An American Tradition — Camp

Millions of Children Nationwide Become Part of History

Indianapolis, IN (July 26, 2010) — This week, President and Mrs. Obama’s daughter becomes part of an American tradition — camp. For 150 years, millions of children have learned life lessons and made lasting memories in a positive, supportive camp environment. This year, over 10 million children and youth will attend camp nationwide. 

Today, camps are the natural extension of traditional education settings. Camp is comprised almost entirely of teachable moments — developing life skills such as independence, leadership, a sense of community, teamwork, self-esteem, and many more. The experiential, hands-on approach at camp allows all children to be successful.

And this has been camp’s purpose for 150 years. Early camp pioneers were largely educators who saw the need to keep children engaged and learning throughout the summer months, but understood the need for educational opportunities outside of the classroom.

The Gunnery Camp  is considered the first organized American camp. Frederick W. Gunn and his wife Abigail operated a home school for boys in Washington, Connecticut. In 1861, they took the whole school on a two-week trip. The class hiked to their destination and then set up camp. The students spent their time boating, fishing, and trapping. The trip was so successful, the Gunns continued the tradition for twelve years.

It wasn’t long before others began emulating Gunn’s formula. By the early 1900s there were agency camps and private camps for boys and girls, and camps for those with special needs or disabilities.

In a 1928 Red Book Magazine editorial, George Johnson, associate professor for the Graduate School of Education at Harvard University said, “The summer camp restores to children much of the naturalness of living that the modern community, in so many ways, tends to take away.”

Camp has become a rite of passage for millions of America’s children, embodying the nostalgic traditions of the past 150 years,  while remaining fluid and adapting to the ever-changing needs of today’s families. Only at camp can children participate in newer activities — like making a music video — and flow seamlessly into something as traditional as the campfire. Regardless of activity, the tradition of having fun, learning valuable life lessons, and making friends remains an essential part of the camp experience.

For more information about the American tradition of camp, or to use ACA’s Find a Camp database to find the perfect camp experience for your child, visit In addition, families can follow ACA on Facebook and Twitter for helpful hints and camp information.

About ACA
The American Camp Association® (ACA) works to preserve, promote, and enhance the camp experience for children and adults. ACA-Accredited® camp programs ensure that children are provided with a diversity of educational and developmentally challenging learning opportunities. There are over 2,400 ACA-accredited camps that meet up to 300 health and safety standards. For more information, visit