Group of campers on the stage circled together playing and learning in the apple orchard

Summer Camp is a Place for Learning

Camp is a Place for Learning

How do parents determine success when it comes to their kids? Terms like self-esteem, fair-play, character, thoughtfulness of others, motivation and personal best all come to mind. Some qualities can be attributed to a child’s individual nature. However much depends on nurture, which includes a combination of parenting, social environment, and both formal and informal learning.

How do schools determine success when it comes to their students? Overall, schools attempt to prepare students for higher education. Notwithstanding the best intentions of teachers and school administrators, whether or not a kid “makes the grade,” is governed by ministry expectations, international achievement scales, school standings, and entrance requirements. Above all else a student’s success is ultimately measured by their marks.

Yet, stress and mental fatigue seriously reduce a learner’s ability to maintain focus. Long sessions in classrooms, a lack of physical activity and disconnection from natural spaces all contribute to mental fatigue. There is little to counteract this because activities such as recess, gym classes and field trips have, in some instances, been eliminated all together. Many kids don’t even have the opportunity to walk to school any longer because of safety concerns.

This is not a denunciation of the school experience but rather an opportunity to highlight summer camp as an essential component to a comprehensive education. Summer camps, as well as year-round outdoor education centers, offer kids what is currently lacking in our education system.

Emotions, Learning & Summer Camp

Contrary to the teachings of Plato and Descartes, neuroscience has now determined that no duality exists between our reason and our passions. The way we assimilate knowledge is governed to a large extent by our feelings and emotions. When we experience anything we assign a value to it. And, our emotional state of the moment plays a major role in that evaluation. Was it fun, interesting or exciting? Or, was it boring, painful, or beyond our capacity? Do we want to do it again, or are we discouraged? Our emotional response affects what and how we learn in all given circumstances.

Research has identified the ideal learning environment as one that provides optimal challenges and emotional stimulation within a context of both independence and inter-dependence. This describes the learning environment that camp provides. At summer camp, children are motivated by fun, comradeship, interesting situations and dynamic activities. Additionally, the pace of learning is accelerated by personal insights, social interaction, and skills development that overlap one another within a short span of time. The highlevels of situational and personal interest that develop at camp often result in a positive approach to future learning that can extend throughout one’s life.

Summer Camp, Nature and Learning

Most of us now live in urban environments where we must contend with air pollution, noise, overcrowding, repetitive landscapes and frenetic patterns of daily life. Urban stressors and associated mental fatigue are known to be detrimental to cognitive and emotional function.

Research indicates that regular visits to natural green spaces have the capacity to reduce or eradicate both
stress and mental fatigue. Green spaces actually have the capacity to improve attention and allow for better intellectual focus. This has important implications for the psychological and physical well-being of our children. Again, this is another area that the camp experience addresses.

Summer Camp is Social Learning

Socialization is a fundamental process that begins at infancy and develops towards a personal concept of self within the broader context of society. Currently there is a lot of media attention given to issues of children’s safety; safety in public places, within our schools, and on the internet. However, kids need to interact with their peers and adult mentors in order to develop social skill sets that will allow them to be successful and productive members of society.

This is a key element of learning. Difficulties arise when parents become uncertain about whom their children should socialize with or the security of social gathering places. Accredited summer camps have a long established and proven reputation as safe havens for kids and young people to live and learn together in a supervised community environment.

Camp Life and School Life

The classroom setting unquestionably has its worth. However, it is nevertheless limited by walls and desks and predicable lesson patterns. This is not a fault only the current state of affairs. Many prominent educators acknowledge that lessons learned solely in classrooms are often not fully comprehended or seen as applicable to real-life situations or problem solving. There is a genuine need for students and their teachers to regularly convene beyond the classroom. Camp is one occasion where this type of learning interaction can take place each summer.