Why Day Camp Matters

5 reasons day camp is more than just summer fun.
Istock 180732669

Summer camp is a rite of passage for many kids. It provides the opportunity to unplug, connect with nature, and develop new skills and relationships. When you think of summer camp, the traditional overnight experience typically comes to mind. However, day camps offer much more than child care during the summer. Day camps provide many of the same benefits as overnight camps, but they also offer unique advantages.


Introduction to the Camp Experience

Day camps are a great alternative to overnight camp if parents or first-time campers aren’t old enough or comfortable with a weeklong separation. Day camp is also a more affordable option for many families and is a great way to introduce the concept of summer camp.

“Day camps offer the opportunity for campers to have social interaction, a fun environment and positive role models, while also allowing the parent to pick them up and go home at night,” says Andrew Campbell, the summer camp coordinator for Sally’s YMCA in Denver, North Carolina. “Overnight camp typically comes with bigger experiences, but day camp allows parent interaction each evening.”

It’s the best of both worlds. Children receive the same benefits as an overnight camp, yet can discuss the day’s events with Mom or Dad, and sleep in their own bed each night.

Opportunity to Learn New Skills

One of the biggest perks of summer camp is the opportunity to participate in new activities. Day camps offer the perfect chance to commit to a new activity for a short time. There’s no judgment if you don’t excel. There are no final exams or grades, and no pressure.

While archery, swimming and ziplining are typical of the traditional camp experience, some day camps offer even more specialized themes — everything from coding to photography to cooking. Exposure to new activities can boost academics, sharpen sports skills or help spark an interest in a new hobby or potential career path.

According to research from the American Camp Association, 74 percent of campers reported trying new activities at camp that they were initially hesitant to try. Quite often, the new activities have a lasting impact with 63 percent of parents reporting that their child continued the new activities after camp ended.

Self-Esteem Boost

By tackling new experiences, children feel pride and a sense of accomplishment, and may walk away from the experience more adventurous and willing to try new things.

“Summer camps give children the opportunity to explore their own interests and personality through specialized activities and games that allow them to gain independence and a confidence that comes with that,” Campbell says.

With more self-confidence, campers are more inclined to exhibit leadership qualities — a characteristic that can benefit the camper in many facets of life for years to come.

Increased Social Skills

Making friends is an important part of the camp experience. Camp counselors are trained to help all ages practice communication skills and build relationships. For some children, camp may be the first opportunity to interact with a diverse group of people. According to the ACA, camp counselors often “teach the things that cannot be taught in school … how to build friendships, how to lead and how to work as a team.”

Counselors also serve as mentors and model positive behavior. They offer assurance when situations are challenging or may feel overwhelming to a child. Counselors help apprehensive campers work through difficult moments while also celebrating accomplishments.

Children benefit from a sense of community at camp by working together to solve problems, looking out for each other, completing team-building tasks and collaborating on projects. No matter campers’ skills or talents, they are reminded to believe in themselves.

Summer Learning

ACA research shows that participation in structured summer experiences reduces summer learning loss. “Day camps are a wonderful resource to avoid summer brain drain for children,” Campbell says. “We offer a safe environment where they can explore and grow in creativity. We are also an alternative to children spending more time in front of a screen than they typically do in a school year.”

Summer camp keeps students engaged year-round and helps foster creativity. Academic camps provide an opportunity for additional enrichment, yet campers are free from academic pressure found in most school classrooms. With that freedom, they lose their fear of failure, are more relaxed, more open to learning and more creative. Summer day camps are often so engaging and fun that kids don’t even realize how much they’re learning.

According the ACA, the number of accredited day camps has increased by 69 percent since 2002, and that’s a trend that continues to climb. Like overnight camp, day camps help build social skills, increase self-confidence and foster independence. They are also an ideal precursor to the overnight camp experience. “I would highly recommend day camp as a first step into the camp experience,” says Andrew Campbell, the summer camp coordinator for Sally’s YMCA in Denver, North Carolina. “Day camp gives the … experience of camp with the comfort of the camper knowing they will still see their family at the end of the day.”

Myra Wright is the web editor of Carolina Parent and Piedmont Parent.