By Sandi Schwartz
We all want our children to be happy and successful. Would you believe that letting them spread their own wings—without us by their side—may be the most effective way to do this? Our job as parents is to give our children the tools they need to go out in the world and discover who they are and what they want to become – their purpose in life. A child can only truly grow if given some freedom and the chance to gain confidence by exploring new ideas and activities.
The gift of overnight camp
What better place for children to begin this process than overnight camp? Sending children away for camp may seem daunting at first, but if you ask anyone who has spent several weeks bunking with their friends, they will tell you how it positively transformed their life and how lucky they are that their parents gave them that gift.
According to Michael Thompson, a clinical psychologist and author of Homesick and Happy, How Time Away from Parents Can Help a Child Grow, “…parents can sometimes seriously impede their children’s development. As a parent, there are many things you cannot do for your children. You cannot give your child confidence, you cannot pick or manage his or her friendships, you cannot always be his or her advocate/agent/manager/coach. …and most important, parents have a hard time urging their children to take psychological risks.”
Thompson goes on to explain how sleep-away camp succeeds at doing all of these things and how critical it is that children and teens have these experiences. He says that true independence is something parents cannot give their children; they must live it on their own.
Benefits of overnight camp
There are five invaluable aspects of sleep-away camp that can lead children and teens to discovering
One of the most important benefits of sleep-away camp is that children build confidence and self-esteem while living away from their parents. These positive attributes stem from belonging, learning, and contributing. Camps provide many unique opportunities for children to succeed in these three areas: 1) they belong to their sports team and bunk; 2) they learn from trying new activities and making new friends; and 3) they contribute by helping during meals and serving as team leaders.
Camp also provides ways for children to feel a sense of accomplishment. When they succeed, they are empowered and have more confidence when faced with the next challenge. They also learn from their mistakes and failures, which only makes them more resilient in the future. Also, the kind of encouragement kids receive at camp makes it the perfect environment for them to overcome setbacks, try new things, and see improvement. Some camp experiences even allow them to conquer their fears, whether it be learning to swim in a lake or climb a ropes course.
Finally, many children will purposely choose to attend camp where they do not know any other campers when they arrive. This special experience gives them the chance to start fresh and explore who they truly are in a different environment. All of this confidence-building brings them closer to figuring out their interests and goals.
At camp, children begin to see the world a bit differently. They are away from their comfort zone and
exposed to new people and experiences that give them a new, broader perspective. They realize that they are part of something bigger than themselves and their immediate family. They meet people from different backgrounds, locations, and interests. They may participate in community service projects that they would have not otherwise had the chance to do. Sleep-away camp is so valuable in how it introduces children to new ways of seeing the world and themselves.
Children benefit from being part of the special community found at sleep-away camp. It gives them a sense of belonging, which will ultimately improve their ability to cooperate, contribute, and serve their future communities as caring citizens. Campers also gain new social skills from being in a group setting. They must share a room with others, manage chores, resolve conflicts, communicate effectively, and be kind and accommodating to their fellow campers. Being part of a close-knit community can be challenging at times, but children who learn how to adapt and get along with others will benefit for a lifetime.
Peter Scales, Ph.D., a senior fellow with the Search Institute in Minneapolis, says, “Camp activities and group living in a natural environment are the tools used to create camp communities that provide for successful, healthy development… They learn to work together, make choices, take responsibility, develop creative skills, build independence and self-reliance, and gain confidence. All are necessary steps on a child’s path to a healthy, productive life.”
Overnight camp is chock full of unique activities and events that children can’t find anywhere else. Going to camp allows them to learn new skills, whether it be in sports, art, or outdoor exploration. Being exposed to so many new programs enhances their knowledge and capabilities, allowing them to get closer to finding what they enjoy most.
Camp also helps children become more independent. They learn how to make their own decisions without parents and teachers always telling them what to do. They are expected to manage daily chores, show up on time to activities, and keep their belongings neat and clean. These are life-long skills that will help them succeed in whatever they do.
The school year is a busy time, but camp provides a chance for kids to slow down and listen to their own thoughts. Camp is the perfect environment for self-reflection and meditation because kids unplug and soak in the beautiful nature around them. When kids take a break from television, video games, texting, and surfing online, they become more mindful of their surroundings and their own emotions. They are able to focus on the simple things in life like going for a hike, watching a sunset, singing around the campfire, and talking in depth to their friends.
Camp also provides a time for unstructured play. Campers are encouraged to use their creativity to solve problems and have fun. They learn how to keep busy with activities that have been used for centuries, such as swimming and boating in a lake, woodworking, and theatre performances. This carefree living gives them a chance to relax and laugh without the pressures of their hectic, overly scheduled lives back home. This change of pace can lead to emotional and spiritual growth.