With both First Daughters, Malia and Sasha, at overnight camp for a month this summer, President and Mrs. Obama join the millions of American parents who annually choose a summer camp experience for their children — even if it means being a little “kidsick” while the kids are away from home. The nonprofit American Camp Association® (ACA) supports all parents who recognize the value of the camp experience with research, resources, and helpful information about preparing for camp at its family-focused Web site, www.CampParents.org .
As Malia enjoys her second summer at camp, and Sasha becomes a new camper, the President recently admitted to feeling a little “depressed” while his girls are away. Camp professionals and child psychologists have described parents’ feelings when children leave as “kidsickness” — akin to the normal feelings of “homesickness” that a majority of children feel when leaving home. Like all parents, the Obamas can find strategies for coping with these emotions at www.CampParents.org  — where they will also learn that overcoming separation anxiety is a healthy part of youth development and just one of the many benefits children gain with a summer camp experience.
Other benefits of camp include building life skills that can help children succeed in the workplace and as productive adults: while participating in camp life and activities, research by ACA shows that children learn and practice skills such as collaboration, communication, problem-solving, conflict-resolution, leadership, teamwork, independence, and resiliency. “Camp has been essential to the education of the whole child for 152 years,” says Peg Smith, CEO of the American Camp Association.
According to ACA’s Youth Development Outcomes study, conducted with over 5,000 families with children in more than eighty ACA-accredited camps, in conjunction with Philliber Research Associates and with generous support from Lilly Endowment Inc., children also learn how to make and reinforce human connections, which is particularly important in the Digital Age, when kids are more likely to make friends electronically. Ninety-six percent of campers said that camp helped them make new friends. Ninety-two percent of campers reported that camp helped them feel good about themselves. Correspondingly, parents reported that children gained self-confidence at camp (70 percent) and continued to stay in contact with camp friends (69 percent). Other findings from recent camp research include that youth showed increases in social acceptance, connectedness, responsibility, confidence, empowerment, citizenship, and nature stewardship, as well as engaged in physical activity at much higher levels while at camp than their non-camp peers.
“The Obamas’ decision to send Malia to camp again, and to send Sasha to camp for the first time, sends a very positive message to parents,” says Smith. “Camp is a safe and supportive environment where children can develop authentic relationships, unplug from technology, connect with nature, and participate in human-powered activities. Camp allows children to relax and enjoy just being kids. There is a camp experience for every child, whether they live in the White House or anywhere in America. More than 10 million children will attend camp this summer, and the ACA community of more than 9,000 members hopes that all parents will be inspired to learn more about camp and give their children the gift of camp.”
The wide range of available camp experiences offers something for every family and every budget. Using ACA’s Find a Camp search engine at www.CampParents.org , families can search camps by geography, gender, session length, tuition, traditional or special interest, special needs, and more. Parents can also find contact information for ACA member camps and suggested questions to ask camp directors; ACA recommends that parents always contact camp directors first to make sure the camp is a good fit for their child.
Smith says, “Camp professionals put a child’s best interests first and are quite willing to work with parents to ensure a positive camp experience. We encourage parents to communicate with their children and with camps to choose the right camp for each family’s needs, and then to create a partnership in which children can thrive. Like the First Daughters, when children know that their parents are supportive and enthusiastic about camp, children can have life-changing experiences at summer camp.”
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 more than 2,400 ACA-accredited camps that meet up to 300 health and safety standards. For more information, visit www.ACAcamps.org .