Summer Camps and Outdoor Programs

summer campsThere are many different types of summer camps and outdoor programs ― private and not-for-profit camps, religious camps, day camps, weekend camps, residential programs that run for the entire summer, wilderness camping, and adventure therapy..

An important outcome is emotional growth whether or not it is intentionally built into the program structure. Summer camps and outdoor programs have helped teens improve in

  • self-concept
  • social skills
  • behavior
  • cooperation and teamwork
  • academic achievement
  • relationships with family and peers

Summer Camps

The goals of summer camps and other recreation programs are fun, enjoyment, and recreation.  Through these goals, camp participants can learn social skills, become more socially comfortable, more open to trying new things, learn empathy and cooperation, and different ways of responding to new and challenging situations.

It is at camp where the underachieving teen suddenly takes a leadership role on an overnight hike; the shy child assumes the lead role in a dramatic production; a clumsy child learns she excels in art.  All of these experiences build character and develop leadership skills.

Although parents will often see dramatic changes in their teen’s attitude, behavior, and motivation, summer camps are a good choice for teens who are not having major behavior problems.  Fun activities, connecting with new peers and enjoying some structured independence are all benefits of summer camping for teens.

Special needs camps can positively affect teens with issues such as ADHDAsperger Syndromeobesitylearning differences, or behavior problems.  By nature of their focus, there is usually more emphasis on staff training and support.  Administrative staff will have a background in the field and counselors will either be professionals or college students aspiring to work in the helping professions.

A summer camp is a good choice for teens

  • with no behavior problems or emotional issues
  • during the critical middle-school years when enriching and empowering experiences are crucial
  • when the teen needs respite from difficult family situations, such as divorce and separation or when a sibling is having behavior problems
  • who have special needs and would benefit from a camp experience

Wilderness Programs

Wilderness programs are not designed as therapy, but are intended to have a positive impact on emotional growth, character development, and general psychological well-being. The challenges faced in the outdoors bring about a greater understanding of self, others, and the natural world. 

Many wilderness programs incorporate an element of perceived risk which encourages teens to move beyond their comfort zones and face their issues and fears. Moving out of the usual environment helps to reduce defensiveness and change relationships with adult leaders. 

Wilderness programs are also relatively free from external forces ― peers, school, family, TV, other societal influences ― and so provide the opportunity to explore new responses and develop new patterns of thought and behavior.

These programs provide teens an opportunity to go beyond their self-imposed limitations. Groups engage in a series of activities that promote individual abilities, teamwork, good communication, and leadership skills. Individual and group success is achieved through peer support and encouragement, not physical strength. There is no place for blame, denial, excuses, and other defense mechanisms.

Most wilderness programs use a small-group format and encourage interdependence and cooperation among group members.  In expedition programs, where teens and counselors venture out into natural settings for extended periods of time, the 24-hour-a-day group experience becomes very powerful.

In general, wilderness programs build self-esteem, leadership, academics, personality, and interpersonal relations, with self-esteem change being most significant.

Adventure Therapy Programs

Adventure therapy programs use the outdoors as a part of therapy, or use an adventure activity ― such as wilderness expeditions ― to guide towards therapeutic goals.  Real or perceived risk, uncertainty of outcome, and personal decision-making help bring about behavioral change and personal growth.

For treating teens with emotional, behavioral, and substance abuse disorders, adventure therapy, with its hands-on approach, can be an effective treatment choice. Adventure therapy focuses on creating personal change through learning by doing.  It presents opportunities for trust and personal growth to help teens experience feelings of self-worth, to assume responsibility for their own actions, and to internalize new coping skills.

How to Choose a Summer Camp or Outdoor Program >>>

Good Books

Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv  Today’s youth are increasingly disconnected from the natural world, says child advocacy expert Louv, even as research shows that “thoughtful exposure of youngsters to nature can be a powerful form of therapy for attention-deficit disorder and other maladies.”  Instead of passing summer months hiking, swimming and telling stories around the campfire, young people these days are more likely to attend computer camps or weight-loss camps: as a result, they’ve come to think of nature as more of an abstraction than a reality. Louv argues for a return to an awareness of and appreciation for the natural world. Not only can nature teach science and nurture creativity, nature needs its young people: where else will its future stewards come from? Visit Children & Nature Network >>>

The Wisdom of Wilderness: Experiencing the Healing Power of Nature by Gerald G. May Psychiatrist May (1940–2005), known for his works blending psychology and spirituality (Addiction and Grace), chose the theme and milieu of Nature for this, his last book. Chronicling outdoor forays he took from 1990 to 1995, May’s elegant prose uses a storyteller’s magic to plumb the profound mystery of outside events that provoke and foster inner change.  May is a kind of Christian Zen master, but this book doesn’t favor a particular religious tradition so much as the deep wild of nature’s way. In this work for everyone, he wants us to understand that wilderness is our natural state and that contemplative communion with the “Power of the Slowing” will bring us safely home to our wild eternal selves. 

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