Is Camp the “Right Thing” for My Child? A Mom’s Perspective on Choosing a Summer Camp

As a mom, I often contemplate if I’m doing all the “right” things to help my children succeed in life.  Success is a focus in our culture.  We use many things to define it – wealth, power, possessions, academic or athletic achievements, careers and more.  All too often I find myself falling victim to my desire to “measure up” to whatever stick I’ve chosen to focus on at that moment.

Yet, what any of us really want for our children is they become independent, responsible, respectful, contributing members of society.  All of which requires us as parents to focus on long-term goals and how to make decisions now that shape what we want for them at 30 rather than at 3 or 13.

When I find myself stressed about measuring up, I often ask myself, “what are we giving up for this?” Usually, the list is long and yet, includes the very things that contribute to those long-term goals.

I’m not alone.  We’ve all heard the stories and statistics that in our achievement-oriented culture, we’ve reared a generation of youth who aren’t fully prepared for adult life.

In an article shared by the American Camp Association, Peg Smith and Andy Pritkin quote a study from The Partnership for 21st Century Skills, noting there exists “research showing a big gap in our education system between the ‘3Rs’ and what employers are truly looking for with their new hires.”

As an employer, I’ve observed this in my own workplace.  Our younger, newly-minted employees have enormous talent. They’re often very responsible, but they lack critical thinking skills, true confidence, and require a tremendous amount of feedback.

So, how do we as parents provide our children with experiences they aren’t gaining in school or on sports fields?  How do we counteract the society’s focus on achievement?  How do we provide the skills they really need to be successful in life?

Pritikin and Smith suggest summer camp might help fill the gap our current culture has created. “Camp is excellent for children’s developing brains. The character traits that parents wish for their kids – independence, confidence, friendship-building, resilience, character, grit – these are real outcomes for kids who have quality camp experiences.”

They explain, “The brain functions like a muscle.  When it’s used, it grows and strengthens.  So, when kids have camp experiences that require them to take risks, be flexible, handle their emotions (especially away from their parents), be persistent to master something, build relationships and so on, it strengthens this important part of the brain for life.”

This has been the case for my own children and their friends attending camp. My son was convinced that a friend who went to camp with him last year would not want to go again because he absolutely HATED the bugs.  This is a kid who usually makes up his mind based on one factor and can’t be convinced otherwise.

When I checked in with the other mom to see about the plans for this summer, much to our surprise, her son revealed, he wants to go to camp! I think his exact words were, “There were lots of things I liked about camp, so I can handle the bugs.”

While this may seem like a simple thing, it’s one of those life skills that our kids can learn at camp that will serve them for a lifetime.

Prikitin and Smith agree, noting “At camp, kids usually feel safe and secure, and the setting is so fun that kids are willing to work harder and tolerate more frustration and setbacks – because they’re having such a good time doing it!  This builds character, and helps them for the rest of their lives.”

I choose Camp Hanover for my boys. It’s what I would call a “traditional” summer camp with familiar, outdoorsy, activities – things like archery, canoeing, campfires, and roasting marshmallows. Choosing a summer camp that doesn’t necessarily provide academic or athletic advantages may not be on the list of things we MUST do for our children these days. But, maybe it should be. Maybe it’s time to consider “providing a camp experience” as an essential part of our parenting responsibilities.

As a mom, I’m very happy with my choice. Year after year, the Camp Hanover experience has provided my children with life skills they’re not gaining anywhere else in our society today. I’ve grown to know and trust the camp staff. I can see the impact summer camp is having on my children, and that helps me set that dreadful “measuring stick” aside.

And, my boys can’t wait to go back again this summer!

About Camp Hanover:
Camp Hanover is a faith-based summer camp in Mechanicsville, Virginia, accredited by the American Camp Association. Camp Hanover offers day camps and overnight camps for children in elementary, middle and high school. To learn more or sign up, visit the camp’s website, email, or call (804) 779-2811.

Content and images for this article were provided by Camp Hanover. 

Jennifer Gwyn
Jennifer Gwyn has been married to her husband, Stephen for 20 years. They have two sons, ages 12 & 14. She has served in youth and mission ministries, as an elder at River Road Presbyterian Church, and as a volunteer and board member at Camp Hanover. Professionally, Jennifer is Director of Marketing for Southern States Cooperative, Inc. When not at work or doing laundry, she enjoys baseball and family game night.