Think about your children's daily lives: the hockey practices or ballet classes; soccer or gymnastics; piano or an after-school tutor to keep their grades up. Perhaps they head straight for the TV or computer when they return home each afternoon to unwind after a hard day of school.
Simply put, a lot of kids are stressed out. Camp offers a break from that and more, experts say. A kid-centric environment in which kids are encouraged to try new things and meet new people, camp also helps kids build social skills, explore their independence and improve their self-esteem, says Dr. Stephen Fine, research chair for the Ontario Camps Association and co-director of the Hollows Camp in Cookstown.
"Teamwork, co-operation and negotiation are inherent to the camp experience," Fine says. "Kids' confidence levels, and their ability to be in social situations, increase."
Taken out of their parent-driven world, kids at camp have to learn to make their own decisions. Doing so without mom's or dad's help can add to their self-esteem and self-confidence, as well as help them develop risk-taking and conflict resolution skills.
"One of the major benefits of camp is the social skills that develop, especially around interacting with other people in a positive way," says Dr. Troy Glover of the University of Waterloo. "The camping experience really develops emotional intelligence in children by making them more empathetic. And I think that happens through the day-to-day activities with a group of people that you have to learn to live with—whether it's overnight (camp) or not."
Since many camps involve an outdoor component and integrate physical activity, children may also benefit on a physical as well as a social level. According to ParticipAction, a national non-profit organization, only 13 percent of Canadian children meet basic activity guidelines.
"Those kids that participate in camp during the summer end up being more physically active throughout the year," says Kelly Murumets, chief executive of ParticipAction. "It's all-around physical literacy—they learn skills and they have confidence in those skills that allow them to adopt more physically active lives. That's not all. "They end up being more physically active as adults as well," she says.