If you are considering summer camp for your child, you may be wondering if it is the right fit for your child's personality. Perhaps your child has never spent much time away from you besides going to school, or maybe your child has special interests, and you are worried they will feel out of place at camp.

Although each child is a unique individual, we believe summer camp is beneficial for all kids. No matter what your child's interests are, camp helps children develop important social, emotional and cognitive skills. Best of all, children create memories that last a lifetime at camp. 

To help you decide if summer camp is right for your child, we'll explain the benefits you can expect your child to gain as a result of summer camp, and why summer day camp matters. Before we begin, let's look at what a typical day at camp is like.

What Is It Like to Go to Summer Camp?

As adults, many people look back fondly on the days of summer camp. They remember the thrill of building a fire with friends for the first time, or the carefree afternoons spent swimming under the summer sun. Camp became not just a way to pass summer break, but a vital part of who they are. At camp, children grow, explore and learn about themselves and the people and world around them, and they have fun throughout the entire process. 

How long do summer camps go for? The Gateway Region YMCA camp programs run weekly from May 29 to Aug. 10 across 22 locations in Missouri and Illinois. A few branches begin camp sessions on May 21. Some camps offer full-day programs or half-day programs, and camps are available for ages 3 to 17, depending on location.

What is a typical day like in camp? We will use the traditional Camp Seneca With a Splash program through the Chesterfield Family YMCA as an example:

  • 8:50-9:10 a.m.: Drop-off
  • 9:10-9:30 a.m.: Opening ceremony
  • 9:45-11:30 a.m.: Swimming lessons and other camp activities
  • 11:45 a.m.-12:30 p.m.: Lunch
  • 12:30-1:15 p.m.: Individual group activity
  • 1:15-3:30 p.m.: Swimming on Mondays and Fridays
  • 1:15-2:30 p.m.: Choice activity on Tuesdays and Thursdays
  • 2:45-3:30 p.m.: Individual group activity on Tuesdays and Thursdays
  • 3:45 pm.: Go to tents to meet carpool

Summer day camp at Camp Seneca runs for 10 full weeks for kids ages 5 to 14. For an overnight camping experience, check out Camp Lakewood in Washington County, Mo., where kids have the option to choose a week-long or two-week-long program

With more than 5,000 acres of forest, caves and streams to explore, and with numerous activities from canoeing to horseback riding, kids with all kinds of interests will fall in love with the great outdoors at Camp Lakewood.

Although each camp offers a special variety of activities, all camps offer the opportunity to make friends, learn new skills and grow as a person. Why is summer camp important, and what are the benefits of summer camp for your kids? Here is our list of 15 benefits of summer camp for youth.

1. Develops Lifelong Skills

During summer camp, children participate in a variety of group activities. For example, while participating in a sport like a volleyball or bowling, a child learns how to work on a team, communicate with other children and solve problems on their own. 

A child will develop leadership skills, for instance, by guiding a team of other children on a hike. Or, a child will develop stronger communication skills when dividing up chores in an overnight camp. Perhaps a child will build important decision-making skills as they face challenges and overcome obstacles while trying new and exciting activities like ziplining or archery at Camp Lakewood. All these skills are important in the real world and are nurtured in summer camp. 

Of course, children learn social skills in school as well. However, camp brings children together in an environment that encourages a greater sense of community and appreciation for individual differences, whereas school focuses mainly on academic achievement. 

2. Promotes Independence

At camp, a child experiences time away from a parent. This independent time is important in helping children develop a sense of identity. Kids learn to become more self-reliant as they explore their interests and discover their strengths and weaknesses. They learn to trust their inner voice instead of depending on a parent or teacher to tell them what to do. Independence is vital to becoming a self-sufficient adult.

Perhaps your child is afraid to sleep without Mom or Dad down the hall, or maybe they are too shy to go out alone. Camp will help them transition to independence as they explore the world in a new and exciting way. Independence also helps boost a child's self-esteem.

Raising an independent child means teaching responsibility, encouraging exploration and providing a safe environment for a child to make decisions independently. Summer camp nurtures all three of these elements.

3. Makes Time for Play

summer camp

During the school year, children are used to the routine of making it to school on time, doing homework and then going to bed. Some may engage in extracurricular activities. Although still structured, summer camp is more relaxed than the school routine and provides time and freedom for spontaneous play. 

Free play is important to a child's development because they learn to develop creative thinking skills and explore their imagination through play. Playtime creates a safe place for children to express their thoughts and emotions, creating stronger and happier kids. They also learn to interact with the world around them, resolve conflicts, build negotiating skills and relieve stress. There are countless benefits to unstructured play, and it's a fun way to make new friends.

4. Teaches Teamwork

No matter what your child's interests are, whether it be sports or arts and crafts, a camp program will engage them in activities that require teamwork. Knowing how to work in a team is a useful skill for life. 

Children will learn to work together, whether they are acting out a play during Drama Rama at Camp Seneca, conducting a scientific experiment during Weird Science Week or playing a round of golf at Golf Camp. Teamwork matters because it helps develop communication skills, emotional intelligence and leadership skills. 

An understanding of teamwork helps a child realize working with others is sometimes the most efficient way to get things done. They will value teamwork as a solution, rather than think they need to handle tasks on their own. As a result, children will grow up with an eagerness to be active members of their community.

5. Teaches Resiliency

Resiliency is an essential life skill because to be resilient means to get up and push forward after an inevitable setback. 

Camp provides the opportunity for children to face many challenges and to practice overcoming challenges. For example, they might not win their first soccer game, but they will learn practice will make them a better player. Or, they might not be able to reach the top of the climbing tower at Camp Lakewood right away, but they will learn not to give up and to keep trying. Once they make it to the top, they will feel stronger and more resilient than they did before.

Camp teaches the value of effort and helps kids believe in themselves as they overcome challenges with determination, patience and a drive to succeed. Learning new hobbies also teaches positive outlets to cope with life struggles, and kids will build a strong support system of camping buddies to help them leap over obstacles.

6. Provides Fun Screen-Free Activities

child using tablet

Kids and adults are spending too much time in front of a screen. In total, children spend more than seven and a half hours a day in front of a screen, whether that be on a mobile device, in front of a TV or at a computer playing a video game. Too much media time reduces time spent sleeping and reading, and may have a negative impact on performance in school. 

Camp helps children connect to the joy of life beyond the screen. In all our camp programs, children will have endless opportunities to engage their minds in ways they'll enjoy. For example, your little artist will enjoy exploring different arts and crafts with our Artrageous program, or maybe your child would be more interested in learning a physical skill like dance or strength training in our Fitness Camp. 

Regardless of what your child's interests are, they will learn and socially interact in a healthy real-world setting at summer camp. Time away from the screen is vital to a child's brain, body, spirit and future, and could benefit us all.

7. Encourages a Connection with Nature

Speaking of time away from technology, kids also need nature in their lives. 

Nature stimulates all the senses. When a child is outdoors, they get to see, touch, hear, smell and sometimes even taste nature. Sensory development makes life richer, fuller and all-around more pleasurable. On the contrary, too much time indoors can dull the senses and deprive children of the simple pleasures in life. 

Most importantly, outdoor time encourages movement, which is vital for physical, mental and emotional health. Outside, children are free to run, skip, jump, climb, laugh and breathe the fresh air. Plus, they get a healthy dose of Vitamin D from the sun. 

Lastly, nature helps children experience the magic and wonder of childhood, and it gets them thinking about life's greatest mysteries. 

8. Fosters Growth

One of the biggest benefits of summer camp is it takes children out of their comfort zone and pushes them to try new things, as well as explore their already established interests. They will grow as they develop their skills doing their favorite activities, and they will develop new skills as they try activities they have never tried before. 

In general, they will leave camp with a stronger sense of identity and a better idea of what they love, which may help them choose a career path in the future.

For example, if your child dreams of becoming a chef someday, they can learn to cook and explore new foods in our Kids in the Kitchen program at the O'Fallon, Ill., YMCA. From 9 a.m. until noon, your chef-to-be will get to nurture their cooking talents. Then, from noon to 4 p.m., they will participate in traditional camp activities, such as swimming, making their camp experience diverse. They will come home not only capable of cooking up a tasty dish, but also as a more well-rounded individual.

9. Builds Self-Esteem

At summer camp, children have the opportunity to achieve, whether that be to catch a fish or to paint their first painting in a less competitive environment than school. Achievement is the main ingredient in self-esteem. 

Self-esteem is important for children and adults because we make decisions in life based on how we see ourselves. We choose our careers, relationships and make other important decisions heavily influenced by our self-esteem. Children learn self-esteem through taking action and earning results, and by contributing to their community. They learn to value themselves as a result of hard work and achievement.

10. Supports Healthy Living

kids swimming

Camp programs encourage healthy eating and physical activity. At camp, kids have the opportunity to participate in all kinds of fun physical activities at any skill level. If your child loves to play sports such as basketball and baseball, they will have a blast in Sports Camp. If your child loves water, they might enjoy Aquatics Camp. All children will have the opportunity to participate in a physical activity, no matter what camp they choose.

Only one in three children is physically active every day, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Physical activity is crucial for heart health and maintaining a healthy weight, and it boosts confidence and helps manage stress. It is important to teach the necessity of physical activity when children are young so they can carry exercise habits into adulthood. 

Healthy eating is also an emphasis at camp. For example, at the summer camp with the Clinton County YMCA, kids have the option to explore healthy foods and try different foods around the world with the Let's Add Some Flavor activity. 

In general, kids rely on fun, activities, learning and socializing to relieve stress at camp, rather than engaging in less healthy activities.

11. Nurtures Friendships

Kids get to meet other children with similar interests in a relaxed setting at camp. They also get to meet new friends with different backgrounds. Children bond over their camp experience, the challenges they face together and the fun they have free of pressure and media distraction to build genuine friendships that last.

12. Teaches Kids to Respect Differences

In summer camp, children will learn to work with other children to accomplish common goals, whether that be to build a shelter or win a baseball game. While engaged in a variety of activities, children will gain exposure to different viewpoints and opinions. They will learn to accept not everyone has the same perspective or beliefs they do. They will also learn that to accomplish a goal with others, or to live and play in harmony, they must respect and work with differences. 

Also, summer camp creates an environment that encourages respect and consideration for others. Children get praise for including others and behaving respectfully. 

13. Keeps Kids Intellectually Engaged

kids playing with chalk

Over the summer, kids might become sluggish without the intellectual stimulation of school, but camp provides mental stimulation in fun ways children can enjoy. Kids get the chance to participate in activities that interest them, and some programs include time for reading. 

For example, during a typical day at the Clinton County YMCA summer camp program, children will have quiet reading time from 3:30 to 4 p.m. Summer reading is essential for children to continue the academic progress they made over the school year.

14. Promotes Growth in a Safe Environment 

Although kids will enjoy the freedom to play and choose activities that interest them, camp also provides a safe, comforting and structured environment. Campers follow a schedule and routine, which provides a sense of security. This structure also teaches responsibility and self-control.

For example, overnight campers wake up in the morning and learn to start the day with a nourishing breakfast. They get into a routine that encourages a decent night of sleep and healthy eating. Children may follow these habits far into adulthood.

When a child feels safe and secure, they feel free to explore their interests, to play and to laugh. Camp gives kids a chance to express themselves and learn who they are.

15. Gives Children a Sense of Purpose

Children will feel a greater connection to their community through camp activities like singing, dancing or playing sports. As a result, kids grow up to value community and may feel more inclined to make a positive impact on the world around them. A greater sense of community teaches a child they can make a difference that matters. Also, community involvement gives children a sense of belonging. Belonging combats loneliness and improves overall well-being for us all. 

What's the Next Step?

The benefits of summer day camp or overnight camp are endless and can last a lifetime. Not only will your child return from camp with greater independence and a stronger sense of identity, but they will also have developed new skills, made new friends and created memories they will cherish forever. 

Are you and your child excited to experience the joy of summer camp? You don't need to be a member of the YMCA to join a summer camp program, and sign-up is easy. To get started, search our summer camp locations to find a camp near you. Next, discuss the camp programs with your child and choose the one that excites them the most. You'll then be ready for us to answer all your questions and provide you the information you need.