We love seeing articles like the one above. It reassures us that we are not the only ones touting the benefits of summer camp. It reminds us that what we do is impactful and meaningful far beyond the weeks or months children spend at camp.

In summary, this article is simply a mother’s answer to the question “Why do you send your kids to summer camp?” Or, more specifically, “Why do you send your kids to summer camp for so long – do you even like your kids?”

She very eloquently answers yes – I send them away because I like them, and I want to give them every advantage in life that I can. Importantly, she makes the distinction that advantages in life are not limited to advantages in college admissions.

More and more these days, summers have become a time for an “extra-curricular arms race” to push children ahead of the pack in order to be ready for college. Sports preseasons, STEM camps, summer school, extra test prep classes – all of these activities are seen as critical in order to bolster the pre-college resume and ensure success in college. What these jam-packed activity-laden summers lack, however, is the opportunity for young people to develop their less concrete – but likely far more valuable – skills, such as independence, creativity, and communication.

Camp allows children to immerse themselves in interpersonal situations, practicing their communication and conflict resolution skills in a cabin of peers and mentors. They challenge themselves emotionally and physically by making new friends or trying unusual activities such as rock climbing or waterskiing, pushing themselves past their limits with the help of counselors along the way. Away from parents and their often overscheduled home lives, children have the time to simply be. As the mother in the article describes, “They might not have anything ‘constructive’ to place on their college application, but they will reflect, unwind, think, and laugh.” 

Colleges are beginning to recognize the value of camp-like experiences, too. Cited in the article is a letter from Harvard University’s Dean of Admissions encouraging families to “bring summer back.” Since a college’s goal is to prepare its students for jobs and the real world, they are finally beginning to recognize that real life is not just about the top grades or test scores. It’s not just about being the best soccer player or debate team member.

Rather, the skills that lead to success in the workplace and beyond are more abstract. Self-confidence, collaborative skills, creativity, and resilience are traits that are difficult to measure, but they are nevertheless learned in abundance while at summer camp. A camper doesn’t “miss out” on the college-preparedness goal of a resume-building summer. In fact, summer campers are often astonishingly well prepared for college. In many ways, camp is like college, just a little bit early.

Going to college presents many challenges, three of which are especially noteworthy:

  • increased academic rigor (college work is simply harder than high school work)
  • being away from home and your traditional support system (family, friends, familiar places)
  • dealing with large amounts of uncertainty (what will classes require, how will I fit in socially, can I deal with this new roommate)

Of course, overnight camp does very little to deal with the first challenge of academic rigor. However, it helps substantially with both of the other challenges.

Camp helps students adjust to being away-from-home by giving them practice being away-from-home. Campers coming to camp (often as young as kindergarten or 1st grade) get to experience being separated from home successfully. Certainly, most campers experience some homesickness, but the supportive camp community and the fun activities help ease them through this initial challenge. Homesickness is natural. Children will miss their parents, and they will learn that they can both miss them and still successful spend time away from them. That is an empowering experience for a child of any age, constantly maturing into their own unique sense of self.

Further, we live in a society that sometimes suggests to children that they are only safe within eyeshot of their parents. Yet parents of course want their children to grow in confidence and independence so that they can live productive, fulfilling, and joyous lives. Camp enables children to experience a fun, prosperous independence. Like college, they are away from home. Unlike college, they are in a community that is specifically committed to their physical and emotional safety.

Camp also helps children deal with uncertainty. The first week of camp is full of uncertainty: Who are these counselors? What are these traditions? Where do I go? Who will be my friends? Will I be successful? Just like college, there is schedule-related uncertainty (where to go and when) and social uncertainty (who, among this group of relative strangers, will be my friend).

The camper gets to experience overcoming this uncertainty. It’s as though he or she is strengthening a “resilience muscle.” Having done so, the next experience of uncertainty is easier to handle. The camper who comes to camp for several years gets multiple opportunities to strengthen his or her resilience muscle. By the time they go to college, they are much more confident and resilient.

So a former summer camper arriving at college as a freshman can focus his or her energy on the challenges of academic rigor, but not worry about being away from home and the uncertainty of a new environment. Other students face all three challenges at the same time, and they might struggle a bit more with all or some of them.

Summer is nearly here. If you have decided to send your child to summer camp in lieu of or in addition to academic or other extracurricular summer programs, take pride in knowing that you are making a long-lasting positive impact on your child’s life. And if you haven’t signed up for a summer camp yet, there is still time!


_Want more like this? See: _

Tagged with