Some things get better the longer you leave them where they are. Wine ages in bottles until just so, and cheese stored in caves ripen until they become the stinky morsels we love. The same goes for campers.
Please do not leave your children alone in a cave for many months, but do consider this: your children will learn more about their world, age more gracefully, and get more out of their camp experience the longer they are able to stay at camp. More specifically, this means multiple weeks of an overnight camp experience in succession and, if possible, repeating over the course of many years. It’s a lot of time dedicated to one investment, but that’s exactly what it is: an investment with future rewards.
I think that any time at camp can lead to positive growth in a child (or adult), even if it’s just one day. So imagine the outcome for a child who has been able to experience camp for many days and many years together. In just one day at camp, a child must navigate around an environment with unfamiliar physical and emotional boundaries, maneuver through the subtleties of social interaction with a group of strangers, stretch their precedented abilities and knowledge through different activities and challenges, and find their place within a new community. With a longer camp experience, campers are able to build upon all of this growth day after day until they are strengthened by it and can carry it out into their lives.
Still not buying it? Then read this: the American Camp Association (ACA) published a study which shows that longer sessions produced higher percentages of youth who walked away with positive experiences in all four of the areas studied, including supportive relationships, leadership and involvement in the community, building skill sets, and feeling safe. More than 7,600 youth completed the ACA survey, so these results are from the minds and hearts of campers, not how their parents or teachers perceived their experiences unfold. This is the real deal.
It’s not just about more activity periods to finish a dream catcher, more evening programs or more opportunities for s’mores. A longer session means that a camper can walk away with life skills and lessons that lead him or her to be more successful ( i.e. fulfilled ) in their adult lives. These desired long-term outcomes for young people include being economically self-sufficient, having healthy family and social relationships, and being connected to one’s community, and the ACA study above shows that youth programming at camp provides a direct link to these outcomes. With more time at camp, campers can create and accomplish more of the goals they have set for themselves while away from home, plus the added bonus of a nurturing, safe, and supportive environment to back them up. During this extended stay, campers can discover a positive mentor or a renewed sense of self, shaping the person that they will ultimately become through observing the people they respect and allowing their confidence take root and hold. How many other institutions in your child’s life do the same?
I went to camp for many years for three weeks each summer and I would not be who I am today without it. I consider myself independent, compassionate, and I constantly aspire to be a role model for young people – all of that comes from camp. It is clear to me from my personal experiences and the strong supportive data from places like ACA that camp is an investment worth seriously considering, and I enthusiastically urge everyone to invest in any opportunity that provides the maximum potential growth for your child and the chance to become their best selves. It may be a chance that they might not find anywhere else other than at camp.