Camp canoe

Children are naturally curious and summer camp can be a great place for them to learn independence.

According to Brianna Bonacci, clinical therapist and assistant camp coordinator at Cornerstone of Hope’s camp program in Independence, and Anjali Patel, summer camp director at The Lillian and Betty Ratner Montessori School in Pepper Pike, summer camp promotes explorative learning.

“Children are curious by nature, so when children get a break like in spring or summer where they don’t have anything to actively pursue, having some kind of food for your brain (is important),” Patel noted. “Summer camp has a lot of collaborative activities. For independence purposes, that gives children the opportunity to build self-confidence in themselves. This is them taking something they are interested in and then pursuing it themselves. The more their confidence grows, the more they will grow into themselves. Confidence is a huge part.”

Bonacci added, “Camp is a good step in developing independence at a young age because it gives children the freedom to explore themselves.”

At Cornerstone of Hope, which is an organization that provides grief services to children, teens and adults, camp teaches individuals how to grieve in a way that is helpful and unique to them. Teaching grief strategies ultimately enforces independence, Bonacci said.

“This is important because, at our camps, children and teens will learn coping skills that will help them throughout their life,” she explained. “We have many children and teens that come to our camps year after year, showing us that they enjoy the activities and what they are learning.”

One of Cornerstone of Hope’s activities is art therapy interventions, which allows campers to express grief and emotions creatively.

“This is a very personal and unique activity because no two kids will create the same artwork,” Bonacci stated. “This promotes independence because they get to make something entirely their own.”

For Ratner School campers, collaborative activities lay the groundwork for developing independence.

“The main thing is the trial-and-error concept and that’s something any child should know,” Patel said. “Gaining independence is huge in terms of not going to the teacher when something doesn’t work. That is a piece that many people don’t see. It’s keeping tasks and questions open-ended, which pushes campers to figure things out themselves.”

Along with scheduled activities, camp also allows children to learn independence in social situations.

“Camp gives children an opportunity to be more social in a structured setting,” Patel explained. “This allows for extended, engaging conversations and interactions without much interruption or structure. This is a different opportunity than a school day.”

Once at home, families can continue to cultivate independence in various ways. Bonacci added it depends on the situation, especially if the camper went to a camp like Cornerstone of Hope.

“It can be difficult to grieve as a family since everyone experiences grief in a different way,” she noted. “We encourage kids to talk to their families about what they have learned at camp and to understand that what they are feeling is normal and OK. It is important for a family to have open communication and ask questions on how they can help each other.”

More generally, families can give children more responsibility after camp.

“I never thought to involve my son in making dinner,” Patel mentioned. “It’s about seeing if there are things they’d like to help with. It starts with asking and giving them an opportunity to experience different things. Camps do that. Sometimes as a parent, we tend to want to micromanage their time because we think we know best. So, including children in some decisions helps further build that independence.”

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