Camp Deerhorn has been in operation for 85 summers. Throughout these 85 years, we have attended camp fairs and conferences, hosted hundreds of video presentations, and had the pleasure of meeting thousands of parents. All of these things have improved our knowledge of families, children, and the camp experience. And over the years, we have come to three conclusions:
- the overnight summer camp experience has the potential to be the most important child development experience outside of the home,
- most parents do not have any idea of the child development benefits of camp and
- many camp owners and directors also fail to understand these benefits. As a result, these directors are not as intentional about communicating these benefits as they should be.
Before I go any further, I want to stress that camp absolutely must be a blast! Laughter, joy, and fun are central to a great camp experience. When former campers think back on their years of camp, they see faces smiling and remember silly, crazy activities. They do not “see” themselves “developing” as a young boy.
But we know it happened. They developed social skills by living with 6 other boys who started as strangers and ended as friends. Their self esteem grew as they overcame a fear of horses and became a good rider. Acquiring new skills (like archery and sailing) gave them greater confidence in their abilities to attack challenges. They developed independence as they learned they could survive (and even thrive) away from their family. The supportive camp environment enabled them to be themselves instead of who the “in” crowd wanted them to be. After several years at camp, they developed the ability to “be themselves” everywhere and just let the world deal with it.
Let me be clear, parents are the primary source of a child’s development, but camp experiences further refine what they are doing. Several parents have told us that summer camp is “the best partner in parenting” that they had.
Unfortunately, most people do not understand the potential power of a camp experience. Those who never attended often think of a camp term as being like a fun vacation like Disneyworld. Some even believe that camp is what “people do to get rid of their kids”. You can only imagine how frustrating this statement is to those of us who commit ourselves to camp and who understand that sending a child to camp is a labor of parental love. Like having a teen go to college, sending your child to camp hurts a little (and costs a lot), but it is something that will make your child a more capable and strong individual.
Even parents who send their children to camp do not fully appreciate all of its benefits. Of course, this is our fault. We are here and we see it. When a child battles with homesickness and conquers it, we are witness to the entire process. The parents, on the other hand, often only get a handful of sad letters. Much of the things we do remain invisible to you. With this in mind, we will be periodically posting articles here on our blog that discuss the benefits of sending your son to camp. We want you to understand what a powerful experience camp can be. It is so much more than just a fun-filled 2 weeks.