By Bette Bussel
Special to the Observer
Children are spending far fewer hours in the out-of-doors than their parents and grandparents once did. Time outdoors during the school year happens in parks and playgrounds, in organized sports or as part of the curriculum. But, many children are kept too busy to “go out to play.” For others, it’s simply not safe or possible to play outside alone or with a group of other children.
Day and overnight summer camp experiences provide the ultimate in being “out to play.” At summer camp, children are outside. They stay outside, coming inside for certain activities and to eat and sleep (but not always!). Moments spent outside at camp often outnumber the minutes spent inside.
Camps connect campers to the natural world. At camp, the out-of-doors is the classroom, one without walls. Being surrounded by nature is an important sensory experience that sets the stage for learning, Camps specialize in helping children learn how to learn, work and play outside and how they fit into the ecosystem.
The research is in – connecting with nature is essential. Time spent in nature is proven to benefit mood, focus and outlook. In a day and age when pediatricians are writing prescriptions for their patients to visit parks and playgrounds regularly, imagine how beneficial the dosage of an entire session of camp can be.
Camps ignite interest in science in fun ways. All kinds of science takes place. Campers can explore and learn environmental, biological and earth science, among others, and begin to see themselves as future scientists. Whether they are harvesting garden vegetables, understanding sunrises, sunsets and the magical night sky, or discovering animals, fish and birds in their natural habitats, campers experience science in a real way.
Playing outside is an important part of camp, whether that’s elbow tag after dinner, singing before a meal on the porch of the dining hall, or a spontaneous game of hide and seek. Formal learning happens outside too: zip-lining off a ropes course, learning to waterski or ride a horse, swimming lessons, lacrosse and other field games, tie-dying or cooking over a fire and much, much more.
By offering children a perfect setting in which to be out to play, stellar things to do in the out-of -doors and experienced adults who teach, role model, and marvel at the wonders of nature, day and overnight camps provide the unique and intentional combination of opportunities that connect with nature and with people. This makes the camp environment one that every child should experience in some way.
Bette Bussel is the Executive Director of the American Camp Association, New England chapter. For more camp information and resources visit, acanewengland.org or call (781) 541-6080.