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(Originally posted at CampParents.org)
Is this scene familiar? You are standing in the aisle at your local toy store during the holidays trying to decide what would be the best gift. The problem is that your child has just about every toy in the store. Legos? Check. Trucks? Check. Electronic gadgets? Check, check, and check. OR, perhaps in a world of mega-birthday parties, you don’t know what to get that special child in your life that will really stand out — the gift that they will genuinely appreciate, and that will last beyond the cake and ice cream.
Look no further — camp is the answer. Camp is the ultimate gift, especially when you consider that according to research from The Children’s Mutual, 41 percent of toys and presents given during the December holidays are broken by March. The camp experience can’t be broken, or left on a shelf — it has to be lived. And it will forever change those who live it for the better.
You may be thinking, “Change lives? How do tents and campfires and beaded key chains change lives?” And, for many who have never experienced camp first-hand, this can seem like a bit of an overstatement. But it is true — for over 150 years, the camp experience has changed millions of lives for the better.
Today’s children and youth must navigate through increasingly complex waters. A strong sense of self is paramount. Families want their children to develop genuine confidence, and an awareness of their place in the world — recognizing that they are critical to success and autonomy as an adult, and that these are things that can’t be bought or taught. They have to grow organically. That is where camp comes in.
According to ACA research, 92 percent of campers reported that the camp experience helped them feel good about themselves, and 70 percent of parents reported that their child gained self-confidence as a direct result of the camp experience. That is a huge step in the right direction.
In addition, camp provides authentic mentoring relationships with caring and positive adults. These mentoring relationships can be crucial when helping young adults make critical decisions regarding alcohol, illegal drugs, and risky behavior. According to Teens Today, young people who have attended a day or overnight summer camp are less likely to drink, use marijuana, or engage in sexual behavior than are their non-camper peers.
The children and youth of today will be tomorrow’s thinkers, doers, and leaders. A lot of time has been spent analyzing what skills, in addition to self-confidence, will be needed to be a successful, contributing adult in the twenty-first century. Many of these skills — things like character, independence, empathy, problem-solving abilities, and teamwork — are not taught in traditional education settings.
Experts agree that participation in intentional programs, like camp, go a long way toward developing these essential twenty-first century life skills. Where you may see a group of campers laughing and building a small rope bridge, the youth development professional sees problem-solving and teamwork skills being enhanced. Through activities and games and cabin time, campers are growing by leaps and bounds.
The education debate has gained a lot of media attention recently, and with good reason. America’s children are beginning to lag behind other nations in regard to academics. Now, more than ever, families are painfully aware of issues like summer learning loss and standardized academic testing.
Camp is one of the oldest and finest community-based experiential education and development models in America. Camp truly is a classroom without walls — providing fun designed around intentional programming. Camp is the natural extension of traditional education — a deliberate, expanded learning environment that provides an experiential education like no other.
Camp focuses on the whole child — providing physical, social, and developmental growth, all of which are precursors to academic achievement. Camp is an equal opportunity life changer and provides hands-on experiences that allow all children — even those who struggle in traditional educational settings — to feel successful and have a sense of accomplishment.
Perhaps one of the greatest gains that children and youth get from a camp experience is the opportunity to just relax, have fun, and be kids. Through positive camp experiences, children will make lasting memories and life-long friends. They will experience the joy of splashing through puddles and the wonder of sitting in a quiet meadow and looking at the stars.
There is no pressure to perform, no homework waiting to be done. At camp, children are surrounded by friends — part of a community that protects and nurtures them. And they feel safe — safe to try new things and safe to be proud of who they really are.
By giving the special child in your life the gift of camp, you are giving them the ultimate gift — independence, self-confidence, friendships, and competencies. Camp never breaks, it never expires or gets moldy. There won’t be a newer version released mid-summer, rendering all previous versions obsolete.
The gift of camp is real — giving children and youth real experiences, real opportunities for genuine growth, and unlimited potential.