The Noticeable Impact of Camp on Kids

January 22, 2017
Deidre Pettinga, Ph.D.

Hi parents!  My name is Deidre Pettinga and I’m the Chief Marketing Officer for the American Camp Association (ACA).  In this role, I work with our communications, business development, and membership teams to support the mission of ACA to enrich the lives of children, youth, and adults through the camp experience.  But I am also a wife and mother to two boys, one in high school and one in college.

Whenever people ask me about my camp story, I tell them I went to camp.  I have many fond memories from the day camp I attended for eight years when I was a child. I also enjoyed the two summers I spent at a Girl Scout overnight camp.  As much as I loved all of that — my camp story is really more about being a camp parent.

When my older son was in fourth grade, we sent him to an ACA-accredited residential camp in Colorado (we live in Indiana).  It was the same camp my husband and his siblings attended as children. We ultimately sent both of our boys to this camp, each for five years.  And they both LOVED it!  They still talk about camp, still keep in touch with some of the friends they met there, and I can see where the values they learned about fair play, sense of community-building, and holding yourself to a code of living still impact the way in which they conduct themselves.

I can see it — because I am their mom.  But what’s most important about my camp story is how I learned that other people can see it. 

A few months after my son returned from camp and entered fifth grade, a mother I barely knew came up to me after school and asked me what was different about my son.  What had I done? Or what had he done over the summer? When I asked her what she meant, she explained that even though she only knew him by watching him on the playground after school for a half-hour or so each day — standing around with other moms doing the same thing before heading home — she could see tremendous maturity, leadership, and sense of fairness in the way he was interacting with the other kids.

Her comments blew me away. Was the change in my son so obvious that it could be noticed by someone who barely knew him?  She kept prodding me to know what he had done that could have made such an impact on him.  When I told her about his summer camp experience, she asked to learn more, and ultimately ended up sending her son to the same camp for a couple of years.

I know it can be scary to think about sending your child away to camp.  And, over the years, I’ve had plenty of moms say to me (in a disapproving tone!), “I could never send my children away like that.”  Having never been a fan of “Mom Shaming,” whenever anyone would make a comment like that to me, I would simply smile and reply, “It’s not about what I can do; it’s about what they can do.”

So I’m here to tell you I’ve seen first-hand that they can do it — and, apparently, other people have seen it too!

Deidre Pettinga, Ph.D., is the chief marketing officer for ACA.

Photo courtesy of Cheley Colorado Camps in Estes Park, Colorado.

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Comments

Putting aside my fears of "sending my child away like that" has been the best experience for all of us. Since sending two of my three to college, I see that the separation and adjustment has been much easier compared to their friends/parents who have never been apart.

My husband and I both attended Camp St. Andrew (now Camp Kelly) as children and have very fond memories. Our older son has gone for the past four years and is returning to be a counselor in training this summer. Our younger son went for the first time last summer, was extremely homesick, but w we were encouraged to use a bit of "tough love" to have him make it through so he'd be proud of himself in the end. He made it, indeed was proud of himself and received the "endurance award". He is returning this year of his own choosing and has encouraged more buddies to go. Can't say enough about the positives of camp!

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