Benefits of Camp Proven by Research

Posted on March 14, 2016 by Catherine Ross

At the request of the Ottawa Parenting Times, Catherine Ross, Communications Officer for the CCA wrote this article for publication in their magazine. Directors may find the content useful for educating current or prospective parents on the proven benefits of the camp experience. 

Canadian Camping Association Benefits of Camp Research

Photo courtesy of Camp Walden

Children benefit greatly from going to camp. Camp directors have observed this since campers started attending Canadian camps over a hundred years ago. Parents discover this when their children return home at the end of their session. In wonder and appreciation, they frequently write letters to directors.

Camp is the place where our kids became aware of themselves, where their self-esteem blossomed, their hearts thumped wildly and their growth spurts happened…what did you feed them?

It is two weeks since the boys came home and every dinner conversation still revolves around camp! They both had such a positive experience.

Our daughter came home with many new skills. Not only did she learn more hard skills in canoeing, kayaking and sailing, but she learned a lot about how to be a leader and to work even better as a member of a team.

Even campers know it.

After two weeks of desperately trying to do kayak rolls, I finally accomplished it. It was the most amazing feeling.

I learned about patience, tolerance and don’t give up.

I learned that it takes team work to get through an activity because you can’t do everything by yourself.

At camp you feel free from all the stress of your life.

However, it is only recently that we acquired documented proof of these claims based on thorough, academic, research and analysis. In 2011, Dr. Troy Glover and his team from The University of Waterloo in co-operation with the Canadian Camping Association completed a six-year study. The research team based their conclusions on interviews with many directors and the observation and questioning of hundreds of campers in a variety of camps across Canada.

They discovered that campers showed improvement in five key areas: social integration and citizenship, environmental awareness, self confidence and personal development, emotional intelligence and attitudes towards physical activity.

The findings came as no surprise to camp leaders but were welcomed as concrete evidence of the value of the camp experience to assist parents when they are considering how best to invest their money and their child’s time.

At camp, children live, work and play with other campers, many of whom may be strangers on arrival day. Some may be from different faiths and cultures. In resident camps, they often come from other cities, provinces or countries. But by departure day, despite the differences, with the guidance of a caring, capable counselor, they have become close friends. Even at an all boys’ camp, I have witnessed tears streaming down young faces as they say their goodbyes till next year. And the wonderful thing is– many of these friendships that start and are nurtured at camp last a lifetime. Fifteen years ago, my daughter moved to British Columbia. On her annual visit home to Ontario, without exception, the friends she strives to connect with are all camp friends.

Camp friends are the best. Campers frequently comment that “at camp I can be myself”. “Everyone accepts me for who I am.” Living in close proximity, it is impossible to pretend to be what you are not for too long. At camp, emulating the role modeling of a well-trained counselor, children learn to be accepting and tolerant.

Living in the out of doors, campers are exposed to the wonders of nature, which develops into an appreciation, concern and caring for our environment. An added bonus is that current research proves that time spent out of doors is essential and beneficial to the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual development of children.

How is it possible that even in a short period at camp, children grow in confidence? First, because their parents have trusted them to try a little independence. Second because their counselor (a young leader who in a short time, they will respect, admire and choose to emulate) is there at all times to help, teach, encourage and guide them as they achieve small goals. At camp, learning is fun. Every success, large or small, is recognized and cheered, whether making a bed for the first time or swimming the length of the pool. When goals are not reached, an empathetic counselor will remind a disappointed camper that there are no failures as long as you try. In this child-centered, positive, environment, children blossom.

At camp, children play hard, eat well and sleep like logs. It is a healthy place to be. Also, campers often express how safe and secure they feel at camp, which contributes to their physical and emotional well being.

But before any of these benefits can be realized, parents and prospective campers have an important job. They need to research and choose among the many, great, options the one accredited camp that best meets their family’s needs and expectations. Good luck in the search. And be prepared, if you choose wisely, your new camper will want to return for years to come!

Communications Officer at Canadian Camping Association
Catherine's lifelong love of camping began in 1953 when she accompanied her mother, the new camp cook, to Camp Tanamakoon in Algonquin Park. She remained at Tan until 1978 as a camper and in several staff roles. After five years as a teacher, in 1979, Catherine and her husband George purchased Camp Mi-A-Kon-Da for girls in Parry Sound, Ontario which they owned for 20 years. Catherine has served on the Board of the Ontario Camps Association, and is Past President of the Society of Camp Directors. She is currently Communications Officer on the Board of the CCA. She is past editor of Camps Canada, published by the CCA, and the OCAasional News, the newsletter of the OCA. She is the author of four publications. Her articles on camping have appeared in numerous magazines.