group legs hanging off dock

The camp connection — how the right summer program positively impacts social and personal development among youth.

With the end of June on the horizon, millions of preschool, elementary, and secondary students across Canada will be heading into a much-anticipated break from the school-year routine. Lending itself well to a change of pace, the summer also marks a pivotal opportunity for youth to advance their specific interests and cultivate skills beyond the learning and interactions that take place in the classroom. Enter summer camps. Much more than just a time-filler during July and August, camp offers an impactful and shaping experience, providing youth with important social, environmental, and self-awareness development.

Finding the right fit

The Canadian Camping Association (CCA), a non-profit, national federation dedicated to the growth and promotion of organized camping for all populations, emphasizes the importance of the decision process in assuring a child’s positive experience at camp. First and foremost, it’s imperative to confirm a camp is accredited, meaning it meets provincial requirements for site, facility, administration, leadership, health, food service, and program.1 Another central aspect is involving your child in the decision, zeroing in on the activities that specifically interest them, as well as personal factors such as comfort level with day versus overnight and attending with friends or siblings.

Resource-wise, an ideal starting point is your Provincial Camping Association (there are nine across Canada) for comprehensive search tools and a wealth of parent and camper information. Third-party directories such as Our Kids Go To Camp are also helpful supplements to the process.2

child girl canoeing on lake

Changing children’s lives

Erin Farrow, outdoor education teacher at The Riverwood Conservancy in Mississauga, Ontario, sees first-hand the incredible impact camp programs have on youth. “Learning is driven by campers’ own organic interests, enabling kids to dive into any topic of choice … [The camp environment] brings out opportunities to practise creative problem solving and develop effective communication skills that school life may not be able to accommodate,” she shares.

These insights are substantiated in The Canadian Summer Camp Research Project, the first-ever nationwide study assessing the value of the summer camp experience, conducted by the University of Waterloo. Based on interviews with and observation of campers, camp directors, and parents or guardians, the two-phase report noted significant positive effects among campers in five key developmental areas: social integration and citizenship, attitudes towards physical activity, self-confidence and personal development, environmental awareness, and emotional intelligence. Of particular interest, children who stayed at camp longer and returning campers experienced greater progressive changes, and the positive development transferred back to campers’ home environments.3 For parents, guardians, grandparents, and the like, there’s an incredible sense of assurance and pride in witnessing these milestones of human growth in the next generation.

New standards for Ontario’s youngest campers

The Ontario government recently released new legislation, the Child Care and Early Years Act, which impacts day camps for kids under age 4. These programs are now required to be licensed, with early childhood education staff.4

Those wanting to ensure a camp meets these new requirements should inquire about the government licensing issued and look for the display decal at the facility.

  1. Canadian Camping Association website
  2. Our Kids website
  3. Troy D. Glover, Steve Mock, Roger Mannell. Canadian Summer Camp Research Project. University of Waterloo. Report 1 – November 2012; Report 2 – June 2013.
  4. The New Child Care and Early Years Act: What Providers and Parents Need to Know. Government of Ontario. June 2015.

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