Lessons for a lifetime at camp

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Journal Register News Service

Children can learn character-building lessons and make lifelong friends at summer camp, according to experts and campers alike.

"Summer camp is a place where children can learn social skills, autonomy, cooperation, how to follow rules and how to think independently. They have a chance to socialize with others who may be of different backgrounds. They make friends and learn to offer assistance to each other," says Rossi Davis, Psy.D., psychotherapist and licensed professional counselor in practice in Snellville, Ga.

Davis explains that children can learn from their camp experience and activities to take initiative, to offer help to others and how to follow an adult's directive. "It teaches trust, honesty and socialization. Summer camp activities also can reinforce in children leadership, extroversion, ingenuity and task-oriented behaviors," she says.

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New Jersey businesswoman Marian H. Gordon agrees. "Sleepaway camp had a profound effect on me. I am 55 years old and still friends with the 'girls' that were in my bunk and who were on my color war team, etc. We try to meet for dinner once every other month in New York City," says Gordon, of Yippee Print & Marketing, of Edgewater, N.J.

"Camp not only taught me how to play sports, but also gave me the free

dom to sing at the top of my lungs (even though I couldn't hold a note) without criticism or ridicule. It taught me that it was OK to argue and fight, as long as you made up afterwards and that friends will be friends no matter what. Some of our lives have been rockier than others, but we've always been there for each other. Camp also provided freedom - of self, body and mind," she explains.

APPRECIATING THEIR WORLD

Sleepaway summer camp helps youngsters develop an understanding of what it is like to be part of a community and experience the great outdoors, and how to develop a respect for nature.

Camp gets kids up close and personal with nature, often fueling a life-long love of the outdoors. It can also help shy or introverted kids build self-confidence and learn to be more independent. "Even troubled kids or ones who have challenges at school can excel at camp. We all need to have somewhere to feel good about ourselves," says Dallas M. Stout, Psy.D., on the faculty of the University of the Rockies, Colorado Springs, Colo.

"More and more researchers are concerned about the impact of all the electronic devices on children's brains. Between cell phones, iPods, and video games, kids have very little 'down time' or quiet time anymore," says Stout. "I think camp provides an appropriate disconnect from electronics that allows the kids to appreciate other things," he adds.

In fact, Stout, who was an inner-city kid, credits his summer month-long YMCA camp experience with introducing him to scouting. The things he learned there helped him to become a confident and competent Eagle Scout, he says.

SERVING SPECIAL NEEDS

Some summer camps help their specialized population have fun while learning about their special needs. The National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) is a college at Rochester Institute of Technology with 1,500 deaf/hard-of-hearing students from around the U.S. and beyond. However, in the summer the college runs three different camps where middle school and high school students with hearing loss can come to the campus to explore possible career opportunities.

The biggest camp is Explore Your Future (EYF). "We usually have more than 200 students over two weeks come to see whether they'd like to work in a laboratory or kitchen, or work on a computer or build a robot. That will help them know what possible majors to take in college," explains Greg Livadas, Director of Media Relations, NTID, at Rochester Institute of Technology.

Not only do they learn about themselves, they also meet some peers and make lasting friendships. "Forty years ago, when NTID started, 85 percent of students came from schools for the deaf. Today, 60 or 70 percent of our students are coming from schools where they are the only deaf student. They can feel isolated and have few friends. So this experience also allows them to be themselves and meet others like them," he says.

The Barton Center for Diabetes Education, Inc. has summer camps for children with diabetes, to help children learn to cope and thrive with their disease. "In addition to social skills, children with diabetes learn to manage their disease. And being with other kids with diabetes, they learn that they are not alone," explains Dave Kowal, Chair, The Barton Center.

The Barton Center camps include: Clara Barton Resident Camp for girls, Camp Joslin for boys, a program operated by The Barton Center, coed adventure/ wilderness leadership programs, family programs, and coed day camps in New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts.