Camping to Succeed

Peg L. Smith

Preparing children for academic and work success doesn’t end in the summer — in fact, it’s only the beginning! Summer camp experiences provide campers with the environment they need to gain characteristics like confidence, wellbeing, and conflict resolution skills — which, according to a recent Psychology Today article, are critical to academic and work achievement. How does camp do it? With its unique combination of time outdoors and free play.

Time spent in nature — away from a screen — benefits kids mentally, physically, and emotionally. A study from the University of Essex has shown that time spent in nature improves cognitive functioning, reduces stress, and allows for opportunities of self-discovery. And at camp, nature is a critical component of the experience. Nearly 75 percent of ACA-accredited camps indicate that they intentionally target programs or initiatives to connect children with nature.

And while we might view free, unstructured play as frivolous, researchers know it’s anything but! Important socialization and maturation processes take place during unstructured play, when kids are able to cooperate, make mistakes, reflect, and explore. Not to mention — getting off the couch and moving around during play helps children reach their recommended sixty minutes of activity time per day. (At camp, most kids will exceed this level of activity time!)

But parents in today’s technologically “plugged in” world face a stark reality. Kids and teens ages eight through eighteen spend about six hours in front of a television or computer screen, according to Nemours’, which also reports that children who consistently spend more than four hours per day watching TV are more likely to be overweight. And this is happening at a time when kids spend half as much time outdoors than they did twenty years ago, according to the National Wildlife Federation. Skills that experts say will be critical in the 21st century go undeveloped when kids do not have the opportunity to connect, work, and grow with peers; explore their natural curiosities; and learn about themselves and others.

The unique environment of camp — where nature and free play go hand in hand — is the perfect place for kids to make new friends, learn, and get active while feeling safe and nurtured. This summer, your child can gain the character skills that bring success . . . all while having fun!

With four decades of experience as a change agent in youth development and transformation, Peg L. Smith is the former chief executive officer of the American Camp Association® (ACA). ACA is the champion of better tomorrows — providing resources, research, and support for developmentally appropriate camp experiences. Learn more at or

Photo courtesy of Manzano Mountain Retreat, Manzano, New Mexico