"How can we underestimate children's need for respite from CNN, school stress or family tension?" Richard Louv writes in his book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder.
"Camps have their own pressures, but the healing quality of nature is always there, just beyond the screen door."
And nature, Louv argues, is sorely missing in the lives of many children today. In fact, he introduces the term "nature-deficit disorder" to describe a world in which kids may be all too aware of environmental problems, yet rarely venture out to experience the natural world. A bond with nature—par for the course for many youth a generation ago—is missing in the lives of many children today, says Louv. "Children need nature for the healthy development of their senses, and therefore, for learning and creativity," he writes.
Dr. Tom Potter agrees. Potter is an associate professor in the School of Outdoor Recreation, Parks and Tourism at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay. "(Nature) is totally missing from kids' lives," he says. "There are huge benefits to something like fort building—just going out into the backyard and building a fort without any supervision, which is what kids used to do. We've gotten away from that in the last generation."
Camp is another way to expose children to nature, adds Dr. Troy Glover, associate chair of graduate studies in the Recreation and Leisure Studies department of the University of Waterloo and director of the Canadian Summer Camp Research Project.
At camp, kids are given the opportunity to see what they're missing and form connections with the natural world they may have never experienced before. They often carry those bonds through the rest of their lives. "Even camps in the city usually have an outdoor dimension to them," says Glover.