Summer camps used to be warm-weather havens for kids across the United States, with kids often attending camps their parents attended (and sometimes their parents before them). Going away to camp created special memories, developed new skills, and led to lifelong friendships. In recent years, however, fewer summer camps have been available; about half, the American Camp Association reports, are completely full. Add to that the financial strain summer programming puts on low- and middle-income families, and it’s clear why fewer family camp traditions are continuing.
In their place, day camps have appeared. They host similar activities, offering a way for students to develop skills, make friends, and gain summertime educational benefits without having to leave home for an extended period of time. These day camps tend to be much more affordable, making it possible for more kids to experience the advantages of attending.
Here's why day camps are so beneficial for kids:
1. Day camps instill resilience.
Psychology Today noted that day camps help build resilience in children, an important trait to use throughout their academic and work careers. While schools are set up to provide these experiences — through testing, contests, science labs, and more — there’s a distinct outcome and set of pressures attached to these experiences. Day camps allow kids to try new things without worrying about establishing a permanent reputation.
Camps introduce children to various types of experiences that encourage the development of coping strategies when trying something new. These new situations involve new peers, unfamiliar skills, and challenging, yet manageable, risks. Tackling these in an environment that kids realize is temporary, knowing they’ll return home at the end of the day, means they’re more likely to take on these challenges. And when they succeed, children develop the confidence to take on future situations.
2. Day camps focus on socialization.
When school is out for the summer, today's generations of kids are rarely outside playing — in fact, they’re spending about half as much time outside as their parents did. Rather than trek over to the neighbor’s yard or a nearby park, these digital natives are spending more time on their devices, which can lead to less interaction. Across the year, kids average two hours and 19 minutes on their screens per day.
Socialization, however, occurs in one-on-one situations or as part of a group, and it’s crucial to communication, teamwork, and social development. By attending day camp, kids are separated from video games and mobile devices and forced to see the world — and people — around them. They get to meet others and enjoy the social situations that come from being face to face with other kids their age; this can provide kids who have trouble making friends during the school year with the tools to develop friendships and approach their next school year differently.
3. Day camps result in a confidence boost.
As much as parents wish they could imbue their kids with self-confidence, it’s something built over time, through interactions with a wide swath of people and experiences. Studies show that self-confidence, accrued through past successes, motivates student to engage further and to apply lessons to their daily experiences. That means it’s vital for students to build it throughout the year.
Day camps introduce kids to experiences in a controlled environment so they can try new things and develop skills they previously hadn’t built, enabling them to earn confidence with each new achievement. After attending a camp focused on acting, dance, art, or programming, kids are excited to share what they’ve learned and what they can do. That’s a sizable return on investment on its own.
4. Day camps foster independence.
Whether your child has yet to start school or attends school daily, day camps are a way to increase her independence and grow accustomed to doing things without her parents. Knowing they can go home at the end of each day is especially helpful for kids who feel more separation anxiety than others.
Although day camps may not grapple with as many homesick kids as overnight camps do, camp staff members are prepared to help kids transition and get used to the idea of being out of their comfort zone. Starting gradually with lessons in independence can make it less traumatic, treating it like a natural process instead of a high-pressure free fall.
5. Day camps keep kids in “learning mode.”
While no child should focus on learning all day every day, summer break can be devastating to their education: Kids lose learning over the summer, and the New York Times reported that the effect is cumulative, summer after summer. Kids whose families don’t have the resources to supply expensive educational experiences during the summer suffer the most.
Day camps don't overwhelm kids with formal educational experiences, which makes it feel less like traditional learning and more like fun. Day camps often offer a different type of education, focusing on life and career skills like teamwork, negotiation, and conflict resolution. Between focused skill-building and field trips, kids gain other types of knowledge and experience, making them more well-rounded individuals. Plus, keeping their brains active on school holidays makes it easier to focus on schoolwork at a high level when school starts again.
Another “pain” families endure over summer break is the loss of routine. The longer the break, the more challenging it is to keep kids on a regular schedule for sleep, meals, and activities. Day camps help maintain a sense of routine and structure, providing a sense of control for kids out of their element and ensuring they all stay active and stimulated. Having a purpose — getting up for day camp — alleviates boredom and keeps kids on a productive track.
How to Find the Best Day Camps
With so many great reasons to send your kids to day camp, the next step is to find the one that best fits your child's interests and your family’s location and budget. Conducting online research, consulting review sites, and surveying parents in your neighborhood or school is a great way to start. Additionally, companies like Reso create curated lists of day camps, workshops, and other activities for kids of all ages. A small amount of digging can unearth a gem in your own backyard.
Summer camp may feel out of reach for your family, but it doesn’t have to be. Investing in your child’s future with a day camp that helps her build confidence, gain skills, and stay intellectually stimulated can make both you and your child very happy.