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Making Lifelong Memories

Summer camp benefits youth for many reasons

By Patty Hutchens

It’s what childhood memories are made of. Summer camp for many is a time to try new activities, meet new friends and gain some independence from Mom and Dad. But the benefits extend far beyond that and can teach children values that will help guide them through life.

One of the most important things to realize is that it is not easy for some children to make friends, and the bonding that occurs in a camp setting is far different than when one is in school or engaged in athletics. At overnight camp in particular, kids are living together and experiencing life without distractions. In this setting, they can really forge a bond unlike any other friendship. With counselors present to make sure all are included, it can put a parent’s mind at ease wondering if their child will fit in and be accepted. While it may be hard to send your child to an overnight camp, you may want to start out with a camp that isn’t so long, and I’m sure by the end they will be asking if they can stay longer next time.

Technology in today’s world has exploded exponentially, making it harder than ever to become “unplugged.” Unfortunately, connecting one-on-one and in person has become less frequent. Taking a break from technology is something we all should do, but rarely act upon. Allowing your child to do so will allow him or her time to connect with others, learn from positive role models such as camp counselors and gain a greater appreciation of nature, outdoor activities and things that keep their mind and body engaged. And hopefully the break from technology will translate to less screen time away from camp as well.

A child who has attended camp is likely to develop a sense of independence earlier than those who may not attend camp. The growth of a child can be amazing when the parent or parents are actually absent (but under other adult supervision). And it doesn’t stop there. Most people who have sent a child to college have remarked how much the young adult has “grown up” after only one semester away from home. With that independence also comes a sense of empowerment—something that will serve them well in life.

Living together for a period of time at camp can also teach children the concept of teamwork. Whether it is working together on a project, helping one another solve challenges or simply turning to one another for advice, living and experiencing each day together can build a strong bond and give a child, who may not otherwise be on an athletic team, a sense of what it is like to be part of a team. Teaching a child how to be a team player will give them the tools they need to build good and long-lasting relationships throughout their lives.

Trying new activities and finding things they enjoy is a great way to build a child’s self-confidence—something that will definitely benefit them as they go through life. It is natural for a child to feel more pressure with his or her parents watching, so camp is a great opportunity to explore various activities. A child’s first time doing anything, whether it is paddling a canoe, swimming or riding a horse, can be activities that may push them out of their comfort zone, but doing these things while being supported by camp counselors, in a safe environment, can do much to build their self-confidence.

There are so many different kinds of camps that it is important to explore what one is right for your child. Do they want to learn more about a particular activity or sport? Investigate what camps are available that will help teach your child more about these skills or topics.

For children with special needs or who may have special medical needs such as diabetes, going to a camp that caters to those needs can open a whole new world to them. It can help them realize that they are not alone in their world. Connecting with other kids who face the same daily challenges they do can provide a newfound confidence. And for those who have suffered a major loss in their lives, many hospice organizations provide a camp for kids who are grieving.

Camp can be expensive, but there are ones available that provide scholarships or even payment on a sliding scale. Don’t let cost be a deterrent to providing lifelong memories for your child.

While there are countless long-term benefits to sending your child to overnight camp, it can be tough on both kids and parents. Some ways to make the transition easier is to visit the camp prior to attending. Many offer open houses or will gladly provide a tour to families who are interested.

It is also helpful to sign your children up to attend camp with a friend, sibling or other relative. It’s always nice to see a familiar face, especially if you are feeling a bit homesick.

Lastly, go the old-fashioned route of sending letters to your child. In your correspondence, be sure to not include things that may make them feel homesick. Avoid details of the “fun” things going on at home or how much you miss them. Instead, make the letters encouraging and inquire about their activities.

Whatever you decide, know that sending your child to camp is an opportunity to give them a life-long gift—a gift of memories, learning, developing new skills and connecting with others whom they may have never had the opportunity to meet if it wasn’t for that special summer at camp.

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