Kids learn anywhere—inside the home and classroom or outside under a tree. But in the summer, when the crickets are chirping and daylight stretches a little longer, nature’s education is truly showcased. It’s the perfect time to take advantage of the earth’s learning tools—ones that don’t need plugged in, downloaded or powered on.
It’s not surprising that according to a research by the Kaiser Foundation, kids between 8 and 18 spend an average of 6.5 hours a day absorbed in some type of media. The survey concluded that most of that time was spent in solitary activities.
At summer camp, kids are encouraged to interact with something other than a keyboard, an mp3 player or gamecontroller. It’s a place where there’s two-way communication with real people. And at the end of the day, there’s no winner, no loser and no points being tallied.
Consider these five reasons why every tech savvy child needs to unplug.
1. Experience Life—Powered by Humans
Sadly, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that an American child is six times more likely to play a video game on any given day than to ride a bike. With an estimated 22 million of the world’s children under the age of five already considered obese, there’s a growing need to increase a child’s physical activity.
Summer camp offers actual—not virtual—activities, like fencing, swimming, horseback riding and gymnastics. The really promising news is that, according to research conducted by the American Camp Association (ACA), 63 percent of children who learn new activities at camp tend to continue engaging in these activities after they return home. This can lead to continued physical exercise that lasts a lifetime.
“Oftentimes camp is a child’s first exposure to recreational activities. Instruction and skill development usually come withthat and can awaken in campers a lifetime of enjoyment,” says Jill Thompson of Tips on Trips and Camps, a free advisory service. “It’s easier to step outside their comfort zone while at camp because that’s where everyone is trying new things. Being at camp removes the pressure of performance that is often put on students through school and their everyday life,” she says.
2. Person-to-person Skills
At camp, kids are away from the overwhelming bombardment of media. Time is spent outside running, jumping and playing with other kids. Summer camp exists to provide supportive relationships, meaningful opportunities and challenging activities in a physically and emotionally safe environment. “It’s a place designed for and with children, where they can explore and discover an important rite of passage,” says Peg Smith, the ACA’s Chief Executive Officer. “They are able to make new friends, escape labels that are put on them in school and develop self-esteem,” adds Thompson.
3. Nature’s Cure for Stress
Unfortunately, kids aren’t exempt from anxieties of daily life. According to recent study conducted by the University of Essex in England, nature can help people recover from preexisting stresses or problems. The research indicates that nature also has an immunizing effect that offers protection from future stresses, and helps people to concentrate and think more clearly. Additionally, according to a study by two Cornell University environmental psychologists, being close to nature can help boost a child’s attention span.
4. Real Life. Real Close.
Camp provides a bit of real life you won’t experience from the end of a game controller or by texting a friend across town. “You will get homesick, other campers will be mean to you, the food won’t be great,” says clinical psychologist Wendy Mogel, Ph.D. “You’ll be cold and hot and hungry.” Mogel, author of The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, hopes that some of these things will happen during a camping experience. “Otherwise a child is deprived of living life. Of its thorns and its roses.”
5. Hi-Tech Benefits for Camper Parents
Just like bringing the teacher an apple, receiving a letter from camp is a timehonoredtradition. The practice has gone on for generations, and it’s still encouraged today. However, since this is 2009, camps like to take advantage of hi-tech capabilities. While campers benefit from unplugging, technology is still a good way for parents to stay in the loop. Many camp websites post newsletters, videos and pictures of campers for parents to view.
At many sleep-away camps, parents can fax or send their camper an e-mail. Some camps allow campers to e-mail home once a week. Most still encourage campers to use snail mail as the best way to send a message home.
“It seems that children are shielded from real-life experiences with screens,” observesSmith. “But it is amazing what can happen when children step out from behind the TV, video game or computer screen into a rich camp environment full of experiences and surprises—new friends, new songs, new achievements, combined with new growth and independence.”
Before You Send Them Off
Some camp directors are banning electronic items altogether. The concern is that tech toys involve solitary and sedentary activities that clash with what camp is all about—developing social skills, building community, sharing traditions, appreciating nature and being physically active. Many camps do not allow cell phones/picture phones, mp3 players, computers, video games, boom boxes, electronic fans, hot pots or other electronic devices. Check with your summer camp to find out "What Not to Pack.”
Claire Yezbak Fadden is an award-winning freelance writer and mother of three sons, one who grew up to be a camp counselor.