Summer camp affords the opportunity to be a new person. If your child is a little older, 10 or more, and has attended the same school for several years, it almost goes without saying that he is identified with a particular persona. He may have worked hard to earn it, or it may be one that was thrust upon him. It may carry certain advantages, but very often it presents some unwanted challenges, and he would like to change it if he only could.
A new summer camp gives your child the opportunity to “try on” a new persona. Especially if your older child or teen feels confident in going to camp without a companion, a week at camp allows him to experiment with new ways of interacting with others. It allows him, for at least a short time (if he can control impulses that may otherwise define him) to be a new person.
Summer camp provides the opportunity to make new friends. Making friends is an art that for some requires practice, and summer camp, especially when your older child attends camp singly, affords plenty of opportunity for practice.
It is not the practice of cultivating friendship that is most valuable, however, but the friendships themselves, especially during the teen years. If your child develops a close friendship during the course of camp, it is possible that he or she may coordinate scheduling of camp next summer with her new friend. It is also possible that, by coincidence, your child may get to know other campers over the course of several summers. For me and my children, summer camps afforded a great first job opportunity. Each of us was trained and joined a summer camp staff by or before age 16. The camp staff experience is one that often produces lifelong friendships. Even my husband, who as a child attended the same camp I did, spent a summer on staff there. Many of my camp friendships have lasted from that day until this, most notably for me the one that has resulted in 32 years of marriage and three children.
The accumulation of friends from another context increases confidence and creates feelings of self-worth, especially for children who feel they don’t fit in well at school — and during their teen years, I assure you, they are many.
Summer camp provides the opportunity to gain greater appreciation of the world around us. There’s really no argument about the importance to children of time to be outdoors. This is why schools provide outdoor recess and parents take their children to the park. For some children these may be their only outdoor experiences aside from the run to and from the car in order to travel from one venue to the next. But even for kids who have the luxury of a big yard or spend hours practicing outdoor sports, there is little time to really absorb the detail and the variety and majesty of the world in which we live. To truly appreciate these things requires immersion and time. This is something that I hope your child will gain by going to summer camp. The departure from their usual daily and weekly schedule; separation from their television, video games, Netflix, and youtube; and introduction into the outdoors for longer periods of time will afford your child greater opportunity to experience and appreciate the wonder of creation — and to develop the healthier, better balanced perspective that develops as a result.
A faith-based summer camp provides reinforcement of spiritual truths you are teaching at home. It’s not that they don’t listen to us; they do. If we love them unconditionally, if we interact with them transparently, if we walk our talk, we as parents will be the single greatest influence in their lives. But as our children are coming of age, as they are considering what we have taught – whether it’s true, whether it works – it is most encouraging to them to see our training confirmed in the lives of others. Each one must ultimately decide for himself, but faithful examples and mentors can have a tremendously positive influence.
Summer camp provides that sense of accomplishment that comes from new learning, new experiences, and knowing that you can survive away from home. One of the biggest takeaways from summer camp is the increased confidence and sense of self that comes from having successfully negotiated a new context, new people, and new experience, apart from the immediate presence of your parents. At the end of a week or two at camp your child will likely be very glad to see you. Probably he’ll be eager to get home. to eat home food, and to sleep in his own bed. But hopefully he’ll be just as eager to tell you all about his week at camp! Hopefully she’ll recount a fear overcome, a new skill learned, a friend she made. Hopefully he’ll walk an inch taller than he did the day you left. And hopefully, Dad and Mom, she’ll tell you about her plans for another trip to camp next year. I know I did.
Straight Talk About the Summer Camp Decision
Before we close the conversation, I think it’s important to qualify my endorsement of summer camps and discuss some important considerations. While my camp experiences and those of my parents and children have certainly served to recommend summer camps, not every camp experience has been so satisfying. The summer camp decision should be regarded seriously and the camp selection made with care.
Who Should Go to Camp?
Unless it is absolutely necessary, a child under 15 should not be sent away to summer camp for the entire summer. A child deserves to have some down time with his family. In addition, it is wise to wait until a child is around nine years old to send him to overnight camp, unless a reliable older sibling will also be present.