7 Ways Sleepaway Camp Builds Independence and Resilience in Kids
Every parent wants to raise resilient children. The good news is that kid’s brains are naturally better-equipped for learning adaptive skills (and nearly everything else) than adult brains are. Unfortunately, a major American myth about independence and resilience is that strong individuals become indomitable on their own because of special innate qualities. Yet child development studies show that nurture, not nature, builds resilience in children. Children depend on peers and adults as well as learning experiences to help them become independent.
Sleepaway camps help kids to succeed in this, not by throwing them into difficult situations and expecting them to “tough it out,” but by offering controlled, manageable challenges along with counselor and peer support. Both of these are crucial for children in learning to cope with other life challenges in healthy ways. So if you’re interested in raising resilient children, enrolling them in sleepaway camp is an excellent way to accomplish this.
Here are 7 camping experiences that can help significantly in raising children to be independent:
- Fostering new relationships. It’s important for kids to form healthy new relationships, not just with peers and friends, but with adults who are not their parents. Interacting with peers helps children learn social skills in a relaxed environment. Adult leaders can offer leadership and expose them to perspectives and coping strategies other than their parents’. Even meeting other children and adults that a child doesn’t like helps them to learn to advocate for themselves while getting along with others.
- Building a strong identity. Camp experiences help children learn what their strengths, weaknesses, likes, and dislikes are, all of which help them to form a sense of identity. Finding their strengths—as well as making hard-won progress in areas of difficulty—additionally helps children build self-esteem. Further, camp helps children identify worthwhile hobbies and interests that they can continue to pursue as they get older.
- Gaining a sense of control. Camps teach kids new skills as well as ways to deal with challenges, and both help to make children feel competent and capable (as well as excited to show off their new abilities). The ability to draw on camp learning experiences builds problem-solving skills and agency, helping children understand that they have the power to act productively in any situation. This gives them a sense of control over their lives.
- Receiving and encouraging fair treatment. A high-quality camp should provide equitable encouragement to children who may be vulnerable or marginalized. This not only helps kids benefit from a sense of fairness in the present, but teaches them lessons about promoting fairness in the future. The more each child feels that they are valued and have valuable things to contribute, the more they will perceive camp as fair, which helps them open up to positive, character-building experiences.
- Building physical health. This is doubtless the purpose of camp as older generations envisioned it, and although it’s only one of many sleepaway camp benefits, it’s still a valuable one. Camp activities help children get exercise and fresh air, and it can strengthen them physically. High-quality camps also teach children about what’s healthy for both them and the environment, equipping them to lead responsible lifestyles.
- Fostering a sense of belonging. Camps help children to feel they belong in ways that school may not. Kids who don’t have many friends at school may find them at camp; kids who struggle with academics or sports may excel at outdoor recreational activities or emergency preparedness. Feeling that they belong builds children’s self-esteem and reduces the kinds of social isolation that can lead to problem behavior and substance abuse later on in life.
- Learning about culture. Camping with other children and adults from a variety of cultures and backgrounds helps kids to learn about American culture as a whole and their own subculture within it, building a healthy sense of identity. However, it also teaches them the value of diversity and encourages them to be inquisitive, open- and fair-minded, and accepting of differences in others. Ultimately, this fosters cultural competence and the ability to adapt to evolving sociocultural norms.
Help Your Kids Become Resilient and Independent with Surprise Lake Camp
Surprise Lake Camp is a nonprofit organization that provides a home away from home for generations of young people. We believe in the value of community and friendship. Our Jewish values and identity shape our connection to nature. We’re dedicated to helping young people unplug, grow, and develop values, confidence, and skills to last a lifetime, adding to SLC’s storied history as the nation’s longest-running Jewish sleepaway camp.
When you make a charitable gift to Surprise Lake Camp, you give children life-changing experiences. Partner with us to provide campers confidence, growth, friendships, and Jewish identity. Donate today!