Overnight camp does more than provide parents with relief from children overrun with summer boredom. For many kids, being away from home proves to be extremely advantageous because campers encounter life lessons in many areas that cultivate independence and resilience.
Camp presents a child with the opportunity to select a group of friends on her own. Cricket Snearing, teen travel program director at Sesame/Rockwood Camps based in Blue Bell, PA, explains how her program fosters friendships through assigned seating on buses, ice-breaker activities and grouping campers by their interests. “This kind of forced team building may not seem as fun, but it helps campers find common interests,” Snearing says.
Homesickness is a natural part of the adjustment process for many campers. However, Tracy Power, camp director at Appel Farm Arts Camp (right) in Elmer, NJ, points out that “missing home and having fun at camp are not mutually exclusive; you can feel both things.” Taking the opportunity to socialize with peers despite underlying feelings of homesickness develops resilience.
Camp also requires kids to learn conflict resolution and civility. Stephanie Wright, president and CEO of the Delaware AeroSpace Education Foundation and director of the Delaware AeroSpace Academy (below) in Smyrna, DE, says, “We stress the importance of taking turns, listening and treating peers with respect.”
In an unfamiliar environment, a child may instinctively seek out familiarity – whether it’s a friend or a new person with similar interests. At Sesame/Rockwood Camps, staff make the effort to avoid the formation of cliques by introducing new faces to the bunks. The changes can cause tensions between campers. “Counselors will know or hear about conflicts and provide the camper with strategies to handle the situation,” Snearing says.
The prevalence of technology and the parents speaking for their child can delay kids’ interpersonal communication skills. Being away at camp requires a child to speak for himself. When you strip away the presence of a phone or parent, the camper must share his feelings with a friend or counselor if, for example, he’s feeling homesick.
The emphasis camps place on teamwork also helps campers build awareness of their own and others’ strengths and weaknesses. “We teach cadets that you can’t always be the first or the best,” Wright says. But when a peer leader knows the limits of each team member, she can maximize each person’s talents to achieve high-quality work.
At camp, a child’s health becomes his own responsibility. He must remember to brush his hair and teeth and change into clean clothes without reminders from a parent. Wright emphasizes that hygiene rules shouldn’t be forced on campers but rather discussed with them. For example, if a camper balks at taking a shower, a counselor can explain that the camper will have privacy in the bathroom, she will feel more comfortable after bathing and that other campers may not want to be around her if she isn’t clean.
The idea that cleanliness affects not only the individual but also the entire community is something that Appel Farm staff teach. “If their clothes are on the floor, the bunk loses points on clean-up scores that day, and they are faced with the realization that their behavior has affected their friends not just themselves,” Power says.
“Out of love and a need to protect their children, many parents — and even teachers and camp counselors — do their best to make life as easy as possible for kids,” Power notes. The discomforts and conflicts that children may experience at overnight camp can help them develop critical skills to overcome difficult situations at camp and beyond.
Ariana Annunziato is a communications major at Drexel University and a co-op intern with MetroKids.