Summer Camp as Important Socialization Experience
It’s a warm June day. School let out only a week ago, but already your son or daughter is complaining of boredom. You have collected a dozen brochures for different summer camps in the area, each promising a fun and unique experience, from horseback riding and archery to music, writing or science, and you wonder if your child would benefit from a week or two away from home. Summer camp can offer much more than bonfires and canoe races. The structure, learning opportunities and diverse social environment help campers develop important life skills that are not emphasized in a school setting. If you are considering sending your son or daughter to a summer camp, keep in mind the following points.
Some parents might ask: How can summer camp teach my child social skills not learned during the academic year? Like school, camp is highly structured and typically follows a schedule, but camp can also expose students to different types of experience. For instance, while the school day ends mid-afternoon, many summer programs run overnight, teaching kids how to cooperate with others in a communal living space. An only child might especially benefit from sharing a cabin with twenty of his or her peers.
While summer camp has a set structure, it also encourages greater autonomy and independence than school does. Campers often get to choose which activities they wish to participate in. A nature camp might have optional tracks in swimming, hiking or rock climbing. A sports camp might let your child try something different, such as ultimate Frisbee or disc golf, while an academic camp might offer unique classes like astronomy or Russian history. In addition to discovering new interests, kids can hone crucial decision-making skills.
Campers will likewise benefit from following authority figures younger than their parents and teachers. Camp counselors, who are often high school or college students, make excellent role models, much like having a big brother or sister for the summer. Elementary-aged children can observe in counselors an example of the maturity that society will expect of them when they become “big kids,” and teenagers can witness the responsibilities that come with emerging adulthood.
In addition to upholding positive role models, many summer camps use games to promote teamwork and conflict resolution. Perennial favorites like the “trust fall,” three-legged race, tug of war, wall climb and obstacle course build unity and teach kids how to work as a group in order to achieve results, an important social skill that will aid them in school and eventually in a career. Campers can also work together on projects like putting together a skit or constructing a go-kart. Since conflicts will inevitably arise, exercises like these force students to learn how to resolve their differences.
Responsibility and self-confidence are two other important traits encouraged at camp. For a lot of kids, camp is the first time they'll live away from home and away from their parents for longer than a day or two. The close-knit community at camp can help shy children emerge from their shells and rowdy children find a healthy outlet for their energy. Many kids who begin the week feeling homesick will leave camp confident and excited to see their new friends again next summer.
Finally, summer camps can introduce your child to a diverse social environment. Classmates at school all live within the same town, but campers often come from different states or even different countries. In our increasingly globalized society, communicating with people from a variety of cultures and backgrounds is a vital skill. By making life-long friends with kids from another culture, your child will expand his or her boundaries.
When deciding whether or not to send your son or daughter to summer camp, remember that camp is more than just an alternative to TV. It is a fun environment with multiple possibilities for learning and social development.