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Summer Camp: An Antidote to Nature-Deficit Disorder

About the Author

Susan Sachs Lipman (Suz) has more than 25 years experience as a writer, editor, social media manager, community builder, and advocate for getting children into nature. She is the author of Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which was named a TIME magazine Top 10 Trend of 2012. She has written for the New York Times Motherlode blog, the Christian Science Monitor’s Modern Parenthood blog and others. Suz serves as the Director of Social Media Promotion and Partnerships for the Children & Nature Network.

Summer is upon us and, for many families, that means a traditional camp experience for their children. But even the camp experience has changed over the years to reflect what Richard Louv noted in 2005’s Last Child in the Woods as a “shift in our relationship to the natural world … even in settings that one would assume are devoted to nature.” He continued, “Not that long ago, summer camp was a place where you camped, hiked in the woods, learned about plants and animals, or told firelight stories about ghosts or mountain lions. As likely as not today, ‘summer camp’ is a weight-loss camp, or a computer camp.”

In May, 2007, the American Camp Association asked camp directors what they believed about the state of children’s relationships with the natural world and the role of camp in providing nature-based experiences for campers. 88 percent of those surveyed agreed with the statement, “Children today are less connected to the environment than they were twenty years ago.” They also agreed that, perhaps as a result:

Camp plays a more important role today in fostering children’s connection to nature than in the past.

Camp directors and the ACA also agree that, while not all camps have traditional outdoor programming emphases, there are many ways for all camps to provide opportunities for children to engage in the natural world in meaningful ways.

Peg L. Smith, CEO of the American Camps Association puts it this way:

While children have fewer and fewer opportunities to be outdoors, the camp experience advances the outdoor learning environment.

In The Case for Camp — Why Kids Need it Now More Than Ever, Smith laid out many benefits of the camp experience, in addition to the embracing of nature. Benefits include promoting community, teaching critical thinking, creating future leaders, and being an equal-opportunity life-changer. And all this time you thought your campers were merely having fun? The great news is that, of course they are. As Smith notes, “We often think if it looks like fun it must be unimportant, but ‘fun’ is a young person’s ‘work’—to learn, to grow, to be productive, creative, and happy. If they don’t do that work, they won’t turn into healthy adults.”

Richard Louv also wrote movingly about the natural gifts of camp, as have others on the ACA’s resource site.

Lastly, whether you’re newly convinced that camp is right for your child, you’re sending someone to their first camp, or you have a seasoned camper at home, ACA has resources for parents to help them choose a camp (many camps still have openings for summer 2010) and make the experience the best it can be.

3 Comments

  1. Hi Suz,
    Great post! I’ll link to your article and the other articles about why camp is important for kids to help spread the word. Thank you for the ACA resources too.

    Another volunteer and I started the new blog SaveCamps.org at http://www.SaveCamps.org to save Boy Scout, Girl Scout and other outdoor camps for kids. I thought you’d want to know about it.

    Thank you!

    Reply
  2. Suz Lipman

    Hi Kirt! Thank you so much for writing and for your enthusiasm. I just read about the SaveCamps.org blog, so word is indeed getting out about it. I really appreciate you letting us know about the issue of loss of camp lands, and your important resource for doing something about it. I will pass it onto folks in the scouting community as well.

    Reply
  3. Hi Suz,
    You are welcome, thank you very much. I’m glad to hear the word is getting out. Thank you for helping spread the word about SaveCamps.org.

    We will soon (within 6 months) have a free downloadable toolkit on SaveCamps.org full of best practices for camp attendance, fundraising, etc. of what is working at other sustainable and profitable camps for people to download and put into action. I’ll keep you posted. I love your article! I’ll link to it this week.
    Thank you Suz. Keep up your great work.

    Reply

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