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Happy Campers: benefits of summer camps for kids

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Wellbeing coach and counselling psychologist at Discovery Bay International School Jason Broderick reveals just how much kids can get out of summer camp.

Since most local schools close for six weeks over the summer, the holidays arrive with a large offering of kids’ camps and activities. Numerous brochures, pamphlets and online advertisements inform parents of the measurable benefits that these activities offer. Camps provide a period of respite for both child and parent over the long summer vacation, they allow kids to focus on a special interest, or on something they are not excelling in at school, and there is a budget available for all. But what parents may not appreciate are the immeasurable, intangible benefits of these activities.

Summer camps offer more than just the development of new skills, they also provide the building blocks for positive social interaction – a fundamental soft skill required to assist young people as they progress toward adulthood. Camp attendees are faced with activities that are emotionally and psychologically challenging.

Placed in a situation where they have to meet new people and triumph over obstacles, kids become more resilient and, importantly, more aware of ‘self.’

At summer camp, children get the experiences they need to bolster their range of coping strategies. It’s an opportunity for kids to face the simple and complex challenges of day-to-day life in a safe environment. For instance, they learn how to get along with a new group of peers, how to ask for help, and how to take a manageable amount of risk without a parent in attendance.

Constructive downtime

For many children, school has meant pressure. Pressure to achieve. Pressure to do things on time. Pressure to learn at someone else’s pace. Some children seem to be wired to meet these challenges, while others are not. For many, the pace and the demands of the school setting are overwhelming and, as a result, school has been ultimately defeating. Summer camps encourage and promote pro-social behaviours, and they teach important skills while giving children a break.

For most young people, summer camps are a breathing space in which the pressure is off. Kids can be kids but at the same time learn and grow in a healthy and positive manner. Many children flourish in a different aspect of their life without the stresses school can bring; they have the chance to feel good about who they are and what they can do.

At summer camp, children are able to ‘connect’ with their surroundings, other people and themselves. Yes, children have the opportunity to socialise and connect at school but at camp, they have more downtime in which to do so. Along the way, they have the chance to learn deeper empathy and better communication skills – they can gain better respect for others and deepen their social intelligence.

Importantly too, summer camps often put children in a context where they are interacting with children (and adults) that they do not know. Unhampered by worries about old friends, jealousies or the expectations of the school group, children are free to pal up with anyone they choose. This gives them a chance to overcome shyness and also to experiment with different ways of socialising.

Some of these friendships last, while many will evaporate. It doesn’t matter. What counts, is that children experience getting close to new people, some of whom will be very different from their usual buddies. As a result, they’ll probably learn something about stereotypes, acceptance and understanding. Summer camps teach morals and build character, while giving children the opportunity to play, laugh and create memories.

Children who are fortunate enough to attend summer camp are lucky indeed because a whole new world of friendship, interests, skills and independence is opened up for them.

5 skills kids gain at summer camp 

1. Children learn to work with each other and their adult mentors outside of the classroom and family unit. While building new friendships, they learn to navigate through group dynamics, manage conflict and accept guidance.

2. Placed in a new environment with new people, kids learn to value the kindnesses of others and they begin to give of themselves in return. In challenging situations, they learn to be sensitive, to empathise and to support friends who are struggling.

3. Children learn that to succeed, they must work together. Rather than thinking only of themselves, they begin to see themselves as part of a community, and with this comes a valuable sense of acceptance and belonging.

4. By putting themselves out there and trying new things, kids begin to
understand what it takes to succeed in life. They develop decision-making skills to get themselves through challenging situations, and they grow in confidence and flexibility.

5. By tackling an activity that pushes them outside their comfort zone, children come away with a stronger sense of personal pride and self-reliance. As they progress through a course, their confidence builds and they accomplish tasks that at first seemed impossible. All this builds strength of character, courage and determination.

Jason Broderick is wellbeing coach and counselling psychologist at Discovery Bay International School (DBIS). To follow him on Instagram,
head to @wellbeingcoach101. For more on DBIS, visit www.dbis.edu.hk.


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