“What are the benefits of summer camp for my child?” This is a question with which I was recently confronted. After 25 summers serving at Frontier Camp, I’d like to submit the top five benefits that I have seen come from camp in the life of a child or teen.
Spiritual Growth—It has been said that a week at summer camp is a like a whole year of Sunday School. Our Junior Camp program includes four purposeful spiritual inputs each day: a morning that includes prayer for the day and the country as well as a skit delivered by the Mystery Prophets emphasizing a truth from the Bible; an after-lunch segment includes sword drills to get to know your Bible, worship songs and a Bible drama which makes an Old Testament character such as Joseph come to life; an evening time where a Senior Staff member shares a message from God’s Word around a campfire; and finally a devotional and prayer time led by the cabin counselors right before bed. Our teen program is much the same simply switching out the skit and drama times for personal quiet times and seminars geared for teens.
In addition to the four purposeful times, we model life at camp after Deuteronomy 6:6-9 which says,
- “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of houses and on your gates.”
To paraphrase this for camp, we ask our staff to “Spend time personally with the Lord daily, talk about your relationship with Him as you walk down the hill or ride on a horse, talk about Him with your campers when you lie down and let them see you reading His Word when you get up. Encourage them to memorize His Word and get familiar with His promises.”
Watching staffers live for Christ, seeing other campers singing to the Lord, watching the Bible come alive before your eyes…all these things spur campers on to growing spiritually. Some will respond to Christ’s offer of forgiveness for the first time and others will deepen their relationship with Jesus maybe even starting a habit of their own daily quiet time. Spiritual growth is the number one benefit of camp.
Independence—Have you ever seen a 7 year old go shopping without his or her parents? Campers have spending money and generally it needs to last them the entire week. Some campers spend the majority of their money early in the week at the general store leaving them little or no money for a snack later in the week. Watching your friend eat a Snickers bar and down a gatorade while you’re out of money, talk about a life lesson!
Have you ever seen a 13 year old confronted with six different options for how to spend their afternoon? Perhaps the friend he/she came to camp with is sunburned and should just lay low in the game room but your camper really wants to try out wakeboarding. Decision time.
Parents have a goal to launch their child into adulthood and independent living. None of us want to thrust that on our children too early; it is a process. Kids and teens alike have the opportunity to make decisions and experience the benefits and sometimes even the consequences of those choices while at camp. A strong benefit of camp is gained independence.
Interdependence—Living in the temporary community of a cabin with a dozen other kids your age as well as a camp with another 150 campers of varying ages is powerful. Relying on that staffer to hold a rope as you climb up 35 feet so you can be encouraged to slide off into the abyss of the zip line by that other staffer waiting for you at the top can be frightening. Hoping your fellow camper can make it to the top of the shaving cream slide after you were oh so close only to be taken out by that counselor is downright agonizing. Watching that loud camper from your cabin deliver the punch line in your rainy day skit is hilarious.
Just like camp is a great place for campers to gain independence, it is also a wonderful laboratory to experience interdependence. Forming a temporary community is a true benefit from a camp experience. There is nothing like campers and staff from different hometowns, backgrounds and varied experiences coming together and instantly being put into a cabin group together. When Jesus set out to create the church, He started with a group of 12. He taught them, watched them fail, encouraged them as they succeeded and invited them to participate in a truly great commission of making disciples. God created us for community. Camp delivers just that.
Time Away from the everyday—Come on! Seriously, what pressures are 9 year olds facing? They aren’t paying the mortgage, fixing the car or solving problems at work. True enough, but has there ever been a time in history where information is so freely available? That same child who isn’t helping with the utility bill is hearing about North Korea, mass shootings and hurricanes. Our kids these days are too plugged in. They are growing up too fast.
Kids today need camp more than ever. They need a week or more to get unplugged from their devices. They need to have fun. They need to laugh. They need to be challenged with a message not delivered in a 2 minute video. They need to run, jump and scream. They need to sing. Kids and teens alike need a break from the everyday. Once again, camp is just the place for them.
Experience in the Outdoors—Getting into a lake for the first time, strapping on a pair of water-skis in the bright sunshine, identifying poison ivy, climbing up that ropes element, pulling back that bow string with an arrow, swinging that hammer, combing the mane of that beautiful paint horse, walking up the hill next to your counselor, smelling that hot dog you’re roasting over the crackling fire, seeing the Milky Way that just doesn’t appear in the big city…man, does this ever beat screen time! One huge plus of camp is spending time in God’s creation.
So you’ve heard about the spiritual growth, independence, interdependence, time away and outdoor experiences that camp can give. I haven’t even mentioned the friendships, problem solving, learning new skills or dose of patriotism that a camp experience offers. And, sure, I freely admit there is a big cost and even some risk in order to receive these benefits. Try looking at camp as an investment… one that pays big dividends in your child’s growth. If your own kids are too old for camp or if they are already signed up, then you know what to do—tell that family in your church about Frontier Camp and the benefits of a camp experience. They’ll be glad you did.
What about you? How have you benefited from your own experiences as a camper? Or, as a camper parent, what have you seen are the main benefits of your child’s time at camp?