This article appears in Summer Camp magazine 2018.
If raising an emotionally healthy, well-adjusted and confident child is your goal as a parent, send him or her to summer camp.
The best summer camps are places where kids can learn life skills in a safe environment under the leadership of caring adults, said Jay Toporoff, director of Camp Danbee, a summer camp for girls in the Berkshire Mountains in Western Massachusetts. It’s a place where a child can stumble, fall down, pick themselves up and try again better-prepared.
At camp, “children learn how to communicate, compromise, develop life-skill sets they can use as they grow, separate from families, create their own identities and build resilience. In a nutshell, children become empowered,” he said.
Children have to take on responsibilities and learn to accept failure as they manage things like bunkmate issues and cabin chores, Toporoff said. Camp also presents the opportunity for kids to create the rules of their own community, such as setting up bunk guidelines that impact all in the cabin, he said.
Being away from their parents, campers have to make their own decisions and learn from them, he said.
Summer camp can also be a place where children can expand their horizons and interact with people who are different from themselves.
“Camp is a crucible for teaching empathy, acceptance and tolerance. People are thrust into a living environment that breaks down stereotypes, helps children find commonalities and develop friendships that are based on the person and not the ethnicity or religion or gender of their new friends,” Toporoff said.
Camp is also a place for kids to take risks and try new things, like learning to shoot archery or succeed at a high-ropes course.
“Pushing personal limits in a safe place allows campers to expand their horizons. Taking risks, succeeding, failing and encouraging others to do the same makes for great personal growth and character-building,” Toporoff said.
Letting a child leave the nest can be a scary proposition for parents.
“It is a two-way street where both parent and child allow themselves to let go. Seeing their camper develop skills, cement friendships with both staff and fellow campers, and simply smile for no apparent reason other than their child found a second home — it is a win-win for both parents and camper,” Toporoff said.
“Camp is an amazing opportunity to help kids grow. It is also a time where they can learn gratitude,” Toporoff said.
At Camp Danbee’s opening bonfire campers are reminded that not everyone gets to go to camp. Most children in the world will never experience the friendships, activities and special memories that camper will have, Toporoff said.
“We challenge our campers to pay it forward through acts of kindness and community service as a way to say ‘thank you’ for their opportunity to experience camp and all it has to offer them,” he said.