Why Overnight Camp Is So Incredible At Helping Children GrowFebruary 10, 2016
Every now and then I read an article and say to myself “why did I not think to write that?!” Today was one of those days. In today’s Boston Parents Paper Lucy Norvell published a piece called “Here’s why you can sleep soundly while your kid’s at a sleepaway camp”. As I read each paragraph I kept saying outloud at my desk “she gets it! This brilliant woman gets it!”
So what, exactly, does she get? Norwell clearly understands that beyond being fun, or a great place to make friendships, or even a place to become a better athlete, overnight camp is maybe the best place in the world for helping children grow into a mature, independent, resilient young person. Her article reminds me of a presentation Scott has given across the world over the last few years titled “What Keeps Parents Up At Night?” Ironically, his research has found that so many of the fears modern parents have about raising a child in today’s society are ameliorated by giving children the gift of overnight camp.
Here is the list of 9 reasons Norwell gives (in bold) for why overnight camp can be so beneficial for social and emotional development, along with my thoughts in unbolded text:
1) Separation from your children changes the perspective of parents/guardians and, simultaneously, changes the perspective of the young people on this amazing adventure. It is developmentally important for young people to know that they can go out and explore the world, and that as parents you will always welcome them home.
2) Camp staff and professionals expect children to strive and achieve when skill building. Imagine your child spending a summer away from you, all the while knowing that she or he is surrounded by caring role models united around the purpose of helping people achieve life goals.
3) Camp staff expect children to do as much as possible for themselves. How better to teach them to be responsible than by guiding them through the necessary steps, and without mom or dad EVER have to nag them?
4) Other campers can be a big inspiration and influence. Tweens and teens can be powerful, positive role models for young people, and our society has stopped making opportunities for this to happen regular. At overnight camp these life-changing friendships form every day.
5) There is a context for doing chores and taking care of tasks that children often rely on adults to do at home. Part of the overnight camp experience is learning how important you are to making a family or group run well, and why having responsibilities is a good thing. That perspective remains long after the camp season ends.
6) Time, space and safety to try out new skills and behaviors. Overnight camp can be the greatest life skills laboratory your child will ever encounter, especially if it teaches empathy, understanding and healthy risk taking. In this rapidly changing world who doesn’t want their child to be skilled at assessing which are risks worth taking, and which should be avoided at all costs?
7) Children make more choices and decisions at camp than they are used to making at home. The message kids often get at school is “don’t ever make a mistake”. An overnight camp like Kenwood & Evergreen is a place where you learn to make mistakes, laugh them off, and figure out how to get it right. That’s how you build a more resilient human being.
8) Success! Pure and simple, succeeding at challenging tasks, multi-step processes and group challenges is thrilling. Kids know that participation trophies are worthless. What they crave is the opportunity to practice their skills with others, and prove how great they can be. We offer 35 different activities per week, and dozens of moments each day, that give each camper the opportunity to shine like a star.
9) Campers benefit from coaching, receiving authentic, honest feedback and from the power of the debrief (processing and evaluating how the group has performed). These practices are at the heart our quality overnight camp programs. Our coaches, counselors and teachers build solid relationships with our campers, which allows them to be incredible mentors to your child. You might be surprised to learn how much training our 200 counselors go through in order to do this effectively.
I’m really impressed with Norvell’s list. It really captures so many of the 21st century skill outcomes that our brother-sister summer camp in NH focuses on to help children grow. Now I’m left to wonder where she go to sleep away camp as a child, and what are some of the other reasons that our parents sleep soundly at night while their children are with us in NH each summer?