We all know summer camp is filled with fun and new friends. Yet, recent research is showing that a profound benefit exists for those children that attend overnight summer camp. The below articles highlight this research.


American Camp Association Report:

Youth Development Outcomes of the Camp Experience

View the full report

Between 2001 and 2004 the American Camp Association conducted national research with over 5000 families from 80 ACA-Accredited camps to determine the outcomes of the camp experience as expressed by parents and children.

Parents, camp staff, and children reported significant growth in:

  • Self-esteem
  • Peer relationships
  • Independence
  • Adventure and exploration
  • Leadership
  • Environmental awareness
  • Friendship skills
  • Values and decisions
  • Social comfort
  • Spirituality

The findings from this national study indicated that camp is a unique educational institution and a positive force in youth development. The camp experience can benefit children by increasing:

  • confidence and self-esteem
  • social skills and making friends
  • independence and leadership qualities
  • willingness to try and adventurousness
  • spiritual growth, especially at camps focused on spirituality.

For more information on the actual instrumentation, please visit the Camper Growth Index site where details about the instrumentation developed and used in the ACA National Outcomes Study are discussed.


Summer Camps Make Kids Resilient


I recently spoke to 300 camp directors about how to make children more resilient to life stress. Summer camps, we discovered, are perfect places to help children optimize their psycho-social development.

After all, summer camps are places where children get the experiences they need to bolster their range of coping strategies. There are the simple challenges of learning how to build a fire, going on a hike, or conquering a high ropes course. There are the much more complex challenges of getting along with a new group of peers, learning how to ask for help from others, or taking manageable amount of risks without a parent following after you.

The best camping experiences offer these opportunities for manageable amounts of risk and responsibility, what I term "the risk takers advantage" (see my book Too Safe for Their Own Good for more examples). The worst camps pander to children as if they are entitled little creatures whose parents are paying big sums of money. Children at camp can't be treated like customers if they are going to get anything out of the experience. They need to be treated like students whose caregivers, the counselors, know what the kids need to grow.

Camps that pull this off and make kids, especially teens, put away the makeup, stash the iPods, get a little dirty and even a little frustrated while having fun and making new friends, are the kinds of camps that offer children the best of what they need. Looking at those experiences from the vantage point of my research on resilience, I know that camps help our children develop great coping strategies when they provide seven things all children need:

1) New relationships, not just with peers, but with trusted adults other than their parents. Just think about how useful a skill like that is: being able to negotiate on your own with an adult for what you need.

2) A powerful identity that makes the child feel confident in front of others. Your child may not be the best on the ropes course, the fastest swimmer, or the next teen idol when he sings, but chances are that a good camp counselor is going to help your child find something to be proud of that he can do well.

3) Camps help children feel in control of their lives, and those experiences of self-efficacy can travel home as easily as a special art project or the pine cone they carry in their backpack. Children who experience themselves as competent will be better problem-solvers in new situations long after their laundry is cleaned and the smell of the campfire forgotten.

4) Camps make sure that all children are treated fairly. The wonderful thing about camps is that every child starts without the baggage they carry from school. They may be a geek or the child with dyslexia. At camp they will both find opportunities to just be kids who are valued for who they are. No camps tolerate bullying (and if they do, you should withdraw your child immediately).

5) At camp kids get what they need to develop physically. Ideally, fresh air, exercise, a balance between routine and unstructured time, and all the good food their bodies need. Not that smores (marshmallows, chocolate and graham cracker treats) don't have a place at the campfire, but a good camp is also about helping children find healthy lifestyles.

6) Perhaps best of all, camps offer kids a chance to feel like they belong. All those goofy chants and team songs, the sense of common purpose and attachment to the identity that camps promote go a long way to offering children a sense of being rooted.

7) And finally, camps can offer children a better sense of their culture. It might be skit night, or a special camp program that reflects the values of the community that sponsors the camp, or maybe it's just a chance for children to understand themselves a bit more as they learn about others. Camps give kids both cultural roots and the chance to understand others who have cultures very different than their own.

That's an impressive list of factors that good camping experiences provide our children. Whether it is a subsidized day camp in a city or a luxurious residential facility up in the mountains, camps can give our kids a spicy combination of experiences that prepare them well for life. Add to that experience the chance for a child's parents to reinforce at home what the child nurtures at camp, and maybe, just maybe, we'll find in our communities and schools amazing kids who show the resilience to make good decisions throughout their lives.

Summer Camp May Improve College Admissions Odds

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| CNBC -Sunday, 27 Apr 2014 | 10:00 AM

How you spend your summer vacation isn't just fodder for first-day-back-in-school essays. It could provide a boost on college or job applications—especially if you went to camp.

Colleges have been getting more selective in recent years. In 2012, the average four-year college accepted 63.9 percent of applicants, down from 69.6 percent in 2003, according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling. Many are even more selective. This year, Yale University accepted just 6.26 percent of applicants, down from 6.27 percent a year ago and 11 percent in 2005, according to educational consulting company IvyWise. Cornell University accepted 14 percent, versus 31 percent in 2005.

Grades and standardized test scores are still the top factor for admission, but educational counselors say colleges are starting to take a harder look at extracurricular activities, particularly those over summer vacation. "Parents assume their kids need to be even more competitive on grades," said Eric Greenberg, founder and director of education consulting firm Greenberg Educational Group. "What has happened, ironically, is the opposite."

To colleges, summertime is like the hiatus between jobs a prospective employer would ask about, said Mark Kantrowitz, senior vice president and publisher at Edvisors Network. "Colleges want to understand, what have you been doing with yourself?" he said. "What happened during that gap?" The answer can be telling of what a student will do on campus.

Campers: Sylv, Hannah and Talia.
Source: Talia Rodwin,
Campers: Sylv, Hannah and Talia.

Parents shouldn't immediately race for the nearest camp sign-up sheet. While there are surely college admissions officers with fond memories of lake swims and archery, the camp experience that is more likely to stand out is a specialized one that speaks to a student's interests, experts say. Summers at soccer camp can help show a would-be college athlete's dedication, for example, while theater camp can be an edge for someone applying to the acting program—especially if the high school's drama program is so-so (or nonexistent).

Focused camps aren't that difficult to find. Half of day camps have some kind of academic activities or areas of study, and one-third offer a STEM (i.e., science, technology, engineering or math) program, according to the American Camp Association.

"By being stronger on the extracurricular activities, you can actually make up somewhat for weaknesses academically," Kantrowitz said. It's no slam dunk, though. "Not everyone is going to yield a benefit, but it's something that distinguishes you," he said. (Considering, however, that some camps can cost upwards of $1,000 per week, it's worth pointing out that extra experience in a student's areas of interest could just as easily come from a summer course at a local college, volunteer experiences or work, he said.)

Steven Infanti, associate vice president for admissions at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology, said a STEM camp experience is something that makes him take a closer look at a student's application. "When I look at an applicant who has a 2.5 [GPA], which would be kind of a borderline admit for us, but I see on his application, I participate in this camp…that shows a lot of initiative and someone who has a passion," he said.

For higher-achievers, relevant camp experience may put them in the running for the university's fellowship program, which pairs 15 incoming freshmen with faculty for research projects, among other advantages.

Colleges may also find longer camp relationships interesting, even if the camp isn't academically focused. "The regular camper who becomes a counselor is a good type of continuity," Greenberg said. That kind of camp experience can indicate positive qualities such as leadership, resilience and good social skills, he said.

That's the kind of story Oberlin College freshman Talia Rodwin expressed in her application essay. Rodwin, 19, has been attending Habon Dror Camp Moshava in Silver Spring, Md., since 2006 and plans to return this summer for her second year as a counselor. (The youth movement camp emphasizes sharing, leadership and communal responsibility.) "I wrote about my camp experiences and community," she said. "I explained how I think of myself as a community builder…and I think that had an impact."

Simon Solis-Cohen (R), whose camp experience led him to become a chef.
Source: Simon Solis-Cohen
Simon Solis-Cohen (R), whose camp experience led him to become a chef.

While camp as an application booster isn't a guarantee, it could have other benefits for a college-bound student. Overnight camps can offer a taste of independent living (or at least, living away from mom and dad). The right camp could even help solidify a career path, reducing the chance of a five- or six-year stint at a four-year college while an undeclared student explores options.

"If you go to summer camp and you decide because of the camp that this is what you want to be, you're going to be much more focused as a student," Kantrowitz said.

When he was in middle school, Simon Solis-Cohen, now 23, signed up for a magic camp through Julian Krinsky Camps & Programs in Pennsylvania. He liked it so much that the next year, he tried one of the group's business camps. Then, in the summer leading up to his freshman year of high school, he discovered cooking camp. "It really opened my eyes," Solis-Cohen said.

He was so enamored with cooking that he started working weekends during the school year at the camp chef-instructor's restaurant, then attended college at the Culinary Institute of the America. "I ended up using this as my launching pad," said Solis-Cohen, who is currently with Grgich Hills Estate in Rutherford, Calif., after a stint at renowned Napa Valley restaurant The French Laundry.

As Solis-Cohen discovered, camp can even be a kick-starter for jobs down the line—provided the experience backs up other bona-fides. "Camp is about the social experience of working with other young people in a group setting that's outside your comfort zone," said Chad Oakley, president and chief operating officer of executive search firm Charles Aris, Inc. "That in itself is 50 percent of success in a business environment."

But it's no job shoe-in. "You might get the interview because you went to math camp, but you'd actually get the job because of your ability to interface with people during the interview," said Oakley.

Showcasing a camp experience during the college admissions process can be done in a handful of ways. It might be listed as extra-curricular activities on the college application, or a particularly meaningful experiences worked into the essay portion.

"If you had a transformative experience at the summer camp or a big impact on others, that tells them more about who you are as an individual, especially if you can write about how it set you in a particular direction," Kantrowitz said. "If something is of interest to you, you're more likely to write a passionate essay."

Favorite counselors or camp directors should also be considered for letters of recommendation. "Relatively few students submit letters from outside [school] or that are job-related," said Greenberg. "That can be enormously valuable."

Kelli B. Grant Personal Finance and Consumer Spending Reporter


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