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Learning doesn't take a break

May 31, 2017
Jodi L. Smith , MOV Parent

Learning doesn't have to take a summer break. One of the most valuable learning environments for a child is summer camp!

Child development experts agree that the summer camp experience teaches youth valuable life lessons and is full of "teachable moments." Bruce Muchnick, licensed psychologist with extensive day and resident camp experience, says, "Each summer at camp a unique setting is created, a community is constructed that allows participants to get in touch with a sense of life that is larger than one's self. The camp community seeks to satisfy children's basic need for connectedness, affiliation, belonging, acceptance, safety, and feelings of acceptance and appreciation."

Camping offers children a chance to strengthen their social skills, build self-confidence, explore new activities, and form lasting memories while interacting with positive adult role models. More importantly, it allows children to have fun in a safe, supervised setting.

"What makes camp a special community is its focus on celebrating effort. In this less pressured atmosphere, children learn more readily what positive things to say and do when they make mistakes and face challenges. The traditions and customs of each different camp are like a secret code that allows those who know it to feel embraced by something unique and special," said Michael Brandwein, noted speaker and consultant to the camp profession. "Campers are urged to include, not exclude, others. They are praised for choosing new partners and not always the same ones. They are encouraged to respect the differences between people. In an increasingly sarcastic, put-down-oriented world, camps aim to be an oasis of personal safety where demeaning comments and disrespectful behavior are not tolerated, and children are taught responsible ways to resolve conflict," Brandwein said.

Last year more than 11 million youth and adults benefited from the summer camping experience in approximately 12,000 camps throughout the United States. Many non-profit organizations offer safe, fully-staffed summer camping programs: 4-H, Girl Scouts of the USA and Boy Scouts of America, YMCA, Campfire USA, Woodmen of the World, and many religious organizations offer both residential and day camping programs.

So how do we know the benefits of the summer camp experience? Research proves that involvement in camp has a positive impact on children. The American Camp Association (ACA) and Cooperative Extension programs have conducted many studies on the impacts of camp. The majority of parents and campers surveyed felt that camp taught children some very important life lessons. Overall, parents and campers reported significant growth in "self-esteem, independence, leadership, friendship skills, social comfort, peer relationships, adventure and exploration, environmental awareness, values and decisions, and spirituality."

Camp offers something else that campers need: caring relationships with positive adult role models. Camp is one of the best opportunities that young people have to develop relationships with caring adults outside of their own families. This makes camp "the perfect partner to family, school, and community youth activities," according to ACA.

With the vast array of activities for kids to participate in during summer months, participation in summer camps continues to steadily increase. ACA states that camp does more than just keep a child busy in the summer it has a proven positive impact on youth development. "The biggest plus of camp is that camps help young people discover and explore their talents, interests, and values. Most schools don't satisfy all these needs. Kids who have had these kinds of (camp) experiences end up being healthier and have less problems which concern us all," says Michael Popkin, Ph.D., family therapist and found of Active Parenting.

At camp, children learn to work cooperatively and make choices. They learn valuable social skills, generosity, and independence; most of all, they learn to be confident and caring citizens and make new friends. What happens to youth at camp, both before, during, and after the camping experience, is incredible. Every county in West Virginia has a 4-H camp, and so does Ohio.Visit or to find a local Extension Office for more information about summer camping.


American Camp Association. Youth Development Outcomes of the Camp Experience.

"Benefits of Camp: Psychological Aspects | American Camp Association." American Camp Association | Summer Camps Enrich Children's Lives! Web. 09 May 2011. .

Jodi L. Smith

is a 4-H and youth development Extension agent for the WVU Extension Service.



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