Camp: A 19th-Century Solution to 21st-Century Obstacles

By Peg L. Smith

With all of the opportunities that 21st  century technology brings, there also some things we must overcome. Our world is technology-heavy … and it’smakingus and our children more sedentary. We are staying inside in front of screens instead of reaping the benefits of nature and learning to be stewards for the land. We are speaking with keystrokes and emoticons instead of eye contact and genuine smiles.
Camp is the 19th-century solution to our 21st-century obstacles.
When kids have a camp experience, they get away from the television, computer, and iPhone screen and step into nature, friendships, and play. These things have all been shown to be critical to a child’s academic and future career success, not to mention his or her happiness:
  •  According to the  University of Essex, time in nature has been shown to  reduce stress  and  boost cognitive functioning,  and more than four of fiveACA resident camps have environmental programming (2011 ACA Sites, Facilities, and Programs Report).
  • Psychologist  Christine Carter’s research  has shown that a person’s happiness is best predicted by the breadth and depth of their  social connections,  and 96 percent of campers say “Camp helped me make new friends,” while 94 percent said, “Camp helped me get to know other campers who were different from me” (2005 ACA Directions Report).
  • Free play not only gives kids a chance for  fun physical activity, it helps them develop the critical  21st  century skills  they will need for school and the workforce, like  creativity, collaboration, and critical thinking,  according to psychologist  Michael Thompson  (among many others).Camps support a balance of both structured and unstructured opportunities for play and activity among peers.
While 21st-century technology certainly has a place in special circumstances for campers — for example, the child who might do fine in camp other than needing music from his or her iPod to go to sleep or for quiet downtime — camp provides a balance to the technology-saturated world children are growing up in.
Camp experiences are an adventure for the mind, body, and soul — a real life video game with opportunities to take risks (talk to new kids, try the high ropes course, audition for the talent show) in a caring, supportive environment.
With four decades of experience as a change agent in youth development and transformation, Peg L. Smith is the 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
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