"Ask a child no questions, the child will tell you no lies. "

Happy Campers: Why Summer Camps Are Good for Children

If your child isn't attending an organized camping program this summer, he or she may be missing out on opportunities for growth in a several areas.

There are now more than 14,000 day and resident camps in the United States and countless more abroad. This year, 14 million children and young adults will participate in an organized camping program. Most summer camps have the traditional emphasis on outdoor recreational activities in a group-living context. However, a growing number of so-called specialty camps offer instruction and/or enrichment in one particular area - a sport, music, computers, etc.

Whatever form it takes, summer camp gives the maturing child or adolescent the opportunity to establish independence and develop self-sufficiency. Ideally, both parent and child learn they can survive without each other. Most importantly, however, the child begins to acquire a working feel for the ins and outs of group living outside the family. As such, summer camping broadens the child's social skills and taps personality resources as he or she learns to get along with others of different backgrounds. All in all, a successful, positive summer camping experience boosts the child's self-confidence and self-esteem.

A good traditional summer camp also helps make the child aware of the delicate relationship between mankind and nature. Hopefully, this child develops not only a more responsible attitude toward the nature, but also more sensitivity to others' needs.

What about homesickness? The staff at any good camp will be prepared to deal with the homesick child. Homesickness, while frequent, is rarely incapacitating. While certain children need concentrated individual attention and support, most overcome homesickness rather quickly.

To reduce the chance of homesickness, parents should tell the child what to expect, stressing the positive aspects of the experience. Many camps provide suggestions, and some even put on orientation programs. As any camp director will tell you, it's very important that children receive frequent letters from home. Phone calls are discouraged, if not prohibited, so children should also be sent to camp with everything needed to write and send letters home.

When parents ask my advice concerning a homesick child, I generally encourage them to trust the camp staff to handle the situation and make appropriate recommendations. Just because the child's letters home are filled with complaint is no indication that the child is unhappy. Besides, getting over the homesickness hurdle will add immeasurably to the child's sense of self-esteem.

One child in about 200 will not succeed and will need to go home. In some of these extreme cases, the child wasn't adequately prepared for going to camp or was enrolled for too long. The child's adjustment problems may be a reflection of unresolved problems in the family. Lastly, the problem may have to do with ill-trained staff or poor match of camp and child. Regardless, the best way to prevent homesickness or any other kind of negative camping experience is to choose the camp program carefully.

If possible, parents should visit perspective camps, preferably while the camp is in session. Find out how long the camp has been in operation. Ask how staff are recruited, the ages of the counselors, the staff-to-camper ratio, the nature of the facilities and the kinds of activities offered.

The American Camping Association (https://www.acacamps.org/) has a great search tool for finding the perfect camp for your child.

Copyright 2017, John K. Rosemond

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