The COVID-19 pandemic has stolen so much from our children and up-ended the foundations of their lives.
With online school, reduced social interactions, cancellations of clubs and sports, and for some, the loss of loved ones, youths have, not surprisingly, faced increased rates of depression, anxiety, and sadness.
As we look toward brighter days this summer, parents who prioritize mental, as well as physical, health for their children often see sleepaway camp as a much-needed summer reset.
“My kids are so eager to go to camp this summer; they need it,” said Jenney Gillikin, a Dallas mom of three.
Going to camp puts children in nature, supporting connections to others and something bigger than oneself.
“As a kid, camp taught me that I was capable of doing hard things.”Jenney Gillikin
Being there helps youths live in the moment and find “flow,” a mental state of enjoyment and energized focus that brings a sense of calm. Time spent outdoors promotes healthy sleep patterns through exposure to natural sunlight and exercise.
“As a kid, camp taught me that I was capable of doing hard things,” said Gillikin, adding her children get that experience, too, at the same place she did, Cheley Colorado Camps.
Children will benefit from returning to real-world socializing and nurturing deep connections and friendships, said therapist Bob Ditter. He specializes in children and adolescents and works with camps to train staff and provide guidance on child development.
“If the pandemic has reminded us of anything, it is that virtual connections, including social media, leave something vital out of things for us as human beings,” he said. “This applies equally to our children, who need the social stimulation of other kids; the attention of interesting, appropriate, and caring adults; and the sense of belonging that comes from being immersed in a supportive community.”
According to research by the American Camp Association, a traditional sleepaway camp — where a child or teen spends one to four weeks away from home — helps youths experience growth and development beyond what specialized day camps or classes can provide. Sleepaway camps offer a chance to develop deep and meaningful friendships through small groups, the freedom of being unplugged, ample fresh air, and the growth that occurs with independence.
“As I’ve thought about all the kids I’ve seen at camps across the country in the last 40-plus years and all the children and teens I’ve seen in my psychotherapy practice, I realize that we have it exactly backward,” Ditter said. “Most people think of school as essential and camp as elective. What I have come to realize is that camp gives kids that deep drink of connection, of creativity, and of inspiration that grounds them and fortifies them for the demands of the rest of the school year. Socialization and deep relationships are not a frivolous add-on for kids – they are not ‘elective.’”
Children need time in nature with their peers to heal from the damage done by the COVID-19 pandemic. As my grandfather used to say, “Great things happen when youth and mountains meet.”
Brooke Cheley-Klebe is the camp director at Cheley Colorado Camps, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this summer.
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