Children’s summer camps and wilderness programs for boys and girls in the United…

March 11, 2014

Summer Camp is an Important Developmental Step for Kids and Parents

family-on-laptopIn an article from the Washington Post, Michael Thompson, the author of Homesick and Happy: How Time Away from Parents can Help a Child Grow, is interviewed about the effects of early childhood independence. He purports that, if approached properly, experiences like sleepovers and summer camps have short- and long-term health benefits for the whole family.

Help Kids Build Resilience
In this article, Thompson explains that independent overnight experiences are one of the first big developmental steps that children take. “At some point, all children are going to have to be independent, and a safe place to practice that is camp.” Summer camp is the first experience in many kids’ lives where their victories are theirs alone, Thompson explains. If kids are scared or uncomfortable, they have a communal network of counselors and new friends; but it is ultimately they who must overcome the challenges. Summer camp is a safe and fun opportunity for kids to start building personal and social resilience.

The Lifelong Benefits of Attending Summer Camp
This first step towards independence offers critical skills and experiences that can have long-lasting positive effects. While summer camp still has a great infrastructure of support, it requires kids to leave behind the comforts and familiarities of home. It generates fresh personal and social dynamics and introduces new realms of responsibility for young kids. Furthermore, the summer camp exposes kids to independence while simultaneously introducing them to the challenges and joys of community living. Thompson asserts that the psychological impact that this sort of experience can persevere into adulthood: “When you are in college, discouraged and overwhelmed, does your mother get you through? No. But the experience of being out in a thunderstorm on a hiking trip and knowing you survived — that just might.”

Tips for Preparing Your Family for Summer Camp
Thompson suggests that before you throw your child into a ten-day backpacking excursion, you might ease into the world of overnight separation with a sleepover at a relative’s or close friend’s house. Be sure to address all medical issues up front – medicines, allergies, etc. Talk openly about the possibility of homesickness, and how you will both deal with it. If you are preparing for summer camp, it might be helpful to have a conversation with the administration about their policies on phone calls and writing letters or sending packages. Finally, as a parent, make sure you are tuning into your own emotions. Sending your child away for summer camp or even a sleepover is a difficult new hurdle; so be sure to take this time to focus on yourself and fulfilling your own needs. More information about addressing homesickness and sending care packages can be found on the resource page.

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