Camp experience aids in cognitive and self-esteem development

While most parents expect camp to be a fun way for children to spend a week or two in the summer, experts are saying that the camp experience is also an investment in the development of a child. Some even say it helps develop the brain for future success.

“Bunks are good for brains,” explained Tina Payne Bryson, PhD, a pediatric and adolescent psychotherapist, in an interview with the American Camp Association (ACA) earlier this year. Bryson is the co-author (with Dan Siegel) of The Whole-Brain Child. She claims that the camp experience can actually change the structure of the brain for the better.

“Experience changes the brain. And yes, I mean the actual activation and wiring of the brain. Particularly when experiences are emotional, novel, and challenging, the repeated experiences kids have alter the actual architecture of the brain. It’s like a muscle. When it’s used, it grows and strengthens. So, when kids have camp experiences that require them to overcome fear, be flexible, handle their emotions (especially away from their parents), be persistent to master something, build relationships, and so on, it builds this important part of the brain.”

Bryson said when the structure of the brain changes, the function of the brain changes.

“This means that camps can play a role in how these kids function in the world, and ultimately who they become as adults, even on a neuronal level.”

Michael Thompson, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and author of Homesick and Happy: How Time Away from Parents Can Help a Child Grow, contends being at camp provides growth in children’s self-esteem that can only be achieved through the camp experience.

While researching his book, Thompson visited 19 camps and talked with hundreds of counselors and campers, as well as gathered information from a detailed online questionnaire completed by both campers and counselors.

He writes that “self-esteem did not and does not come from your parents trying to ‘support your self-esteem,’ it comes from building skills. Finally, it was clear to me that many students who exhibited tremendous gains in character and confidence were finding that growth outside of school and away from their families.”

“There is a lot of research out there that speaks to the power of camp and how campers grow cognitively, socially, spiritually and in self-awareness,” said Camp Kanuga Director David Schnitzer.

“Camp allows campers to have their own experiences and learn away from their parents.”
Schnitzer explained that the crucial positive reinforcement parents already give their children is further strengthened when a child hears it from an additional person they look up to, such as a camp counselor.
Camp Kanuga, one of the country’s longest-running American Camp Association-accredited camps in the United States, prepares its staff for sessions filled with development opportunities. “Camp’s purpose goes beyond just the fun—but believe me it is fun. It’s a place for growth, continuing the work of parents, and their local church and community. We all have a role in the development of our young people.”

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