Let’s be honest:
Is day camp an excellent place for children to spend their days while their parents are at work? YES.
Does day camp solve the “child care” problem while kids are out of school for the summer? YES.
BUT!!!! Parents, please don’t stop there.
Camp is so much more than that! Even if you don’t require full time child care for the summer, there are still many reasons to consider trying summer camp, even if it’s just for a week or two. I encourage you to think beyond babysitting to the many developmental benefits available for your child:
1) Camp provides social opportunities.
For kids who will be starting school in the fall, camp is a great way for them to practice making new friends and getting along with others. For older children, it gives them an opportunity widen their social circle and meet different peers than those in their regular school cohort. A well-trained camp staff can help children practice healthy social skills through guidance and modelling as they develop these new friendships.
LOOK FOR: A camp that keeps camper groupings consistent, at least over the course of a week. If different kids are dropping in on a daily basis, it is much harder to form strong friendships, or feel a sense of security. Ideally, campers should be grouped carefully by age. Deduct points if the camp puts a wide range of ages in one group. Older children don’t want to hang around with “little kids”, and younger children can be intimidated by the size and attitude of older campers.
2) Camp provides structure & routine.
We’ve all been there – the first week of rest & relaxation is great, but then the kids start sleeping in later and later, eating at random times… The next thing you know it’s September, and trying to get them back on a regular schedule is like pulling teeth. For young kids and for those with special needs (such as ADHD or ASD) a schedule isn’t just a perk but a necessity.
LOOK FOR: A camp that has a detailed, consistent daily schedule that indicates specific activities for each block. Be wary of large blocks of time with vague descriptions. Bonus points for offering a variety of activities over the course of the week, rather than the same activities occurring daily.
3) Camp keeps kids healthy & active.
With the ever-increasing allure of technology, studies have proven that kids today just aren’t getting enough exercise, or time outside. Organized team sports are only one type of activity, so we need to be aware of offering active programming for kids who prefer individual sports, but also other types of programs that offer physical activity without specifically being a sport – such as dance, nature hikes, games, etc.
LOOK FOR: A camp that balances indoor and outdoor play, with a variety of opportunities to be active – not just sports. Bonus points for providing programming that extends skills that may not be fostered in the education system (arts, music, dance, etc)
4) Camp prevents summer learning loss by providing stimulating, inquiry-based learning.
Studies have shown that children who don’t engage their brains in meaningful activity over the summer months actually LOSE some of their progress made during the school year. The trick is that “meaningful activity” DOESN’T necessarily mean school-type work – it can be anything that offers an opportunity to think critically, problem solve, be creative, or expand their social interactions.
LOOK FOR: A camp that has a variety of activities that stimulate a child’s development. Bonus points if the camp also allows campers to make some choices to pursue specific topics that interest them. Deduct points if they regularly use “fillers” that don’t stimulate learning, such as watching movies.
5) Camp exposes kids to non-relative role models.
The 40 Developmental Assets have outlined for us how important it is for children to have role models outside of their family. While teachers are certainly a popular and worthwhile example, the type of role models a child encounters at camp is completely different. Camp staff tend to be younger (late teens & twenties) and the relationship is less formal, making them very relatable to children.
LOOK FOR: A camp that screens staff at the highest possible level. Ask about their application process, staff return rate, and the training process.
Day Camp can be an amazing, memorable addition to your child’s summer, regardless of your child care needs – but it’s important to search for the right camp that will make the difference in your child’s life.