It's a great Canadian tradition: getting away from the city with a trip to the cottage. For many families it's the summer alternative to camp, but are children receiving the same benefits?
"I think a balance between the two is probably best," Professor Tom Potter (School of Outdoor Recreation, Parks and Tourism at Lakehead University) suggests. Cottages today, he says, may be just as gadget filled as the family home. If children are doing nothing but watching TV all day, the benefits of the cottage experience are lost.
Even if there's no TV in sight, there are other differences between the cottage experience and camp. While cottages may give families a chance to spend time together, camp gives kids the opportunity to be around other children their age in a parent-free environment, often allowing them to experience and master new things. Those skills—like swimming or kayaking—may make family outings to the cottage more fulfilling. And there's a risk-taking element for kids—the challenge of getting out on their own and trying new things—that might not be available at the cottage where parents are close at hand.
Children today are often too sheltered and camp offers an opportunity to escape that, says Dr. Troy Glover (Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies, University of Waterloo). "There's a fairly widespread recognition that parents today—and I'm one of them—tend to bubble wrap their kids. Camp is an opportunity to elude that bubble wrap and to let them explore who they are and what they can do," Glover says.
From those new shared experiences, strong friendships are often formed. These friendships can last a lifetime. "Being around a campfire, being on a beach or at a lake, it allows for more meaningful, deeper discussions to emerge," Potter says.