6 Great Reasons to Send Your Kids to Overnight Camp
There are so many great reasons why you should consider sending your kids to overnight camp this summer, and it’s not only because they’ll have a whole lot of fun. Based on my experience as the parent of a teenager who loves summer camp and conversations with other parents and camp staff, I’ve learned overnight camp can be character-building. Here are six different ways your kids will develop and mature.
For most kids, overnight camp is the first time they get to experience real independence. They’re away from their parents and other adult family members for an extended period of time, and they’ve got to quickly learn how to take care of themselves, from getting themselves ready in the morning to choosing their daily activities. Of course, there are counselors who are responsible for the overall welfare of the kids, but unlike teachers who tell kids what to do, camp counselors act more like older brothers and sisters who are on a joint adventure with the kids.
I’ll never forget the first time my spouse and I picked up our son from overnight camp. He acted like a completely different person than the one we’d left behind only a few short weeks earlier: independent, mature and confident.
“Campers return more mature than when they left,” says Alyson Gondek of Camp Woodmont. Multiple parents have told her how different their children are when they return home, stepping up to help with daily tasks, like cleaning the dishes or sweeping the floor.
Overnight camp teaches kids how to become better organized. From the moment they wake up in the morning to the moment they go to sleep at night, they have to make many choices that require them to learn how to organize themselves and their time. For example, in the morning they’re supposed to wake up, get dressed, brush their teeth, make their beds and walk to the dining hall at the same time with all the other kids they’re bunking with. But unlike in school where teachers tell kids exactly what to do and when, camp counselors expect that kids figure it out themselves. And that includes not forgetting to put their dirty clothes in the hamper on laundry day.
At camp, kids have the opportunity to take on new roles and responsibilities they never have before. Cub Creek Science Camp has more than 300 animals, and campers can adopt an animal and help take care of it. “The animal area is the most popular,” says Ari Farley of Cub Creek. “It helps them learn ownership and responsibility, as they care for something that is bigger than their own needs.”
Kids also learn some very valuable lessons about friendship. Camps often let parents request that their kids bunk with friends from home. Yet, they’ll also bunk with many other kids, often from different states and countries. This will teach them how to get along with and enjoy the company of kids with different backgrounds than their own. Most camps are aware of this and organize activities aimed at creating a strong sense of camaraderie and community, including evening campfires, sing-a-longs and the ever-popular Camp Olympics.
At Cub Creek Science Camp, cell phones and electronics are not allowed. “We rely on technology and media to keep us activated and engaged. When kids take a step away from their phones, they make friends and converse face-to-face, growing skills they may not be getting elsewhere,” Farley says. “They learn communication skills and how to get to know people. Summer camp offers kids a place to be themselves judgment-free, as so many different kinds of people are for one reason: camp.”
Not every kid easily adjusts to being away from their parents for a long period of time, and not every kid easily makes new friends. If there’s one area where camp counselors do actively step in to help kids adapt, it’s when someone is homesick or just not happy. Camp counselors show kids how to treat others with compassion, care and respect. Many camps also have a buddy system where kids team up to support another and do fun things together.
Sometimes, despite camp counselors’ best efforts, conflicts do occur over who bunks together, who sits next to whom at mealtimes and who plays with whom. After all, kids often live in cramped quarters at camp with unfamiliar roommates. But that’s not such a bad thing: one of the most important skills kids learn at overnight camp is how to solve interpersonal conflicts on their own. Camp counselors certainly step in to solve serious conflicts. But they’ll typically let the kids solve the small ones on their own. And learning how to solve conflict is a great skill kids will bring home with them and use long after the camp is over.
“Kids are not always able to text their mom or their dad or seek out someone they know closely,” Farley says. “They learn to solve their own problems and be independent in solving them, and they learn to ask people who they’re not close with for help.”
“They learn how to solve problems without mom and dad always being there,” Gondek says. At Camp Woodmont, campers clean their cabin with their cabinmates, and through this activity, they learn the importance of teamwork, how to live together and work together.
Camp helps children grow their own self-confidence in their skills and abilities. “They’re doing things different than they ever have at home,” Gondek says. “It gives them the confidence that they can do those things. Kids take on leadership roles that they may not have had before – leading a skit, preparing a campfire – they learn how to be a leader and how to coach people, how to motivate others. Older kids serve as role models for younger ones.”
Farley’s first year as a counselor, a young girl was terrified of the camp experience and crying and unwilling to speak to anyone, but by the end of the week, she was engaged in camp and talking to others. She attended Cub Creek for five more years. “She was in our leadership program, helping homesick campers who had been like her and leading songs,” Farley says. “She had grown so much in those years. The power of camp is very obvious.”
By Tanni Haas