What does Summer Camp do for a child?  A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post entitled “Expect More from your Summer Camp,” (https://nsbrant.wordpress.com/2010/05/20/expect-more-from-your-summer-camp/), and discussed the benefits of a well-designed summer camp program.  The post, and the research presented, focused on the individual child’s development (esteem, skills, friends).  Today I would like you to consider a different kind of benefit, one that is much harder to quantify and measure.  Today I would like you to think about the value of being part of something greater than oneself – the value of community.

When I speak to staff working on their summer camp plans, there are a few things I want every child to learn from his or her experience.  I want campers to discover:

  1. How to lead and how to be a responsible member of a group being led
  2. The character required to be humble in victory and gracious in defeat
  3. How to identify and safely manage risk
  4. Who they are beyond the established perceptions of their families and peers back home
  5. The independence associated with living beyond a parental safety net
  6. How to live with others, build consensus, and share their time, space, and thoughts
  7. The intrinsic joy in doing good for others

I believe that a good summer camp can accomplish half of these – a GREAT summer camp should aim for all of these.  Research shows that camps are great at helping kids make new friends, introducing campers to children that are different than themselves, reinforcing positive self-esteem, and encouraging kids to try things they were scared to do at first (see http://www.acacamps.org/research/enhance/Inspirations.pdf).

But there are greater challenges for camps – challenges that camps are uniquely positioned to address.  As the American Camp Association points out, summer camps across the camps can still develop in the following areas:

  • Involving campers in meaningful roles with responsibility
  • Using camper input in decision-making
  • Providing opportunities for camper leadership
  • Instilling a sense of belonging

I titled this post “C.A.M.P.:  Creating Altruism through Meaningful Play” because I believe great camps accomplish this.  Webster’s New World Dictionary defines altruism as “unselfish concern for the welfare of others,” and, yes, I have a dictionary on my desk.  Can unselfish concern for others be taught?  Probably not.  Can it be demonstrated?  Yes.  Can it be encouraged?  Yes.  Can it be planned?  Yes.

A great summer camp program utilizes meaningful play.  It has staff that teach rather than preach.  A great summer camp designs programs that are fun and engaging while developing leadership skills, decision-making skill, communication skill, and community building.  It gives kids a chance to “do right” by others and recognizes young people when they live up to those extraordinary expectations.  A great summer camp lets kids live values that they may only have read about without the chance to practice them.

In my experience a great camp, an intentional camp, accomplishes these aims.  If you’re looking for a program that can do this for your child this summer, ask the director about their goals for the campers – and then ask her how those goals are taught to staff during training and how they are measured at the end of the season in campers.  Ask the director how she defines success.

We’ll see you at C.A.M.P.!


Be sure to visit Nathan’s camp, The South Mountain YMCA Camps, at www.smymca.org.