The pandemic has had a significant global impact, especially on those who will experience their long-term aftermath: children and adolescents. While processing this is important, it is essential to begin to shift our mental energy forward. How can we prepare for the future? How do we keep young people healthy and safe, yet also ensure that they are growing emotionally, physically and relationally? Summer camp is no longer an optional add-on to enrich a child’s experience while they are out of school; it is a vital need for all children and adolescents in 2022 and beyond.
1. Camp provides a forced break from screens.
There has been a rise in screen usage amongst all ages. While technology has been crucial in allowing work, education and connection to continue, we also know that screen time negatively impacts mental health over the long haul, especially in children. Using screens as a primary means of connection during key periods of childhood development is particularly alarming. Now more than ever, it is crucial that we create space for young people to move their bodies, be outside and connect face-to-face with peers. Camps are one of the only contexts that provide this pivotal combination for extended amounts of time: authentic connection with others in an outdoor, technology-free context.
2. Camp creates community.
A sense of community is able to bloom easily at summer camp. This is because:
- kids have access to staff who model acceptance and kindness.
- Kids have a shared connection of trying something new away from the loving (yet often stifling) gaze of parents.
Cabin mates whose families may vote differently, look differently, and think differently from one another will still become friends for life at summer camp. Healthy, deep friendships inherently welcome and hold space for differences. Learning how to make and maintain these relationships is both pivotal for development and challenging to see modeled in the current climate. Camp is one of the few spaces where life in the community prevails over all else.
3. Camp fosters imagination and free play.
In a world where most activity and social interaction is increasingly structured for health and safety precautions, camp offers the gift of freedom. At summer camp, children participate in the imaginative, free play that is so crucial for development. Activities at camp are playful: staff and campers alike sing, run, dance and create. While health and safety precautions are undoubtedly in full force at summer camp, imagination and creativity are in every nook and cranny.
For all these reasons and more, summer camps are an indispensable element to help children grow into healthy, empathetic, confident adults.
Adapted and reprinted by permission of the American Camp Association. ©2021, American Camping Association, Inc.