Summer Camp Provides Many Benefits

At first, the campers were only familiar with the digital realm of text messages, Facebook and video games. But by the end of camp, a new study found they experienced significant growth, connecting with the world beyond electronic screens and smartphones. 

From Children and Nature Network |!/LearnFromNature

Many important life skills can be gained over the summer

Cover of "Last Child in the Woods: Saving...
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“The major changes on their growth speaks tremendously of the summer camp experience,” says Troy Glover, the director of the University of Waterloo’s Healthy Communities Research Network, who spearheaded the Canadian Summer Camp Research Project.

Camp counsellors had observed the positive change in children by the end of their sessions, according to researchers from the project.

“Sending kids to camp allows children to grow and learn good citizenship, social integration, personal development and social development, exploring his or her capabilities and being in a safe environment where they can grow, gain independence and take risks,” Glover says.

And in the age of overprotective parents wanting to shelter their children from all risks, camp can offer a safe place for kids to experience the kind of freedom their parents enjoyed when they were young.

“My parents were much more open to allowing me to play wherever I want … (as opposed to) today, despite our communities being statistically safer,” says Glover, a father of two. “Because we want to protect kids from harm … we are less likely to give kids their freedom.”

By allowing children to take risks, the study found camp helps children develop important skills and build their independence, resiliency and self-esteem in a safe, supervised and supportive environment.

“Camp does a really good job of teaching kids it’s okay to fail and helps them recognize their limitations and see these are things that are not fixed and can be improved upon,” Glover says.

Before making it big, Josh Bailey, the 21-year-old New York Islanders player from Bowmanville, was just a kid playing the game he loved. At hockey camp in Aurora, his parents and grandparents would cheer from the stands as Bailey, his cousin and brother teamed up and usually won the championship trophy at the end. While seven summers at hockey camp helped him develop the technical skills he needs today, for Bailey, camp was about the fun of the game.

“I was learning a lot, but I was a lot more focused on having fun,” he says. “We just went to have a good time, and it makes you love the game even more.”

Camps can also provide the bond with nature that is sorely missing in the lives of many children today, Richard Louv writes in his book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder.

“Children need nature for the healthy development of their senses, and therefore, for learning and creativity,” Louv says.

Steve Paikin, Canadian journalist, author and host of TVO’s The Agenda, fondly remembers jumping off a 12-foot mini-cliff, learning to build a fire, and falling in love with one of the kitchen girls while at camp.

“Getting outdoors, in the bush, particularly if you live in an inner city, is essential to becoming a better person,” he says. “It’s an essential building block in allowing children to become more independent. And let’s not forget the obvious: it’s good for parents as well to have some time on their own, knowing their kids are thriving in a spectacular environment.”

Camp can also be a place where youth gradually build leadership skills.

“You’re often having to rely on your teammates or cabin mates to complete an activity,” says Moira MacDougall, who heads teen and young adult strategies for the YMCA of Greater Toronto, a charity providing community support programs.

For Trefor Munn-Venn’s family, camp is the most important event after Christmas and Easter. Since his first child was born seven years ago, the consultant has been taking his entire family each year to Cairn, a traditional overnight camp in Baysville.

The 42-year-old father says camp has helped his two boys, ages 7 and 5, become more confident and proud of themselves for doing things they didn’t think they could do such as wall-climbing, canoeing and living outdoors for a week.

“They’re encouraged to be themselves and the staff help them discover who they are,” he says. “We see them come back always more relaxed, confident and independent.”

– With files from Lisa Van de Ven and Caroline Maga

Christl Dabu is the editor of and Our Kids Canada’s Summer Camp Guide, produced by Our Kids Media ( Our Kids will be hosting a Camp Expo ( on Feb. 26, 2012, at Roy Thomson Hall, featuring March break, year-round and summer camps from across Ontario. For a handy camp search engine, camp alumni profiles and more tips, visit

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