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Why Summer Camp is More Important Than Ever This Year

Why Summer Camp is More Important Than Ever This Year

After a year of remote learning and limited social contact, summer camp will help prepare children for a ‘return to normalcy’.


When is the last time your child made a new friend? Tried a new activity? Spoke to an adult they hadn’t met before? We have all avoided people we don’t know since mid-March of 2020, and we cover our faces with masks so that a simple smile or greeting to a stranger is rare and may even go unnoticed. Many children are going to school remotely and have avoided any interactions outside of their household for the better part of a year. Those who have attended school in-person and those who have continued to attend after-school activities are spending time with coaches and teachers that they know and trust in smaller-than-usual class sizes.

Fortunately, Megan Ranney, M.D., M.P.H, an emergency-medicine physician at Brown University, told Business Insider that we’ll start seeing a light at the end of the tunnel in the spring. This is great news for everyone and especially our children. But how can we ensure our children will be comfortable in social situations they’ve been missing for a year? Camps will play an integral role in preparing our children to re-enter a society they may not be comfortable with.

5 Reasons Why Camp is Important After a Year of Remote Learning

Camp provides opportunities for kids to interact with new peers.

Opportunities to interact with new people have been non-existent. Camp will be most children’s first opportunity to be around new and different people for the first time in 16 months. Many children who would have started nursery, pre-K, or day care in the past year may have been held out for various reasons, including a parent’s comfort level, a lack of need for child care, health reasons, or a decrease in a family’s budget. Children will be expected to have “normal interactions” with each other when they are back together, and many will not have had the skills or practice to do so.

At camp, each child is placed in a group with a number of children who they may have never met. Staff is trained to play ice breaker games and have conversations that create comfort right from the start. It is important that the child feels welcome and is not overwhelmed. These strategies are typically repeated each time a group attends a new activity with staff they haven’t met yet. The children who start camp at the beginning of season observe how the camp staff acts to welcome them and the other new campers. Those campers then model the same behaviors when new campers join the group later in the summer. Campers will carry these skills with them into the new school year or other new social situations.

Camp provides opportunities for children to interact with new adults.

Young children observe and interpret the actions of the adults around them, and we all act and react differently. Children notice when things change or are uncomfortable. They pay close attention to what decisions are made by the adults in their lives—and without appropriate communication, kids devise their own reasons for why these decisions have been made. All of these thoughts and ideas about what is happening in the world can be confusing and make it difficult to return to a “normal” environment that includes unfamiliar places and faces. Children are presented with new adults throughout early childhood and adolescence on a regular basis.

campers swimming at shibley day camp

At camp, your child will be greeted with open body language (and an unmasked smile when that is possible again!) by multiple adults throughout the day. At each new activity, an adult speaks to the children using age-appropriate language and the clearly expressed goal of wanting everyone to participate and have fun. Children see new adults as positive role models at camp, which helps them learn to be comfortable with meeting new adults outside of camp when appropriate.

Camp provides kids with teachable moments and the environment to explore them.

Spontaneous or “teachable moments” don’t often arise in quarantine. Besides being surrounded with the same familiar people for 16 months, children have also stuck with familiar activities and entertainment to keep themselves occupied. They are participating in activities that provide a comfortable feeling in a time of uncertainty. They are purposely not put on the spot or made to feel any more uncomfortable than they already are.



When “teachable moments” do arise, adults and activity leaders have more difficulty recognizing them or may not have the skills to facilitate them within the protocols and goals of their activity. At camp, staff are encouraged to change or enhance activities and curriculum based on the curiosity and interests of the campers. The best camp group leaders and counselors make early personal connections with campers and build on those throughout the summer through interactions and creative projects they participate in together.

Camp provides children with unstructured creative play time with familiar and unfamiliar peers.

Within the camp setting children will run around, play, and socialize freely with their cohorts. Many activities at camp are structured and pre-planned. However, each day children will also have free time in playgrounds and creative play areas without any direction at all. At Shibley Day Camp, for example, campers of all ages have free time on the fields and courts, on a variety of playgrounds, and in play areas and multiple sandboxes throughout camp.

kids at shibley day camp

It’s during these unstructured times that children will have the moments needed to gain, regain, or refine the skills—critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity—that are so important for their future success in life, which have been stifled by the virus this past year.

Camp provides opportunities for kids to experience and express emotions appropriately around others.

When attending summer camp, children encounter new activities filled with challenges they have never faced. They must work with peers to overcome an obstacle or solve a problem. They must use their skills creatively to win games and competitions. At times they have to accept results of a game or contest that may be unfavorable and out of their control.

Every day at camp, an athlete will attempt to bake the best cupcake during a cooking activity, or an artist may have the final at-bat in extra innings for the win or loss. They each will have an opportunity to succeed or fail in something different (and feel and express the emotions that come with succeeding or failing)—experiences they can draw on throughout life and, more specifically, in the fall at school and new activities.

“The development that occurs through camp experiences—including the social-emotional learning environment that camps foster, the myriad of opportunities for physical exercise and growth, and, perhaps most importantly in our current world, the break from screens and technology—is essential,” according to the New York State Camp Directors Association.

In fact, children are likely to take risks and experience failure and success inside the camp environment, where they feel loved, safe, and confident. This will make the fall exponentially more manageable in the same way that experienced overnight campers adjust more quickly when entering college dorms as freshman. They will have real experiences to draw on when new people and environments present themselves.

Don’t miss the opportunity to give your children a head-start this summer. It’s time for new friends, new activities, and new experiences. Are you ready for summer 2021?


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