Many countries, notably USA, Canada and France, have nation-wide systems of residential summer camps. Millions of young people spend a week or two a year living away from their family and usual friends in a rural, seaside or mountain setting, enjoying the happy and relaxed community life and the varied activities on offer at camp. They meet with their peers from all over the country and all kinds of school, make new friends, and benefit greatly in many ways. These countries regard summer camps as an important and valuable part of their national provision for children and young people. They have plenty of research demonstrating the beneficial effects of taking part.
The majority of camp leaders are aged 17 to 25. The training and experience given to them at a com- paratively young age is also of great value, teaching a variety of skills, many of them highly transfera- ble to the world of work…
The Summer Camps Trust is a new charity aiming to raise the profile of summer camps in Britain, and to convince parents, children, schools and local authorities that going to summer camp a few times during their 8 – 16 years would be a very positive, even life-changing, experience for millions of young people.
We already have some excellent providers in the UK, whose operations could grow with the demand. However what is currently on offer is relatively fragmented and expensive, with only around 2% of all British children ever attending a residential summer camp.
The benefits offered by summer camps can be grouped under the following headings:
Physical Health and Wellbeing Benefits:
- In an atmosphere away from computers, TV screens and electronic gadgets, children get to spend time running about in the fresh air, playing games, discovering new out- door activities, and being generally active. In some camps they do water sports, abseiling or orienteering, in others they follow trails through the woods, build dens, or play games of all kinds.
- The emphasis is on making physical activity enjoyable, and helping everyone to do well. Some children discover a new outdoor pursuit or sport which becomes a life-long hobby. Everyone gets to enjoy and appreciate physical activity. Thus summer camps can help address issues such as obesity and stress. They do so by showing that being out of doors and active is fun.
- Most summer camps are in rural settings, and for some children life amid green fields, trees and streams is a new and exciting experience. They can be helped to look at and take an interest in their natural surroundings. Spending quality time in the natural environment in their formative years is of value to all children, even life-changing for some.
- A summer camp has a beginning, when everyone arrives not knowing each other, and an end, when there can be tears at leaving new friends and a happy community. It is something of a “bubble” environment, shut away from the outside world and its pressures, where everyone needs to make an effort to get on with each other, and to join in. With the help of the young leaders, children learn that living happily together requires give and take and the apprecia- tion of others and their needs.
- This process is made easier because participants arrive not knowing each other, so that a new community is created. It can be a particularly rich community, since children are living closely with others from very different backgrounds and parts of the country, who they might never have met otherwise. As the camp proceeds they understand everyone’s shared humanity, and learn to get on with people from all backgrounds.
- Though summer camps are designed to be holidays and fun (i.e. not the same as summer schools to improve your maths), they are active holidays, and participants may get to do all kinds of outdoor pursuits, make kites or puppets, sing, act, listen to stories round the fire, explore the countryside, visit places of interest, and lots more. They have time to chat about all sorts of things, and get to know their young leaders like older brothers and sisters. Everyone finds some activity where they can excel, and lots of things to arouse their interest.
- Schools regularly comment that pupils returning from summer camp are more positive, more enthusiastic and more interested than before. Summer camps can show that the world is full of wonderful things to do and to enjoy.
- Leaders often comment on how they see children blossom and grow as a summer camp proceeds, and as they find a community in which they feel safe and valued, while at the same time being extended and challenged. An important ingredient of the joy young people express after a week at summer camp is a real sense of achievement at having successfully related to “new” people from different backgrounds, and at having coped on their own away from their parents. Self-confidence and sense of self-worth can be given a real boost.
- A parent recently commented “we often pay lip-service to helping our children move towards greater independence, but we are reluctant to provide opportunities for them to practice it.” A summer camp is an ideal solution to this dilemma.
- In the world of today children get all too few opportunities to play in green fields and just be children. Many gain enormously from having the chance to do so.
- Many children say afterwards that the summer camp was “the happiest week of my year”, or sometimes “of my life”. Happiness is a precious commodity, particularly for young people
The Summer Camps Trust believes that if many more young people could take part in summer camps a few times between the ages of 8 and 16, and if many more 17-25 year-olds could work in summer camps, the benefits to Britain and British society would be vast.
The “traits, attitudes and behaviours” listed as desirable in the Character Education Grant literature would all be fostered by summer camps, as would many of the objectives of the Physical Activity Implementation Framework, and of Natural England.
Chris Green, The Summer Camps Trust