Summer is a good time for children to try something new and to explore their interests. Summer camp is a perfect way to do that.
According to Rachel Felber, camp director of the Mandel Jewish Community Center’s Camp Wise in Claridon Township; David Faulstich, director of Red Oak Camp in Kirtland; and Nicole Gerami, owner and founder of Friendship in Teams in Beachwood, the summer camp experience is unique.
“You’re immersed in a new environment, it’s not like going to school or anything you typically do,” Felber said. “It creates all these new opportunities to develop skills that aren’t always talked about, like social skills and learning how to live with others and resolve conflict without parents."
Another reason why camp can impact campers is the programming, Faulstich noted.
“When you’re at camp for the session, you have the totality of the experience, your group and culture,” he said. “Also, camp is not just one thing. There are a lot of targeted programs and a whole spectrum of activities that campers are exposed to. It’s about the total experience, which is why you see the results that you get.”
Gerami said camp experiences enrich the whole child. Specifically, her FIT camp caters to children with difficulties in social skills development.
“Camp is a time for kids to have fun and to do something new as opposed to their school days that they’ve had all year,” Gerami said. “It’s time to make friends and grow, but it is also very enriching. For example, FIT offers a very specific kind of enrichment, which is social skills development. We provide a structured but very high energy, fun day to learn how to interact with each other and build friendships.”
The professionals said the impact can be seen when children return to camp every summer, resulting in a repeated experience.
“It gives them a sense of a place of belonging,” Faulstich said. “You make new friends and then you still maintain those friendships. I’m very close to many people I went to camp with growing up. It’s all about a common, shared experience, which fosters that sense of community.”
Even for older campers who are looking for jobs and applying to university, a regular camp experience can have an impact on their applications.
“In the eyes of someone who is sitting there reading admissions for universities, to see someone start going to camp when they were 8 until 18, that shows dedication and commitment and the aptitude to be part of a community,” Felber explained. “That is what employers and universities are looking for. Are they going to come and be invested in the community? In terms of that commitment, it makes a difference.”
The various lessons at camp can directly impact a camper’s personal growth, Gerami said.
“One of our guiding philosophies is children learn best in the context of play and fun interactions. If they are taught these skills in interactions where they are needed, they are more likely to use them in daily life,” she stated. “Then, the children are used to doing it. It’s a learn and do concept. When they go back into their communities, it’s a skill they’ve already practiced.”
Even though camp has tangible benefits, some families decide to not send their child. The professionals said it is an option parent should seriously consider though.
“We always ask the question in a couple of different ways,” Felber said. “But it’s down to what you want your kid to come home having accomplished. We want them to be able to look back at the end of the summer and see who they have become because of the experience. Camp has a high value in doing that and creating space for kids to accomplish those goals.”
Faulstich said, “Camp serves the whole child, and it is an opportunity for young people to mature in a meaningful way. I think it is such an important step for parents to make. Allow children to walk on their own and do their own thing. The outcomes are really hard to quantify but they’re real and valuable.”