The remedy kids need now

Camp gives kids connection, stress relief… and fun

Summer camp has been a tradition and a training ground for generations. For many, it’s the time of their life. It’s often the time that defines their life, too. Read more

    Camp experiences, in all their forms, give young people opportunities to learn social skills, gain independence, and tap into a new inner confidence.

    Ask any silver-haired “camper” with a twinkle in their eye—once a camper, always a camper, after all— and they’ll tell you not only about how they found lifelong friends, but also a lifelong sense of self.

    Many leaders and professionals at the top of their field trace their success back to summer camp.

    Ask the university students, and they’ll tell you it’s where they learned to live with other people.

    Ask the young professional, and they’ll say it’s where they gained the courage to stand up at the front of the boardroom.

    But for the children and youth who spend each year counting the days to camp, it’s something much more simple.

    It’s a place to feel safe and free.

    To feel supported, connected, and part of a community.

    To play, grow, and simply have fun.

    Today, kids need these things more than ever.

    From the reported crisis in youth mental health, to the grip of social media, to the sense of disconnection that took hold during the pandemic years—camp offers an important antidote.

    Meanwhile, for the kids who just want to have fun, the world of wonders they find at camp is still there.

    Its magic has just gotten all the more meaningful.


    “I think a lot of us block out that first year of the pandemic,” says Ashlee Woolfson, director of Adventure Valley Day Camp in Oakville, Ontario.

    Camp experiences, in all their forms, give young people opportunities to learn social skills, gain independence, and tap into a new inner confidence.

    Woolfson, whose day camp was able to stay open through those two first summers, says she saw the impact it had on young people of all ages.

    Separation anxiety grew among the youngest, who were used to having their parents around. Social anxiety grew among those in the middle years, whose only recent connection to friends had been through a social media feed.

    Among the oldest, there was a growing toll of lost experiences.

    “They didn’t get their graduations, or they didn’t get their proms, or in-person Grade 9 orientations,” Woolfson says.

    Adults like herself may remember the disruptions and disappointments, she says, but those effects were mainly skin-deep. “Whereas, for the kids that grew up in it, it really affected how they view the world and what chances they had to become themselves,” she says.

    After the disruptions of 2020 and 2021, Woolfson says she saw the same issues emerging that many camp professionals, educators, and parents reported. “There’s definitely more behavioural issues,” she says. That can look like more campers requiring individualized attention, more instances of conflict between kids, or less experience being in a group environment.

    “What has always been important to me about camp is the social dexterity that kids develop," says Woolfson. "It’s the ability to go into different social situations and be comfortable, and have all of those social skills, like how to make friends, and how to be a kind, empathetic person.”


    “We grow great kids.” That’s the staff motto at Adventure Valley. What looks from the outside like good old-fashioned fun, says Woolfson, breeds important transferable skills and benefits.

    It’s things like “confidence, leadership, initiative, flexibility, friendship, how to be kind—all of the good stuff that camps have been teaching forever, that you somehow, somewhere in your heart always knew that camps are good for,” she adds.

    Whether it’s a day camp, overnight camp, a sports camp, or those with other specialties, camps across the board would say the same thing: instilling lifelong benefits isn’t a coincidence—it’s an intentional priority.

    “We’re creating confident leaders,” says Jennifer ‘JJ’ Jupp, senior director at Camp Wenonah, an overnight camp for all ages, outside of Bracebridge, Ontario. “People who will do good things in the world, because they will have learned people skills, leadership skills, teaching skills, problem solving skills.”

    What outsiders often miss when observing classic camp activities, she says, are the deeper benefits behind them.

    “It's not just about getting to the top of the climbing wall—getting to the top of the climbing wall also means that you’ve discovered something in yourself.”


    Jupp has been a camp director for nearly 30 years. Back when she started, you might have found a stereo in a cabin, with teens listening to CDs together. Nowadays, campers show up with powerful computers in their pockets.

    With the rise of smartphones and social media, Jupp says she’s noticed a difference in the dynamics at camp, and in the campers themselves.

    As a safe, encouraging place where youth can try something new, fail, and pick themselves up again, camps provide a unique and important learning opportunity.

    “I've seen an enormous change in how people relate to each other, and a decrease in in-person social skills,” she says. “I think we’ve lost a lot of our ability to actually experience things.”

    Though camps used to be screen-free zones naturally, these days it isn’t so easy. Jupp explains that some campers will go as far as bringing two phones with them—one to hand in as required, and one to stash away, so they can secretly get their fix.

    “When I hear that, my heart just breaks—it speaks to a level of desperation; it’s a young person who doesn’t think they can cope at camp if they don’t have it.”

    As communities where connections are personal and experiences are always ‘IRL’ (In Real Life), Jupp says camps can be the antidote that youth need now more than ever.

    Social media, she says, is just part of a larger, starker picture— from anxiety and eating disorders, to online bullying and harassment, to diminished social skills and struggles making friends.

    “I can’t even tell you how much it’s all changed the way I spend my day as a camp director.” Jupp says the “epidemic” in youth mental health, as it’s been called, includes increased rates of depression and anxiety, as well as suicide attempts and deaths by suicide.

    “The feelings of despair have increased, and the age where they experience it has lowered,” she says. “We’re really not in a good place.”


    So what role does summer camp have to play in supporting youth mental health?

    For starters, it can be a place for youth to access resources or learn about their triggers. But most of all, camps are a place where young people can get back to the foundations of a happy, healthy lifestyle.

    Things like: Eating good meals, three times a day. Getting outside and moving around. Spending less if any time on social media and screens. Having a consistent time when you wake up and go to sleep each day.

    “That’s just us doing our normal camp stuff,” says Jupp. “That doesn’t include what most of us are doing now in [the overnight camping] industry, where we have a social worker who’s providing care at camp.”

    At Wenonah, they have two professionals available during the summer to provide mental health support—one for campers and one for staff.

    They’re there to make sure campers are safe to stay at camp, and to help youth learn coping strategies, like breathing exercises, which they can take back to their classrooms in the fall.

    “What I’m seeing in our industry is that we’re providing very, very basic tools,” says Jupp.

    “We aren’t providing therapy … we’re doing more psycho-social education than we were before, and we’re doing more individualized care.”

    Scott Creed is the founder of nearby Camp Muskoka. His camp has also incorporated mental health support workers for staff since the pandemic, who are now part of normal operations. 

    In supporting campers, the cornerstone of his approach, he says, is giving kids a place where they feel safe, accepted, supported, and like they truly belong. It’s an experience of what it means to truly be part of a community, and it’s one of the greatest benefits of camp.

    What the pandemic took from kids, Creed says, is the very thing they most need to strengthen their mental health and well-being.

    “Social activity and connection are probably the biggest things that can contribute to anyone’s mental health in this day and age.”

    So what should kids do?

    “Go out and hang out with somebody. Have a tea or a coffee or a walk with somebody. These are things that happen at camp every 15 minutes.”

    For a kid growing up, whose small world is starting to get bigger and bigger, what they get at camp isn’t just a supervised fun time—they’re creating a blueprint for a happy and successful life.


    Stephanie Rudnick is the founder and director of Elite Camps, which runs basketball skill development camps, including day, overnight, and school programs.

    “All camps can say they boost confidence,” says Rudnick. “All camps can say they make connections. But at a sports camp, when you’re surrounded by like-minded athletes, and you’re surrounded by like-minded coaches, something really magical happens.”

    Just like at a camp with canoeing or Capture the Flag, the benefits that campers are getting go deeper than what you see on the surface.

    "Our curriculum has always been designed to help kids regulate their emotional state, to help them navigate the ups and downs of sport and of life,” she says.

    “They learn they’re in control of their progression, of their success, and that really empowers kids.”

    The lessons they learn from failure, says Rudnick, are just as valuable, if not more so, than what they learn from success. As a safe, encouraging place where youth can try something new, fail, and pick themselves up again, camps provide a unique and important learning opportunity.

    “That’s the best thing we can give our children today,” says Rudnick “the ability to know that failure is a part of success.”

    Camp Ak-O-Mak is an all-girls overnight camp outside Parry Sound, Ontario with a strong focus on physical activity and sports. Dianne Young, Ak-O-Mak’s executive director, says whether it’s competing in a swim meet or learning to live in close-quarters with their peers, camps can teach important lessons about how to problem solve and handle pressure.

    “Camp does build internal strength,” she says.

    “Kids learn how to manage, understand, and work through problems, which then makes the other problems seem not quite so big.”



    Sheryl Puckering is a parent of three Ak-O-Mak campers. She believes so strongly in the value of the camp experience that she now spends her summers on the Ak-OMak head staff as a volunteer and mindfulness coach.

    “My husband and I often say Camp Ak-O-Mak helped raise our kids,” she says.

    She saw how camp gave her girls the independence and life skills they needed to grow up, move out, and live happily with others in shared college dorms.

    Whether it’s a day camp, overnight camp, a sports camp, or those with other specialties, camps across the board would say the same thing: instilling lifelong benefits isn’t a coincidence—it’s an intentional priority.

    When one daughter was later applying for her medical residency, the skills the interviewers kept coming back to were the ones she gained at camp.

    Puckering points out that camp has benefits for parents too, including giving them a much needed break and time to reconnect with each other.

    But when her girls were gone each summer, she was glad to know they were gaining these kinds of life skills and experiences, and she looked forward to how they would come back transformed.

    “When they come home from camp, and they’re getting ready to go back to school, there’s always this different level of excitement for life. They’re happy.

    "They laugh. They’re full of stories and songs. They just always seemed to have a really positive outlook on life when they came home from camp.”

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