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.”
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.