Rapid rewards: Kids gain skills after just 1 or 2 weeks at camp
Responding to families’ tighter budgets and busy schedules in the summer months, day and overnight camps began offering shorter session lengths and more registration options about a dozen years ago.
This increasingly popular trend offers alternatives for families juggling commitments of time and money, but some parents worry that their kids won’t get the full benefit of camp in just a one- or two-week session. Now research by the American Camp Association (ACA) shows that even short summer camp experiences offer positive developmental outcomes.
Benefits quickly accrue
Camp directors and educators have known for decades that the camp experience fosters growth. More recently, the first large-scale national research study of the camp experience found developmental gains in kids ages 8-14 attending even one-week sessions at ACA-accredited overnight camps. They left with greater positive identity, values, environmental awareness and social, physical and thinking skills.
“Even in one short week children can learn the art of compromise, team interaction, conflict resolution and an appreciation of the outdoors,” says Donna Smith, director of volunteerism and programs for the Girl Scouts of Chesapeake Bay (GSCB), which runs Camp Grove Point, a day and resident camp for girls, in Earleville, MD.
South Mountain YMCA Camps operates Camp Conrad Weiser, a coed overnight camp for ages 7-16, and Bynden Wood, a coed day camp for ages 5-14, in Berks County, PA. Their director, Sue Williams, says, “Camp provides a culture where campers can be themselves without the pressures of school and peer groups. Even in one or two weeks, children have the opportunity to grow and learn new skills, establish lasting friendships and discover things about themselves they did not know.”
Smith says that to accommodate family schedules and tighter budgets, GSCB finds ways to make more options available, such as offering financial aid or mini-sessions during the week of July 4th. Girls at Camp Grove Point often register for two or more one-week sessions. About half of the campers stay for the entire season.
During Camp Conrad Weiser’s eight-week season, campers ages 7-9 generally register for one week. Kids ages 10-12 typically stay for two weeks, and older campers stay three or more weeks.
Bynden Wood campers may register for up to ten one-week sessions. For an additional $25 fee, day campers can also have a weekly overnight camp experience. Need-based financial assistance is available.
Benefits increase with time
Camp Creek Run, a nonprofit day camp in Marlton, NJ, dedicated to restoring the connection between children and nature, offers sessions for ages 4-12 ranging from one to eight weeks. Executive director Keara Giannotti says camp offers a variety of discounts, payment and registration options.
“We have children who come for one to eight weeks, kids who come every year for just the first and last week of camp, and some who come to Camp Creek Run every other week and do something else on the weeks in between,” says Giannotti. “One week of camp is really fun, but two weeks gives them a sense of community, and in this age of overscheduling, eight weeks can help kids feel balanced and reduce the anxiety of running from one activity to the next.”
New research has verified camp’s value, but the perception of it is not new. In 1922, former Harvard University president Charles Eliot said, “I have a conviction that a few weeks spent in a well-organized summer camp may be of more value educationally than a whole year of formal school work.”