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Is Summer Camp Essential?

Is Summer Camp Essential?

The other day I was chatting with a fellow adult about movies from the last few decades, particularly which movies were ripe for a reboot (no, Spiderman was not even mentioned). Surprisingly my friend blurted out “Meatballs”! If anyone missed it the first time, Meatballs was a 1979 Bill Murray vehicle about wacky summer camp shenanigans and, according to my friend, was a seminal film about a seminal experience – summer camp. My response was somewhat incredulous, as I never really thought of summer camp as being such an essential right-of-passage type experience – more like something you were signed up for by your beleaguered parents. After an unscientific and informal survey, it seems I am wrong. Camp is all that.

Seems I was attending the wrong camps all along. This is not to say that I didn’t have fun while learning archery, boating, and various long-forgotten camp songs, but it just didn’t shape me as it obviously did others. According to a recent Huffington Post article, of the 12,000 camps that exist across the United States, 7,000 of those are overnight camps where children (and the teens and young twenty-somethings who work with them) have a chance to develop bonds and intangible skills that go far beyond learning to play soccer or canoe. This means millions of children are venturing out into “the wild” each summer and continuing on with a tradition that dates back more than a century. According to the American Camping Association, the three reasons that parents most frequently cite for why they send their kids to camps are that camps “build self-confidence and self-esteem,” provide “a safe environment” and allow their children to “build social skills and make friends.”

So what are the true benefits of camping? Sure kids learn about nature, tradition, and all the verses of “five little speckled frogs,” but they also learn about risk taking, socialization with a variety of people, new forms of creativity, maintaining healthy activity levels, and how to be a responsible teenager (by example from the camp counselors). Did you go to summer camp when you were a kid? What are your enduring memories of camp – the good times, the bad times, the embarrassment? Is camp an essential childhood experience?

Read more: Blogs, Caregiving, Children, Environment, Family, Green, Health, Nature, Nature & Wildlife, Outdoor Activities, Parenting at the Crossroads, Teens, , , ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

43 comments

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7:55PM PST on Dec 20, 2013

guess not many have answered since I did just about a year ago...still feel the same way

4:07AM PDT on Oct 6, 2013

I never went to summer camps.

12:14PM PST on Jan 27, 2013

In my opinion, summer camp isn't necessarily ESSENTIAL. It can help kids be more social, and make more friends. Also, camps can help children work on their hobbies and create new ones.

9:50AM PST on Dec 3, 2012

not essential, but sure fun and a great way to meet others......

4:26PM PDT on Sep 18, 2012

nature is essential, not sure about "camp" per se.

1:13PM PDT on Aug 7, 2012

I think everyone, both young and old, needs to get away from the concrete jungle and revel in the beauty and serenity of nature. I don't think camp is for everyone but it was an experience I loved as a child and many of my own children enjoyed over the years. We live in a very rural setting so they already live with nature surrounding them everywhere.

8:24AM PDT on Jul 31, 2012

Had some experiences of a few summer time camps which lasted two or three weeks. Had a wonderful time in the middle of Nature, with rivers, lakes and many fabulous memories. Many summers with family as well but do have good memories of camping in the summer with Girl Guides and Brownies.

1:30PM PDT on Jul 23, 2012

If you have couch potato kids who are not likely to exit the sofa//their room for the duration of the summer, then it's probably essential...and they may hate you for sending them....deal with it!
If your kids live healthy, active, social lives whether during the school year or during summer time, then it's definitely not essential but depending on which camp they attend, it could broaden their experience and be useful. I remember going to Vacation Bible School never to an actual camp, certainly not a sleepover camp, not until I was out of school anyway.

4:01PM PDT on Jul 17, 2012

Mixed memories. Loved camping but was bullied by a few jerks. Hope kids feel safer today.

4:47AM PDT on Jul 17, 2012

Laura P: "great experience for kids"

lol people

Who says so? Is that a written rule or something? "All children must go to a summer camp and enjoy it immensely, otherwise they will never be happy"?

Not every single child adores the company of other noisy children, nor playing stupid games together, you know.
Summer camps are not essential in life. If the kid wants to go, fine, if he/she doesn't, that's perfect as well.

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