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Summer camps help children learn, grow

By Staff | Jul 12, 2019

For many adults, memories of summer camp can be powerful. The nostalgia of singing songs around the fire, exploring new environments, meeting new friends, and reuniting with old ones, carries with us long after we outgrow our old camp T-shirts. What we often fail to recognize are the immense long-term benefits summer camp provides.

According to the American Camp Association, a summer camp experience offers five key lasting benefits. As simple as it may sound, giving children the opportunity to meet peers outside of school greatly enhances social skills and encourages children to grow their leadership, communication, cooperation and participation skills in a short period of time.

Camp promotes the all-important outcomes of self-identity, self-worth and self-respect. According to the ACA, independent research has shown “for years, campers’ parents have reported that when their children return home from camp they are more caring, understand the importance of giving, are more equipped to stand up for what they know is right and are willing to be more responsible.” We all benefit when children learn these skills early on and carry them throughout life.

The ACA also notes how camp can supplement traditional education, and contribute to academic growth. At the end of the school year, camp offers a unique balance of play and experiential learning opportunities. This alternative learning environment challenges campers to think, wonder and create. For children who struggle in a traditional learning environment, even brief exposure to the natural world has been shown to improve focus, attention and cognition among children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, according to the National Center for Physical Development and Outdoor Play.

Camp also encourages respect and appreciation of nature. In a technology-driven world, we can all lose sight of what is genuine and truly important. The negative impacts of technology on children are well-covered, and range from reduced sleep quality to increased anxiety levels and other mood disorders. As children connect with technology at earlier and earlier ages, it’s essential they also immerse themselves in the natural world and “unplug” frequently.

Finally, camp provides the opportunity to stay physically active. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in five children in the U.S. between ages six and 19 are obese. Local physician Dr. Diana Gaviria notes, “stress hormones such as cortisol, which contribute to obesity, are lowered after exposure to natural settings . . . research also shows that children living in proximity to parks are more physically active and are more likely to have a healthy weight.”

Our area provides a number of summer camp opportunities, including with the Potomac Valley Audubon Society, which is in its 17th year of running a nature-themed camp. A new theme is explored each week in sessions designed for pre-kindergarteners to high school students. PVAS camps are located at two of the organization’s nature preserves in Berkeley and Jefferson counties — Yankauer and Cool Spring, respectively. Camp scholarship opportunities are available, and registration is open through the end of July.

With a plethora of options to choose from in our region, it’s easy to give a child the gift of summer camp, and all the memories and benefits of the experience.

Erin Shaw, program administrator of the Potomac Valley Audubon Society