Ask parents about the benefits of a children’s summer camp program and you can pretty much guarantee that those who have either attended camp themselves or whose children return to the same camp each year will wax poetic about the experience. Those of us whose knowledge of camp stems only from sentimental movies may question the value of bunking together in cabins or jumping into murky lakes on frigid mornings. But even skeptics find it difficult to ignore the allure of providing children with the kind of independence that has become increasingly rare in a world of helicopter parenting.
And it certainly doesn’t hurt that research is on the side of camps. In an article for Psychology Today, Michael Ungar, Ph.D., co-director of The Resilience Research Centre, spoke to 300 camp directors and concluded that camp can help make children more resilient and strengthen their coping strategies. Another study performed at Clemson University found camp experiences push children’s boundaries in a positive way, build self-confidence, and have a lasting and measurable impact on children, thanks to skill-building and decision-making exercises.
Clearly, more and more adults are hip to the benefits of sleepaway and day camps. But what do kids really think about their camp experiences?
At the end of the day, most parents who send their children to camp want to be sure they are investing in their futures—because learning, fostering social connections, and growing as individuals shouldn’t be put on hold simply because the academic year has wrapped up. The proof that camps are helping to expand our kids’ minds and horizons is evident in the lasting memories and lessons children take from camp and carry with them into adulthood.
We spoke with kids and teens who say camp isn’t just a place—it’s a second home and an experience that doles out important life lessons they continue to use long after their camp’s closing ceremonies. In their own words, here’s what they had to say about why they feel camp is beneficial.
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“I attended Silver Lake Camp in New York. My favorite thing about camp was playing Color War [a competition in which teams are divided into various colors and each team competes against the others in challenges and events to earn points and rewards]. I liked it a lot because Color War is something you can only do at camp. It made it feel special.” —Emma R., 14, Long Island
“I split my summer vacation between two camps: Felix Neck and the Y camp, both on Martha’s Vineyard [Felix Neck is run by the Massachusetts Audubon Society, and the YMCA runs the Y camp]. I enjoy catching and observing creatures at Felix Neck, and I love swimming at the Y with my friends. Most of all, I am happy to have time to play outdoors with my summer friends. I even ride on the 4th of July float with fellow Felix Neck campers!” —Abigail, 7½, Massachusetts
“I attended Brown Ledge Camp in Colchester, VT. My camp experience was unlike any I had ever had before. With all the different activities to choose from, it’s practically impossible to be bored. The thing I enjoyed the most was meeting girls from all over the world. This past year there were campers and counselors from 18 different countries, so now I can say I have friends from almost every continent. There is a real sense of community at my camp and a huge emphasis is put on the freedom to choose. There is only a single activity that is scheduled and that is riding. My first year at camp I learned how to become more self-sufficient and I developed good leadership skills that I use every day. Every activity at camp comes with the ability to learn more and more. I gravitated toward riflery—something I never would have thought of doing back home—and I immediately took to it. I still do it now and I even compete. Camp has given me so many opportunities and I wouldn’t trade my camp experience for anything.” —Rebecca P., 17, New Jersey
“They gave us a lot of options to do different activities. Even though it was tennis camp, we also got to play pingpong, swim, and just relax so it never got boring.” —Nolan, 13, Orlando, FL, who attended Nike Tennis Camp in Florida
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“I loved being with my friends all day, and I loved being outside a lot. I attended a theater camp and it inspired me to join my school’s drama club this year. At camp, we put on several small skits at the end of each week and a larger production once a month. We learned some blocking, how to project our voices without screaming, set design, set direction, and we did acting exercises like improv, breathing techniques, becoming different characters, and changing emotions.” —Sydney C., 13, Brooklyn, who attended Our Lady of Angels’ Brooklyn Sports and Theatre Camp in Bay Ridge
“I enjoyed doing the Lion King in Impact Conservatory because it showed how fun acting can be and it had great snacks and field trips. I also enjoyed the cooking camp at Culver City Adult School because it taught me how to cook food so that I can eat healthier—and it taught me how to be creative with food. I didn’t know how to swim when I went to Saken Sports Camp, but it helped me develop as a swimmer.” —Morgan, 10, Los Angeles, CA
“I went to camp for the first time this summer at Allen Park in Farmingdale, Long Island. Every day the camp counselors set up new things for us to do so we never got bored. I loved getting to put on a big dance and show at the end of the summer because we got to practice our dance and work together to make up a cheer. I liked that we made it up ourselves with only a little bit of help. Carnival day was also amazing—the park was set up so that different spots were different holidays. It was so much fun getting to make snowmen crafts in the summer!” —Kiera F., 5, Long Island, who attended the Town of Oyster Bay Summer Recreation Program
“I go to Silver Lake Camp in New York. Everything about the experience is so much fun. But my favorite thing of all is when we have shampoo wars!” —Sabrina R., 11, Long Island
“I really love summer camp because you get to meet so many new people, especially the people in your cabin. Also, you can try lots of new activities you may have never had the chance to. Last year at camp, I learned how to windsurf, play the guitar, and canoe, which were all super fun. Camp is an awesome way to find good activities and great friends! I admit, I was nervous to go to a summer camp away from home, but I had so much fun that I didn’t get homesick. On our last night at camp, all of the cabins staying for one week gathered around a campfire in the woods. We sang songs, made s’mores, and watched as the counselors played funny skits. I had so much fun there! I went to Camp Foley in Minnesota.” —Reese D., 12, Minneapolis, MN
“West LA Camp for Kids had a lot of learning and it helped me prepare for school the following semester.” —Madison, 8, Los Angeles, CA
“I went to Windsor Mountain International in New Hampshire from seventh grade until junior year of high school. The camp is known for hosting a large number of campers who come from all over the world. Having camp friends is a very unique experience because you find people are really different at camp than they are in the actual world. I was a nerdy kid who played Dungeons & Dragons and I had no idea I’d meet these kids from New Jersey who wanted to play these nerdy games with me. The social boundaries we develop in our real lives are gone at camp. After a few years [at Windsor Mountain], they offer a lot of different programs once you get into high school for traveling outside of the United States. After I was a camper for a couple of years, I became a Leader in Training and helped with certain classes. I also had a group of campers I worked with and tried to mentor. A year after that, I became a Leader in Action. All of the leaders took a trip to St. Vincent in the Caribbean, where we traveled to different villages on the island and set up a camp for the kids in those villages. We had a little help, but we were mostly left entirely in charge of setting up those camps. The experience gave us a lot of independence and that independence allowed us to gain a much stronger connection to the community. It wasn’t like we were getting to know the villagers through a third party—it was just us getting to know them. Now, as a college student, I try to travel as much as possible because I learned from that age onward that the best opportunities come from traveling and meeting people.” —Seamus, 20, New Hampshire
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