Camp has become a staple of the summer season. Each year, millions of children, youth and adults head to the hills, lakes, valleys and parks to participate in the time-honored tradition of camp. And, while most people easily conjure up images of campfires and canoes, there is a lot more to camp life. Here are 10 of the things you may not have known about the camp experience.
10. CAMP IS OLDER THAN DIRT, ALMOST LITERALLY. Started in 1861, the camp experience turned an impressive 150 years young in 2011.
"Camp is [still] run on a daily basis in the same way Juliette Low did," says Karen Mitchell, business manager of Camp Juliette Low atop Lookout Mountain. The all-girls overnight camp was founded by Low in 1922. She also founded the Girl Scouts, though the camp is unaffiliated with the Scouts.
The camp, whose original 10 acres have been added to the National Register of Historic Places, still holds true to its time-honored traditions of encouraging a love of the outdoors and an appreciation for nature in young women, Mitchell says.
9. CAMP IS WORTH ITS WEIGHT IN GOLD, AND THEN SOME. The camp experience is life-changing, developing friendships and memories that last well beyond the final campfire. And there is a camp for literally every budget. Often, camps offer special pricing for campers who register early — as Belvoir Christian Academy does — or provide financial assistance; and some camp experiences qualify for tax credits or for payment with pre-tax dollars.
8. GREEN IS "ZEN." Research shows that firsthand experience with nature reduces stress in children and helps them better handle stress in the future. Camps are teaching children how to enjoy the world around them and take a minute to breathe deep and feel the nature, which ultimately teaches them how to de-stress the natural way.
In addition, camp teaches children how to be good stewards of the environment. At Camp Juliette Low, girls live in platform tents with no electricity. "They're totally unplugged, and because they're disconnected from the modern environment, they're able to see nature and really experience it, not just look at it on a screen," says Mitchell. "It gives them a sense of our responsibility for the environment, and helps them to understand the importance of maintaining and protecting our world."
7. MOMMIES AND DADDIES DO IT TOO. Camp is not just for children and youth. There are family camp experiences, and camps for single adults, senior adults and any adult that wants to relax and enjoy all camp has to offer. Adults benefit from the same sense of community, authentic relationships and self-discovery that children do. Camp is an excellent vacation option, allowing adults to try a variety of new activities in a safe and fun environment, with or without the kids.
YMCA Camp Ocoee offers a family camp experience on Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends that allows adults to partake in all the same activities as their children, from archery and canoeing to sleeping in bunk beds in a rustic cabin. Learning to synchronize your paddle strokes and living in close quarters without technology will provide more bonding opportunities than the average family beach trip.
6. TRY THIS ON FOR SIZE — CAMP IS A GREAT PLACE TO TRY NEW ACTIVITIES AND HOBBIES. "Summer camp is always a great time to learn a new skill because, unlike the school year, children don't have the pressures and time constraints due to homework and after-school sports/activities," says Emily Patton, admissions director at Belvoir Christian Academy. The school's summer camp program offers weekly instruction in activities that many students may not have the opportunity to participate in during the school year, such as gymnastics, ballet and cooking.
According to research by the American Camp Association, 74 percent of campers reported that they tried new activities at camp that they were afraid to do at first. And, those activities often leave lasting impressions. In the same survey, 63 percent of parents reported that their child continued new activities from camp after returning home.
5. MANNERS MATTER, AND OFTEN LINGER. The camp experience teaches more than just archery or lanyard making. The entire experience is made of teachable moments; perhaps one of the biggest is how to live with a group of people. Campers learn to pick up after themselves, respect each other's property, and to say "please" and "thank you."
Summer camps are also a good opportunity for campers to meet children from other schools, geographic areas and backgrounds, Patton says. "Children always benefit from diverse situations, and the more they can grow socially, the more likely they are to try new activities and reach out to others during the school year and beyond. Additionally, summer camps provide children with mentors and friendships with older youth counselors who provide not only supervision during this time, but also spend time playing with them and allowing children to shine and be themselves."
4.VEGGIES TASTE BETTER WITH FRIENDS. Hollywood and fictional novels may have given camp food a bad reputation, but in truth, camps are constantly exploring healthy food options, and often are at the forefront of things like allergy specific diets, healthy snack options and vegetarian meals. According to ACA's 2011 Emerging Issues survey, 90.7 percent of responding camps indicated that healthy eating and physical activity was an important or very important issue.
St. Nicholas School goes a step further than just offering healthy food options with its summer camp gardening program, in which children learn the basics of growing fresh summer veggies and herbs in the school's garden.
3. IF EVERYONE ELSE WENT TO CAMP, MAYBE THERE'S SOMETHING TO IT. Camp has played an important role in the lives of some of the most talented people in history. Notable campers include business professionals such as Martha Stewart and Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, celebrities like Ben Affleck, and artists and great thinkers such as Bob Dylan, J.D. Salinger and Albert Einstein.
2. CAMP GETS THOSE NEURONS PUMPING. Education-reform debate and concern over summer learning loss have pushed academic achievement into the spotlight. Research shows that participation in intentional programs, like camp, during summer months helps slow summer learning loss. In addition, camp provides ample opportunity for developmental growth, which is a precursor to academic achievement. And, because of the "hands-on" nature of camp, children who struggle in traditional education settings often do well at camp.
For example, preschool grads can get a leg up on their future classmates with UTC Youth University Challenger Center's new "Jump Start" kindergarten preparation program, while older siblings can engage in hands-on activities involving science, technology, engineering, art and math through the center's nine, weeklong summer STEAM academies.
1. CAMP BUILDS LEADERS FOR THE 21ST CENTURY AND BEYOND. Independence, resiliency, teamwork, problem-solving skills and the ability to relate to other people — these are the skills that tomorrow's leaders will need, and the skills camp has been adept at building for over 150 years.
"Summer camp is a time to relax and make new friends, or rekindle friendships from the previous summer, and because the academic pressures of school are on the back-burner for these weeks, children have the opportunity for more relaxed social interaction and team-building skills through games and activities provided by the camp," Patton says, adding that for some of the activities, such as climbing the rock wall, teamwork is a must, because they're relying on each other to help them through the activity.
Reprinted by permission of the American Camp Association. © 2019, American Camping Association, Inc.