“Every child should have mud pies, grasshoppers, water-bugs, tadpoles, frogs and mud-turtles, elderberries, wild strawberries, acorns, chestnuts, trees to climb, brooks to wade in, water-lilies, woodchucks, bats, bees, butterflies, various animals to pet, hayfields, pine-cones, rocks to roll, sand, snakes, huckleberries and hornets; and any child who has been deprived of these has been deprived of the best part of his education.”
In the Edutopia article, “Summer: The Third Trimester,” author Milton Chen states: “Summer camp, I’d argue, plays a more important role in children’s learning than most educators acknowledge, a chance to get outdoors, learn new hobbies, and form new friendships.”
His article is about the documented and highly-publicized “Summer Slide,” or learning loss, that occurs during our long, agrarian-society-based summer break. Some of the documented facts about “summer slide” come from the National Summer Learning Association. These include:
- All young people experience learning losses when they do not engage in educational activities during the summer. Research spanning 100 years shows that students typically score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer vacation than they do on the same tests at the beginning of the summer (White, 1906; Heyns, 1978; Entwisle & Alexander 1992; Cooper, 1996; Downey et al, 2004).
- Most students lose about two months of grade level equivalency in mathematical computation skills over the summer months. Low-income students also lose more than two months in reading achievement, despite the fact that their middle-class peers make slight gains (Cooper, 1996).
- More than half of the achievement gap between lower- and higher-income youth can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities. As a result, low-income youth are less likely to graduate from high school or enter college. (Alexander et al, 2007).
- Children lose more than academic knowledge over the summer. Most children—particularly children at high risk of obesity—gain weight more rapidly when they are out of school during summer break (Von Hippel et al, 2007).
- Parents consistently cite summer as the most difficult time to ensure that their children have productive things to do (Duffett et al, 2004).
So the question becomes: What defines an educational experience?
Chen is correct when he recognizes the educational benefits of a summer camp experience. The time outdoors, the development of creative, new, imaginative skill sets, and the creation of healthy, new, “in-real life” social interactions all contribute to the continued development of healthy bodies and enriched brains.
Deborah McNelis is the creator/owner of braininsights and is a brain development specialist. She writes, “Creativity and imagination are high level skills in the brain…It is through experience and repetition that the brain learns and makes connections between neurons. It is only through play that children get the chance to develop these higher level brain skills….Offering varied activities for play and exploring with real objects, people, and nature gives the brain the ability to pretend and to gain knowledge about how things in the world work.”
This is what we do every day at camp. American Camp Association Executive Director, Pam Smith states, “Camp is a place where kids can “practice” growing up stretching their social, emotional, physical, and cognitive muscles outside the context of their immediate family. This is what childhood is supposed to provide.” Our campers, and kids who attend day camps, soccer camps, music camps, theater camps, baseball camps, and every other ACA accredited camp in the country, DO gain knowledge about how things and–perhaps more importantly—how people work.
David Carr’s piece, “Keep Your Thumbs Still While I Am Talking To You” acknowledges the plugged-in trend that has many adults, and perhaps a complete generation of children, in a kind of “imprisonment.”
We are developing co-dependent relationships with our digital devices—and completely neglecting the people who are sitting with us. In many cases, summer camp provides freedom from those devices. This, in turn, allows campers to focus on developing friendship, communication, and the other necessary group living skills required to function as a respectful community.
And the development of those social connections and skills are important if we want our children to be successful in both school and in life. Developing a “sense of belonging and a sense of capability” has been demonstrated to actually improve the GPAs of some students—and that sense came from writing a series of personal essays. Imagine the benefits of having a camp counselor or staff member who, as Audrey Monke says, “finds something unique and special about them…it can have a powerful and positive influence on them.”
Along with the social/emotional benefits, summer camp creates an optimal outdoor environment where kids can be healthier, safer, and have more opportunities for brain-building reflection time. Richard Louv says, “Children learn by doing. Unstructured time in a natural setting invites a child to explore, to play and to create.”
In research collected by the Children and Nature Network, time in the outdoors can actually mitigate many of the “negative” effects of summer. Some of the findings show:
- Kids who engage in outdoor play are more physically active, are more aware of what they eat, and tend to have lower BMI ratios.
- Kids who play outdoors learn critical thinking skills necessary for school success
- Kids (and adults) who engage with the natural world are less stressed and more able to cope with stress.
ACA research demonstrates the educational value of the camp experience for both campers and their parents. Campers learn new things, make new friends, gain invaluable self-esteem, are physically active and mentally creative, and have opportunities to play outdoors and reflect. Campers in these research studies say:
- Camp helped me make new friends. (96%)
- Camp helped me to get to know kids who are different from me. (93%)
- The people at camp helped me feel good about myself. (92%)
- At camp, I did things I was afraid to do at first. (74%)
And the parents of these campers say:
- My child gained self-confidence at camp. (70%)
- My child continues to participate in some of the new activities he or she learned at camp. (63%)
- My child remains in contact with friends made at camp. (69%)
These findings celebrate the holistic educational experience that is camp. Camp IS an “equal opportunity life enhancer“—and there IS a camp out there for every child.
So don’t let summer slide. Think smart. Think summer.
Check out the new ACA summer reading initiative: Explore 30 and register your camp or youth development organization today!
Also, check out the ACA’s comprehensive Find A Camp tool and more excellent articles about the value of the camp experience at www.campparents.org
Join Fiona Bryan and Ariella Rogge on April 20th, 2011 at 1 p.m. MST (3 p.m EST) for a Twitter chat with parents, educators, and camp professionals about the impacts of summer learning loss and how camp can provide educational benefits to your children, campers and students.
Use the hashtag #CampChat to follow along and to participate.