Summer camp–the pitch a tent, explore the outdoors, sing around the campfire kind of camp–is not only a fun way to spend the summer, but it also provides a foundation of independence and leadership that can extend well into adulthood.
“Camp is one of the few institutions where young people can experience and satisfy their need for physical activity, creative expression and true participation in a community environment, ” says developmental psychologist Peter Scales, Ph.D. Scales, an internationally recognized authority on the positive development of children and youth says that camp teaches children resiliency, how to interact interact with fellow peers and adjust socially, learn how to take responsibility, and acquire new skills. The camp experience also increases a child’s self-esteem and teaches teamwork.
“Camp creates future leaders,” observes Peg L. Smith, former CEO of the American Camp Association (ACA). “One of the greatest gifts you can give a child is a sense of success and achievement. Camp teaches kids how to be active participants, ask questions, ask for help, and try new things. They leave understanding that it’s okay to feel a little uncomfortable sometimes, because that’s generally what happens when you’re getting ready to learn something. The camp experience translates back in real-world experience — in an ‘I can’ attitude.”
“There’s a little magic in living and working together,” says Heidi Truitt, outdoor experience manager at Girl Scouts Heart of Central California (GSHCC), who sees girls bloom every summer at Camp Menzies. For many, it’s their first chance to ride a horse, take aim at a target in archery, use tools to help build a new cabin or participate in an outdoor science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM) program. In today’s fast-paced world, she notes that “Camp is one of the few opportunities girls have to just go out and play.”
At a time when children are increasingly reliant on tech devices for their entertainment, that chance to get out and play is more important than ever. The opportunity to try new things in a supportive environment helps kids build confidence in their abilities to meet challenges. And having a little time away from home helps children mature socially, emotionally, intellectually and physically.
According to the Girl Scout Research Institute (GSRI), girls in particular benefit strongly from time spent outdoors. According to the GSRI More Than S’mores study, girls who have experienced camp eclipse their peers who spend less time outdoors in environmental stewardship, more readily seek challenges, and are better problem solvers—all important traits in twenty-first century leadership.
Dr. Scales adds, “The biggest plus of camp is that camps help young people discover and explore their talents, interests and values. Most schools don’t satisfy all these needs. Kids who have had these kinds of (camp) experiences end up being healthier and have less problems which concern us all.”
Even though research shows how much learning is really going on while kids are exploring the outdoors, they will probably be most interested in the “fun” aspects of the camp experience. Today’s camps are highly evolved, matching the interests of 21st century kids, starting as young as age 5. From archery to orienteering, and even Harry Potter themed sessions, ACA-accredited Camp Menzies has offered Northern California girls a supportive environment to take healthy risks for more than 70 years.