I knew it, even though I couldn’t prove it on my own. So, on behalf of parents everywhere, I’d like to thank the National Institutes of Health for its banner finding. It’s important news – children who have quality child care experiences do better academically in later years.

While this was a study of child care specifically, and not camp, it is an easy leap to see how a camp experience also enhances a child’s success – children have boundless opportunities to practice navigating on their own and to feel accountable for their decisions, under the supervision of trained, caring adults in an environment created exclusively for them.

Not only is the information from this research significant, but it removes a nagging burden of guilt from many moms and dads who sometimes are inclined to feel that they “have to” send their children to day care because they are working; the flip side of that notion is that they think it would be better if they could stay home with them. I sometimes become aware of a similar thought pattern when families are rejecting camp as the premier option for alternate summer learning and relaxation for their children when someone else brings up the topic of camp.

It goes something like this:

“Why would I send my child to camp when I can be home with him, and we can spend quality time together?”

My broad response is, “Because you alone, regardless of how many well-intentioned and dedicated hours per week you carve out, cannot create a working, belonging, contributing community in which you child gets to practice navigating on his own. (Did you see the article in the New York Times a few weeks ago titled “Antisocial Networking?” More on that topic very soon, but for now, I don’t want to digress!)

My supporting retort is passionately lengthy, so I’ll just list a few bullet points:

  • Children need to master skills that will help then become happy and successful adults; if parents are always there to “part the waters,” they will not have opportunities to learn from mistakes, take healthy risks, or realize that they are accountable for their own decisions.
  • Children need opportunities to interact with peers and improve their socialization skills, as well as to be part of a community with shared values and goals where they learn they are part of something bigger than themselves.
  • Children need to find out that other adults can provide good advice (after parents have vetted those people, of course!) and other perspectives for developing a strong personal value system.
  • Children and parents alike need to practice separating from each other so that children can build self-confidence and independence skills, and so that parents can have some needed “me time” to stay emotionally healthy and fulfilled.

If these aren’t compelling enough, there is more from the research. One of the headline discoveries, in fact, was that teenagers who did not have quality child care were more likely to act out and do poorly in school than their classmates.

All this news was validating of course, but here’s the kicker: new reports on children and nature reveal all kinds of benefits to them from first-hand experiences with nature - and even specifies camp as a natural provider of those opportunities.

Bottom line – parents can take a deep, relaxing breath when they place their child in the care of professionals who know how to coach, inspire, and motivate the best from their campers, underscored by the knowledge that every family member will thrive from that choice!

With every added piece of research that underscores its value, it is clearer than ever that camp boosts a child’s social and emotional health by providing the fourth “R” in their educational quiver: Relationships.