Summer camp is all about transformation. Camp counselors become role models. Bunkmates learn healthy conflict-resolution. Even the shy kids make new friends.
“Parents often notice a big difference when their child comes back from camp. They say their kids are more mature, responsible and confident in themselves,” said Neva Baltzell, state camping program coordinator for Florida 4-H, the youth development program of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension.
“The culture of acceptance and support at our camps makes this growth possible,” she said.
Here are ten big ways camp can change a child’s life for the better:
1. They’ll dare to try something new.
At camp, most kids are in unfamiliar territory, Baltzell said. “4-H has camps for everything from marine biology to archery to cooking. Trying new things can be a bit daunting for some, but getting over that hurdle can give them the courage to try more new things,” she said.
2. They’ll learn to unplug.
Smart phones, tablets and video games are usually not part of camp activities. “Knowing how to communicate with people in person is becoming more and more valuable. Putting away devices gives kids a chance to interact face-to-face and build social skills,” Baltzell said.
3. They’ll make new friends.
“Unlike the social scene kids might find at school, many campers don’t know each other, so new friendships quickly blossom,” said Sarah Hensley, youth curriculum and evaluation state specialized UF/IFAS Extension agent with Florida 4-H.
New friends may not share the same backgrounds, so camp exposes kids to a diversity of experiences and helps them see beyond what they’ve grown up with, Hensley said. According to a 2017 survey of 4-H campers, 96 percent reported making new friends. Forming relationships and feeling like they “fit in” is crucial to the development of young children and camp is a place where that happens.
4. They’ll learn to live with roommates.
“Everyone has to learn to live among other people—whether their bunkmates, co-workers or the neighbors next door,” Baltzell said. Camp cabins are a perfect place to work on respecting others and keeping the peace.
5. They’ll practice empathy.
A recent survey of 4-H campers showed that 93 percent of participants said they “learned to ‘consider how others feel’ as a result of attending camp,” Hensley said. With adult supervision, youth can practice working out conflicts by putting themselves in another’s shoes.
6. They’ll get in touch with nature.
From kayaking to hiking in the woods, campers gain an appreciation for the environment and are more likely to be inspired to conserve it for future generations, Hensley said.
7. They’ll learn independence and responsibility.
For many children, summer camp is the first time they’ve been away from their parents for an extended time. Campers have to make more decisions for themselves and think through the consequences of those decisions, Baltzell said. Ninety-five percent of campers say that they learned to be “responsible for their actions” while attending 4-H camp.
8. They’ll find a mentor — or become one.
“At 4-H camps, 14 to 18-year-olds act as camp counselors to the younger kids. Counselors get hands-on leadership training, and the younger kids look to the counselors as role models,” Baltzell said.
9. They’ll work as a part of a team.
“Campers quickly learn how to solve problems as a group,” Hensley said. “Whether they’re trying to build the perfect s’more or paddle a canoe, youth learn the power of cooperation.”
10. They’ll be accepted for who they are.
“One of the 4-H mottos is ‘Making the best better,” Baltzell said. “4-H members accept others as they are, and create a safe, inclusive community. 4-H members always cheer each other on, and that attitude really comes through in the camp setting.”
To learn more about the Florida 4-H program and camping opportunities, contact your local UF/IFAS Extension office or go to SolutionsForYourLife.com.
The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents. Visit the UF/IFAS web site at ifas.ufl.edu and follow us on social media at @UF_IFAS.