It’s easy for most parents to recognize the positive aspects of summer camp. The unique experience welcomes exciting opportunities for children to de-stress from the academic year, engaging with peers in a fun and supportive environment. Unlike the rigors of school, summer camp invites exposure to new experiences, trips, activities, sports and more. Housing a different population from school, summer camp connects children with new friendships, providing invaluable social opportunities. Families realize the advantages, too: summer camp fosters personal time for spouses and quality time spent between parents and their other children.
Aside from the obvious, summer camp introduces a number of long-term social and emotional benefits for children of all ages:
- More than just help children grow their social network, summer camp promotes a chance to develop social intelligence.
- More than just foster independence, summer camp helps children build resilience and other emotional strongpoints.
- More than just promote a positive sense of self, summer camp helps children discover their true selves and find their place in the world.
Developing the Key Aspects of Social Intelligence
Summer camp promotes an entirely different environment for children to build their social skills and grow their circle of friends. The benefits of developing social intelligence may reach far beyond the camp experience into other key areas of life.
The ability to foster social relationships without the aid of a parent, for example, gives children a tremendous confidence boost, which can translate into the enhanced self-esteem needed to excel at work, home and school.
Many campers also recognize the downtime between structured recreation and creativity as a chance to experiment in socialization. Experimentation — with humor, shared interests, competition, cooperation or even flirting — further builds children’s social intelligence, which can last for the rest of their lives.
According to psychologist Daniel Goleman, there are two aspects of social intelligence, both of which play a role in the summer camp experience:
- Social awareness: The ability for campers to monitor their thoughts and feelings (or their “inner world”). Examples of social awareness include empathy, social cognition and attunement to other campers.
- Social facility: The ability for campers to use their social awareness to interact with others. Examples of social facility include self-presentation, influence and concern for other campers.
Summer camp lends the opportunity for children to develop both aspects of social intelligence. Access to new people and environments provides a means for children to practice socializing, accumulating invaluable life skills along the way.
Building Resilience & Other Emotional Strong-Points
Another major opportunity for children in summer camp is the experience of building resilience: taking failures in stride and maintaining a positive outlook. Examples of building resilience include losing a baseball game, navigating social cliques and peer groups and “working things out” without parent intervention. Resilience is just one of the many emotional strongpoints children can build in a summer camp environment.
Summer camp welcomes children to experience a full range of emotions: nervousness to venture out into new territory alone; excitement to meet new friends and begin new relationships; sadness to say goodbye after building strong emotional bonds. With every emotion experienced in a compressed time frame — from several days to several months — in a cycle repeating itself over and over again, summer campers discover an entirely different experience for building emotional strongpoints.
Discovering & Reinforcing a Positive Sense of Self
For better or for worse, children often pick up labels from their peers at school. Among the most common: athlete, artist, musician, gifted or talented, brainiac, etc. However, the self-discovery inside summer camp is different from the school experience, which often fosters fear of judgment, ridicule and even violence.
Camp gives children the chance to expand or change a label, defining one another more by their own character and true sense of self. The exposure to a more accepting environment helps children break down barriers and discover a place for them in the world.
Unlocking Life’s Opportunities into Adulthood
The bottom line: summer camp is a place for children of all ages to invest in the experience, pushing boundaries to the unknown and building friendships along the way. More than just a fun place to spend the summer, camp is a priceless investment in a child’s future. The social and emotional journey to self-discovery helps children unlock life’s opportunities far into adulthood.