When it comes to summer camps and programs, I find that parents and kids often underestimate their importance and value.
When parents are offered the opportunity to send their kids to camp, I often hear, "well, let me ask them and see if they want to go." When kids are offered the prospect of attending a summer program, especially a new one, there's often a deep hesitation derived from fear of the unknown–"What if I don't make any friends?" "What if I don't like the activities?" "What if I'm uncomfortable in a new environment?"
After having gone through an entire childhood, and, in adulthood, close to 20 years on the staff side of summer programs, I'd like to share some of the key underrated values that summer programs bring to the next generation.
Identity v. Academia
This is the biggest one. Whereas school provides academic growth, camps provide personal growth. One of the mantras I always share with my summer staff members is that kids can grow more personally in a seven-day period than the rest of the 358 days of the year.
This isn't an exaggeration. This is true.
Summer camps build an environment that doesn't carry the same academic or social pressure as school. Whereas teachers are focused on grades, test scores, and classroom etiquette, counselors and summer activity leaders are focused on camaraderie, team building, and exploring a more raw side of the child. Of course, neither role is more important than the other, but with ¾ of the year focused on academia, personal development from these summer programs can be a welcome supplement.
Mentorship v. Teachership
I define mentorship as a relationship built on trust, where learning occurs outside the textbook or classroom.
Summer camps are literally set up to facilitate mentorship. You typically will have a counselor, coach, or team lead assigned to a small group of campers. Because that leader's responsibility is built around camper belonging, team building, and individual growth, mentorship is in the job description.
As an added benefit, team leads are often closer to the camper's age. Whereas parents and teachers of an older demographic play a vital role in child development, don't underestimate the value a younger counselor has in being able to relate, provide relevant personal anecdotes, and create trust. Think of it similar to how we've all had different relationships with our parents versus our siblings, there's value in both.
The Value of Play
This is something that has been completely lost in the mad rush for college prep. Let's think about the typical schedule of a 10-year-old: they have school M-F with homework in the evenings, sports/extracurricular practices during the week, not to mention an ever-increasing amount of evening homework. Then, each weekend, starting on Friday night, there are sports games, community service, and maybe the occasional birthday party. This only gets busier by middle school (let's not even broach the topic of how busy high schoolers are these days).
There is literally no time for play.
The loss of play is detrimental to child development. There's a correlation between the decline of play and the development of anxiety and depression amongst youth. I used to always say that my favorite part of going to camp as an adult was operating in a completely different reality than the norm. That deadline for the marketing analytics scorecard? Don't have time to think about it, need to get the kids to archery on-time. Those co-workers who aren't getting along with each other? The focus is on my team of campers and making sure they have the best week of the summer.
It doesn't mean that camp doesn't have stress, but having a program where the goal is play is a welcome retreat that goes a long way to centering our kids.
Your Questions Answered
With the collective experience of the Yo! Team in leading summer camps (and believe me, there's a lot of experience), here are the most common questions that we receive, along with our candid responses.
Should I ask my kid first if they want to go?
No. We find that many kids have a natural hesitancy toward entering new out-of-the-norm environments. Summer camps are designed with this in mind. Unlike school, where the focus is academics, at camp, the focus is typically personal growth and team building.
What is the right age to start having kids go to camp?
For day camp programs, 2nd grade/7 years old. Starting at this age helps to rocket boost the socialization and maturity development of the child.
For overnight programs, age 8. Seems young, but it works. Yes, there may be a bowel accident in the sleeping bag or a bit of homesickness, but 8-year-olds are fully capable of being independent for a week. Again, starting at this age is a significant boon to their growth and development.
Are overnight camps safe?
Everyone should research to determine if the camp program is credible. But providing that the baseline credibility is there, yes, overnight camps are typically on closed campuses, with direct supervision throughout the day. Additionally, note that staff-to-camper ratios are usually between 3:1 to 5:1; that equates to a good number of staff overseeing the campers.
What if my kids aren't having a good time? Should I pull them early or let them come home?
No. Generally speaking, camps are designed with fun, personal development, and team building at their core. Letting them leave early doesn't allow the child to figure out how to make camp work for them. Most of the time, the child just needs to let themself have a good time at camp.
Can I stick around and observe the program?
Similar to school, this is discouraged. Giving the child ample space to learn, and express themselves helps the camp program to better grow and develop the child.
By the Way, Did you Know We Host a Summer Camp Program?
Though registration has already closed for this year, our sister organization, Yo! Camp hosts an overnight teen camp program for ages 10-14 in the Santa Monica mountains. This seven-day program features a carefully crafted curriculum and a hand-picked all-star staff to create a unique experience for teens in the Japanese American community.
Eligible families, be sure to check out their website and think about joining the program next year! Subscribers to this blog will also be notified when registration opens next year.