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Sonoma Family Life Magazine

How Camps Heal Kids

By Andy Pritikin

As a camp director, I’ve been heralding the importance of summer camp for two decades. Years before COVID-19, youth suffered from the worldwide outbreaks of technology addiction, social skill deficiency, indoor isolation, and over-parenting. And for more than a year now, our kids have been living an increasingly bizarre, unnatural life of screens and quarantines, hybrid schooling (if they’re lucky), and enough fear and disappointment to last them into adulthood. However, in the midst of the insanity, we’ve learned that summer camp can become a beacon of hope, a lifeline that can tow children back to their normal selves.

While the majority of summer camps closed last summer, many camps stayed open, including mine. Strict safety guidelines and a modified program were necessary, but the fundamental essence of camp remained intact: Kids played together—in most cases outdoors—and were mentored by caring staff. According to our campers, parents, and staff, it was by far their most meaningful camp experience ever, as well as an impactful life event. And think about it—that was only four months into the pandemic. This June, after two compromised school years, our children’s need for summer camp’s benefits will be even more crucial. Here’s what camp offers them:

1 Real Human Connection Zoom and remote learning have saved us in so many ways. But there’s no substitute for real human connection. Making and strengthening relationships is what camp is all about.

2 Rediscovering Nature While we have been trapped indoors for the past year, our bodies have longed to live life like our ancestors did—outside, without central air, video screens, and the Internet. The outdoors is an amazingly beautiful and joyful place, and it’s where most summer camps happen.

3 Resiliency We want our kids to grow up with the kind of “can-do” attitude that our health care providers, essential workers, and superhero schoolteachers demonstrate. They have the opportunity to develop that kind of courage at camp.

4 Mental Health The surge in the number of mental-health-related visits made by adolescents and school-age children shows us that pandemic stress has left its mark. Extroverted kids are suffering, missing the energy of their peers. Introverted kids may seem to enjoy sitting in their homes, away from life’s normal pressures, but they need social interaction just as much. Camp helps kids reconnect with themselves and others, and reclaim their emotional and mental well-being.

Camp offers kids the unique opportunity to step back into a simpler time, when no Internet connection or mute button was needed. There, they will find a small community of people that have faith in the human spirit and offer nonjudgmental support to one another. Camps have proven that such communities can be created safely, even under the most challenging circumstances. They give kids a place to be with other kids, to play outdoors as nature intended, and grow into the human beings they are meant to become. 

This article was originally published on the site of the American Camp Association ( It has been adapted and reprinted with permission from the author.
Andy Pritikin is the owner of Liberty Lake Day Camp,