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Through generations,  traditional summer camps have continued to thrive and remain relevant. They have endured war, peace, difficult financial times, and cultural revolution. Summer camps have existed in America for over 150 years and today more than 10 million children attend a camp each summer. What is it about summer camps that make them endure? It most certainly has to do with the new skills learned, the traditions, the outdoor experiences, and the friends made, but there is an even greater contribution that summer camps make to children’s lives. Those camps that get it right provide a safe haven away from parents in which children learn to stretch their wings and experience life with a different sort of autonomy.

It isn’t always easy at first (for parents as much as the children) but learning to be more independent is arguably as important as any other skill. To make a few more decisions on your own each day; to try new things and immerse yourself in a group of new and different people; to learn to live in a trusting community; each of these helps to hone in on who you are and the potential you have to impact others. As a result, campers also learn to take positive risks, to consciously create a self-identity, to build self-esteem and self respect, to listen to and help others, and and to solve problems both alone and within a group. While parents are able to lay a solid foundation at home, extended time away from mom and dad (yet within a trusted and supportive second family) allows children to take that next step in stride.

Camp also provides a valuable opportunity for children to unplug from technology. Though computers and other devices have become an important part of everyday life that often contribute positively to learning and other activities, it is essential to occasionally step away. A study from the Kaiser Family Foundation in 2010 found that “The average 8- to 10-year-old spends nearly eight hours a day with a variety of different media, and older children and teenagers spend more than 11 hours per day.” Taking a break from technology is vital to children’s health and development. This prolonged break from phones and computers allows campers and counselors to engage with each other directly, promoting natural social skills and improving the quality of the bonds and friendships that they form. In addition, this encourages everyone to be more active, to read books,  and to engage more creatively with the space around them.

Traditional summer camps remain steadfast in their mission to help foster young men and women in their journey to the next phases of their life through a fun and engaging summer experience. They exist to create a “home away from home” that  supports campers and encourages them rise to their best potential and have their greatest influence for good in the world. Camp Maxwelton and Camp Lachlan are proud of that mission, and we are honored and blessed with the opportunity to carry the torch onwards.


Further Resources 

This American Life Episode 109: Notes on Camp

Summer Camp: An Antidote To ‘Helicopter Parenting?'” by THE EXCHANGE, NH Public Radio, MAY 26, 2015.

“Sending children to a residential, or day camp, builds resilience” by Michael Ungar, Ph.D, Psychology Today, Feb. 5, 2012

Teaching The Skills That Children Need To Succeed. Camping Magazine, August 28, 2013 by Scott Brody.

Summer Camp: Can It Make Kids More Responsible? Time Magazine, July 10, 2012 by Erika Christakis.

Career Lessons from Summer Camp, The Huffington Post, September 5, 2012 by Caroline Dowd-Higgins.

What makes camp a special community is its focus on celebrating effort. In this less pressured atmosphere, children learn more readily what positive things to say and do when they make mistakes and face challenges.

Brandwein also said, “The traditions and customs of each different camp are like a secret code that allows those who know it to feel embraced by something unique and special.”

He continued, “Campers are urged to include, not exclude, others. They are praised for choosing new partners and not always the same ones. They are encouraged to respect the differences between people. In an increasingly sarcastic, put-down-oriented world, camps aim to be an oasis of personal safety where demeaning comments and disrespectful behavior are not tolerated, and children are taught responsible and positive ways to resolve conflicts.”
— Michael Brandwein, noted speaker and consultant to the summer camp profession