Updated: Jan 25
Why is traditional day camp important? Of course, we know why summer camp, as a general category, is important. Ninety-six percent of campers say that “camp helped me make new friends,” and 92 percent say, “Camp helped me feel good about myself.” Seventy percent of camp parents say, “My child gained self-confidence at camp” (ACA, 2005). ACA has very clearly defined the role and benefits of the summer camp experience through a variety of meticulous research.
Though not everyone actually goes to camp (yet!), the idea of summer camp is fairly well described in American culture. However, because resident camps make up a majority of ACA (day camps were just 29 percent of the sample used in the research cited above), and resident camp is the touchstone when most Americans think of “summer camp,” the prevailing cultural and empirical image of camp is one of a traditional, rustic, resident camp deep in the woods. Imagine, then, this most archetypal image: a beautiful natural site where caring counselors help children create new connections and reach outside of their comfort zones to try new things.
Laughter bubbles as jokes are shared and new friendships are built. Campers unplug from technology to commune with nature, realizing their roles in stewardship of the land. Skills develop throughout camp, both in physical things like swimming, horseback riding, and art and social/emotional things like teamwork, creativity, and self-confidence. Then, at the end of each day, a fleet of buses rolls out of camp, returning campers to their families.
With so much similarity of structure and experience, traditional day camps share many of the benefits of the monolithic stereotype of “summer camp.” Yet, it is in that relatively small difference, the daily return to home, that the unique importance of day camp lies.