more about how camps positively support overall child development, contact the American Camp Association New England or visit ACANewEngland.org.

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