Earlier this year, the American Camp Association wrote an article about the psychological benefits of summer camps. This article highlights the advantages of encouraging your child to attend camp. Experts agree that many of the important skills a child needs to possess as well as experiences vital to their mental growth can be developed at camp. See the full article here.
In the article, author, educator, and psychologist Peter Scales, Ph.D., says,
"Camp is one of the few institutions where young people can experience and satisfy their need for physical activity, creative expression and true participation in a community environment. Most schools don't satisfy all these needs."
The community environment mentioned by Scales is one of the most important things a child can experience during a week at camp! According to the article, in order to build self esteem, a child needs to feel belonging, to learn, and to contribute. These are all promoted at camp in every activity we do. From meal time to swim time, we do our best to encourage a sense of unity among our campers.
Here at Heartland, we call cabins that travel together a ‘family group’. This promotes a sense of belonging and intimacy among the campers. We wait until the whole family group is sitting down before we start to eat a meal. They sing together, pray in groups, give each other nicknames and encourage each other during difficult challenges. All of these things work together to create an atmosphere of growth, spiritually and mentally.
Bruce Muchnick, a licensed psychologist who works with camps, says,
"Each summer at camp a unique setting is created, a community is constructed that allows participants to get in touch with a sense of life that is larger than one's self. The camp community seeks to satisfy children's basic need for connectedness, affiliation, belonging, acceptance, safety, and feelings of acceptance and appreciation."
Being able to fuel these interactions in a safe and Christ centered environment is what Heartland strives for.
Here, children are allowed to fail without the fear of rejection or consequence. We allow them to lead songs, to learn how to dive or ride a horse for the first time. Seeing other children their age conquer fears and feeling the encouragement of their counselors and peers is something that they may not experience anywhere else.
I recall a story from the beginning of the summer about one of our day campers. He was born with a condition that required him to have a tracht implanted into his throat. He was unable to swim, because if submerged in water, the tracht would fill his lungs with water. This produced a great fear in him, but throughout the week, a patient counselor worked with this camper each day until he became comfortable enough to play in the shallow end of the pool and go down the slip ‘n slide. At the end of the week, this camper put ‘swimming’ as his favorite activity on the evaluation.
Miracles like this happen here every day! At camp, children are given the space to let God transform their lives in many ways, both big and small.