3 long-lasting benefits of summer camp for kids
As Director of Curriculum and Training for The Little Gym International, I see countless children flip through our Summer Camps at The Little Gym, across 6 continents and over 31 countries. While I am an expert in gymnastics, health, fitness and child development, I mostly consider myself an expert in families as we are so fortunate to build long-lasting relationships with families in our classes and camp experiences. I’m here to offer some insight on how active programs like summer camps not only exercises your child’s body, but most importantly, their minds and their hearts.
Summer camp benefits for kids
While summertime can bring a welcomed break in routine for your kids, it can certainly shake up yours. If you’re planning to send your kids to summer camp this summer but may be apprehensive about doing so, I’m here to tell you about the benefits of summer camp and how sending the kids off to camp can positively impact your entire family dynamic, and set your children up for success in the long run.
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1. Helps children develop mental flexibility
Mental flexibility is the ability to comfortably thrive in a new setting with new rules, expectations or demands. Yep, being flexible goes way beyond gymnastics! Offering a new learning environment for your child creates a critical opportunity for developing ‘mental flexibility,’ which is one of the tenants of executive functioning skills. According to an article by the Center of the Developing Child at Harvard University, “executive functioning skills are the “mental processes in the brain that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember directions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully.” Those are some pretty important life skills!
But, in order to have executive functioning skills, a person must develop three types of ‘brain functions.” One of these is mental flexibility. Practicing mental flexibility may feel uncomfortable at first; new places can be scary, but as the child becomes more comfortable and confident, they’ll develop this practical skill that will help them handle challenges in social and academic environments for years to come. Enrolling your child in camps is a great way to introduce them to new experiences, new faces, and eventually new friends. These opportunities allow your child to build up their “inner flexibility” and openness.
2. Builds confidence and develops a “growth mindset”
When your child tries something new, whether that’s gymnastics, pottery, improv or dancing, they are taking a risk and will make mistakes as they learn. Making mistakes can feel overwhelming, and when it does, a child may shy away from new activities for fear of ‘failing.’ But learning that mistakes are opportunities instead of failures creates what Carol Dweck calls a “growth mindset.” According to an article in the Association for Pyschological Science, “those with a growth mindset believe that abilities can be developed- they are more likely to see effort as something that propels learning and to see setbacks as opportunities to build new skills.” When a child sees a mistake as a chance to learn and grow, they will be more confident to take risks because they don’t view the outcome as a measure of ability.
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A nurturing, positive camp environment can provide a safe place for children to try new things, make mistakes, and learn from them in a positive environment. At The Little Gym, we believe taking risks and embracing mistakes is at the heart of confidence-building. When selecting a camp experience for your child, learn what the activities are and pay special attention to how they are taught. Camps with instructors focused on confidence-building activities are a great place to start. Giving your child the gift of a growth mindset can set them up to be curious, confident learners long after their camp experience ends! Summer camp can be the perfect place for trying lots of new activities in a casual, active, safe environment for children of all ages.
3. Stretches their imaginations
Let your child exercise their imagination through the power of play. At The Little Gym, we often say, “Play is a 4-Better word”. Here are some ways play can help your child’s development according to an article in Scientific American:
Physical skills like agility, balance & coordination.
Social & Emotional skills such as impulse control, self-regulation, taking turns, empathy and communication while working together to accomplish a common goal.
Cognitive skills such as following multi-step directions, creativity, and problem solving. Kids willl not only listen to and follow directions from instructors, but they will also listen to their peers when ‘problem-solving or negotiating the rules of the game’.
When a child grows skills across those three developmental domains, they are also building a strong foundation for critical thinking skills.
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Selecting the “perfect” camp, can often feel like walking across a balance beam – sometimes we can find ourselves off-balance. Instead of finding the perfect camp, try looking for the perfect balance of versatile experiences for your kids.
Instead of asking “yes or no” questions like “Does your camp have a curriculum?”, try asking engaging questions like, “What does a day in the life look like for one of your campers?” Turning these “yes or no” questions into a conversation is a great way to truly get to know the leaders of your camp community and start your child off on a summer path of learning, growth and fun—making memories that will last a lifetime and positively impact your family dynamic.