Summer camp: a Crash Course in Life Skill Development
March 13th, 2017 by Jacquelyn Zeman
Camp is not just about singing cheesy songs around a campfire, managing to pass the swim test, or escaping parental supervision for a week. I know firsthand that the experience serves as a crash course in social and interpersonal skill development for young people. I was a camp kid.
In West Michigan we have many summer camps, each with a program that makes them unique. Grand Rapids Community Foundation awarded $119,000 in grants to provide scholarships to 16 of these camps for the summer of 2017. The grants cover program fees and transportation to and from camp for around 500 students each year.
We believe that everyone should have the opportunity to experience summer camp, regardless of their financial situation.
Former campers, like me, tend to remember their experiences for years after attending. My specific summer camp experiences, between late elementary and through high school, were truly unforgettable.
Between fourth and fifth grade, I attended an overnight program at YMCA Camp Manitou-lin. Later I went for a similar experience at SpringHill during middle school. For high school, I went to Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp for music and dance.
Looking back on those summers, these are what I see as the four most important experiences young people have at camp:
1. Whether it's day or overnight camp, the experience helps build independence:
For many, camp is one of the first times young people are away from their family, and life as they know it, for an extended period of time. The first summer I was dropped off at overnight camp, which was only for a week, was easily the longest time I’d gone without seeing any family members. I remember it being a scary feeling at first. At that age, the alone feeling made me go out of my way to make new friends. While this is something I may have not done at school, being in a new environment inspired me to interact with more people.
2. Camp teaches the importance of living in the moment:
Unplugging and appreciating nature and what is happening right now, is so important. Camp provides an opportunity where all distractions go away, so you only focus on what is happening there. I attended Blue Lake Fine Arts camp, which is a program where you take classes in a chosen area of performing arts. Having no phone with me made it easier to learn and focus on what was happening in classes and the people I was with.
3. Day-to-day camp life helps develop social skills:
Camp is kind of a weird social experiment. In most cases, a bunch of random people with different backgrounds and prior life experiences are thrown into a cabin together. You are expected to live together, and it is crazy how fast those friendships build. I met friends at camp when I was in middle school, which I kept in contact with for several years. Eventually we both chose to attend the same university, and we see each other all the time at school.
4. The program allows campers to experience activities they’ve never done before:
Activities you do at camp are unique. The one time I ziplined in my life, which was a line about 1,000 feet long and over a lake, was at SpringHill. Camp provides some adventurous activities.
From my camp experiences, I’m glad they pulled me out of my comfort zone. I believe it’s important to leave behind what you are comfortable with at a young age in order to be successful later in life.
Information on summer camps can be found on this site. Happy camping!