As the school year comes to a close, parents everywhere are struggling with decisions about how to continue their children’s development, both socially and academically, throughout the summer. Some children will be required to attend summer school, while some will be enrolled in supplemental summer academic programs. A few will be allowed to spend their summer un-programmed, and many will attend either summer day camps or sleep-away camps.
As we hear panic in the media about the failing academic performance of students in the U.S., some people are arguing for more academic activity during the summers, and even for year-round schooling. One of the biggest disadvantages to year-round schooling would be the loss of opportunity for children to attend summer camp. Camp provides children with many benefits and positive experiences that they do not necessarily receive in a school setting.
When a child attends summer camp, he or she often gains social skills, develops stronger self-esteem, meets other children from different walks of life, and learns new skills through experience. All of these things are beneficial not only to the child’s personal development, but also to his or her academic development. Through crafts, nature hikes, games, group singing, and countless other activities, campers have the chance to use the same skills they learn in school, but in a low-pressure environment where they are more likely to receive positive feedback.
If the school system, as it currently stands, is not working, there is no reason to believe that students would perform better if they spent even more of their time in that flawed system. Summer camps provide an alternative environment that incorporates many of the positive aspects of the school system and leaves out many of the negative ones. As child development expert Peter Scales, Ph.D., quoted on the American Camp Association website, puts it, “…camps help young people discover and explore their talents, interests, and values. Most schools don’t satisfy all these needs. Kids who have these kinds of experiences end up being healthier and having less problems which concern us all.”
Obviously, the quality of staff and programming varies from camp to camp. Some are highly superior to others. However, when a camp is good, its staff trained rigorously and its programming developed with care and expertise, it can absolutely change a child’s life in ways that will lead to improved emotional health and, quite possibly, improved academic performance. Perhaps instead of considering year-round school for children in the U.S., we should move toward making sure that more and more of our children have access to the benefits that summer camps provide.
Yvad Billings, Readers Bureau, Fellow