If you have children going to camp for the first time (or if you were ever a first-time camper yourself), you know that homesickness is very real. Dr. Michael Thompson, a school psychologist, speaker, and former board member of the American Camp Association, writes about homesickness in his book called Homesick and Happy: How Time Away from Parents Can Help a Child Grow.
Though being away from home for several weeks at a time can be challenging, especially the first time around, Michael Thompson explains how critical it is in the development of young people. Homesickness is a very natural part of being away from home. Though the first few letters home may be tear-stained and sound dismal and parents may want to jump in the car and go pick up their child, experiencing homesickness teaches a camper how to persevere through adversity, as well as how to ask others for help and support if they need it.
“If a child goes away from his or her parents, encounters new people and new challenges, learns the moral rules of a new community, absorbs the traditions, makes some choices and faces some challenges and discovers something about him or herself, that’s camp… in that process you learn something new about yourself that you could never have learned if you had stayed at home with your mom and dad. And because they weren’t there, your achievement belongs to you, your new independent self.“
Real growth happens when kids are away from home and the preconceived notions of who they are, what they should like, and how they should act. At camp, kids are free to determine their own passions, make their own decisions, and take responsibility for their own actions. They must learn to solve their own problems and resolve their own conflicts, including overcoming homesickness. Doing so prepares young people for that inevitable time in the future when they move on to college or the workforce. Those young adults who have spent time away from home at camp have a much easier time making the transition into this more independent phase. The rites of passage that come with spending summers at camp translate into a bright adulthood.
The reduction in the amount of daily activity children are exposed to is commonly reported. Recess is under threat in schools, parents are less inclined to allow their children to roam outside and play, and the pervasive impact of technology on the active lives of our youth is generating real concern. Exercise is important and the benefits are widely understood.
Exercise is an important part of keeping children healthy. Encouraging healthy lifestyles in children and adolescents is important for when they grow older. Lifestyles that are learned in childhood are more likely to stay with the child into adulthood. Some changes in lifestyle can be harder to make the older the person becomes.
The following are just some of the benefits that regular exercise or physical activity provides:
Improves blood circulation throughout the body
Keeps weight under control
Improves blood cholesterol levels
Prevents and manages high blood pressure
Prevents bone loss
Boosts energy level
Improves the ability to fall asleep quickly and sleep well
Helps manage stress
Counters anxiety and depression
Increases enthusiasm and optimism
Increases muscle strength
One of these benefits has been outlined in a recent study accepted for publication in The Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism (JCEM) – exercise may play a key role in helping children cope with stressful situations. The findings suggest physical activity plays a role in mental health by buffering children from the effects of daily stressors.
What Role Does Camp Play in Providing Daily Exercise for Children?
Kids at day camp are getting more than the recommended amount of physical activity each day, according to a new study, “Children’s Moderate to Vigorous Physical Activity Attending Summer Day Camps,” published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine. Seven professors from various universities in South Carolina, North Carolina, and Arizona studied more than 1,000 campers at summer day camps in the Southeast where enrollment was equal to, or greater than, 50 campers.
The study asserts that, outside of regular school, summer day camps are the largest setting where kids can be physically active. According to the results, more than 70% of boys and girls at day camps (aged 5-12) are getting over the recommended amount of 60 minutes per day of vigorous physical activity. Project those findings into the residential summer camp environment and imagine what type of results would be seen. Clearly, the majority of young people who attend summer camp are experiencing vigorous amounts of physical activity each day. Those of us who attended camp, or have provided the opportunity to children or grandchildren have known this to be true for many years – this study provides the empirical evidence that allows those not familiar with the benefits of camp to begin to understand some of the physical benefits also.
The authors of this study conclude by calling on public health practitioners to focus efforts on making camps accessible for kids throughout the U.S., and the John Austin Cheley Foundation could not agree more.