Happy campers: Children learn independence, enjoy time on their own


Summer camps offer more than meets the eye. Although roasting a perfect marshmallow is a good skill to have, the most important thing learned at camp is independence.

Going to camp means new experiences, getting away from the family and fending for oneself. In today's world, when parents keep a very close eye on their children, this independence takes on special importance.

Camps are about exploring, and this may be rare in young lives where activities are scripted and tightly scheduled. At camp, boys and girls learn that they can choose activities, make friends and do things on their own.

In "Homesick and Happy: How Time Away from Parents Can Help a Child Grow," psychologist Michael Thompson cites a study in which people were asked their happiest childhood memories. More than 80% shared a memory when their parents were not involved.

Thompson interpreted this to mean that children like to accomplish something on their own, without worrying about what their parents would think. Such moments also give them a feeling of accomplishment.

At first, some parents may find the thought of sending their little ones off to camp overwhelming, Thompson writes.

"But parents' first instinct -- to shelter their offspring above all else -- is actually depriving kids of the major developmental milestones that occur through letting them go -- and watching them come back transformed," he explains.

The world is a scary place for parents, although few would deny the importance of becoming independent. Summer camp is the perfect time and place for this as children grow without being under the watchful eyes of parents.

Children socialize differently at camp than at school. Learning differences aren't noted as at school, so everyone fits in. The energetic ones who might get in trouble in the classroom may discover they are leaders.

Parents report that children come back from camp changed, with new emotional and social skills, such as being team members, and knowing how to assess risks and cope with hardships. They seem more open to new experiences, like sports they were encouraged to play at camp. And they do things like make their beds and take their plates to the sink without being asked.

(Also, some folks are pleased to find that children come to realize how much is done for them by their parents after they have had to tackle chores around camp.)

Summer camps are even more important today because they get children away from technology. A lot of growing can be done when they leave behind distractions such as video games and smartphones as well as the pressures of their everyday lives.

Instead of using social media, kids learn to communicate directly, talking to their new friends face to face. Emojis don't exist unless they are sketched by hand or toed in the dirt.

Even day camps can teach children to be independent, something that may be hard to achieve with parents involved in their lives. This may be the first time a child makes friends that their parents don't know.

At camp, not only do children experience independence from their parents and from their gadgets, they also continue to learn age-old camping skills that are useful throughout their lives -- such as roasting that perfect marshmallow.

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