Kids Learn Life Lessons at Camp

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With childhood obesity affecting one in five children, camps play a vital role in turning back this national trend. Camps are important partners for parents and children who want to make positive changes that keep kids active and eating right all year long.

The Culprits
Health professionals agree that numerous environmental and social factors are at play when it comes to the eating and exercise behaviors of young people. The era of “walking uphill two miles to school every day” is long-gone for most kids, and with the availability of buses and carpools, most children no longer walk to school. Playing outside is also decreasing with children spending much more time indoors than children 10 or 20 years ago.

It’s no surprise to concerned parents that many children spend too much time with inactive technology, devoting as much as three to five hours a day to TV or computer-related entertainment. Almost everyone is familiar with the Food Guide Pyramid, but not many people are as familiar with the Physical Activity Pyramid. Sixty minutes is the minimum amount of physical activity recommended for children, according to the Council for Physical Education for Children.  Ideally, children should engage in flexibility games and exercises as well as muscular fitness activities at least three times a week and actively participate in aerobics, sports and recreation daily. Such a routine, experts say, would provide the amount of exercise kids need. Camps offer an optimal environment to encourage varying levels of physical challenges, teach lifelong active recreational pursuits, and establish opportunities to learn active lifestyle behaviors.

A Healthy Attitude at Camp
Camps and their staffs make sure that camp programs offer opportunities for healthy and active living. If children begin to change some of their food and activity habits at camp, they might be able to transfer some of these behaviors when they return home.

How do camps help? For starters, camps continue doing what they do best, which is focusing on the positive development of children. Camp is, after all, for kids.

  • Camps can help children learn to like foods that are good for them by presenting good choices in a fun, safe environment.
  • Camps can provide older children and young adults as mentors for the children, to support positive, healthy behavior.
  • Camps can teach children that physical exercise is fun and can be an activity of choice over television and video games.
  • Camp environments can become the safest activity-oriented learning center outside the school system by working in tandem with education and nutrition.

Food and Nutrition at Camp
Many camps look for innovative, fun, tasty ways to provide healthy choices and decision-making skills to their campers.
The following list includes some “tried-and-true” techniques found at camps:

  • Teach children to alter food preferences by giving them good choices
  • Offer taste tests, expose children to new foods
  • Encourage eating breakfast
  • Offer new exercise/activity programs
  • Reduce “fast food” and junk food for snacks and side dishes (chips, cookies, candy, etc.), provide healthy options at the snack bar or camp store
  • Educate children about healthy eating and knowing when to stop eating

Physical Activity at Camp
Most camp programs are synonymous with activity from walking to field games, and the best camps challenge themselves every year by offering fresh activities to draw in new campers and excite returning campers.

What works

  • Physical fitness fun with contests and games
  • Active role models at camp
  • Physical activity that doesn’t require lots of equipment
  • Activity teams or “walking buddies” programs
  • Positive feedback on the process of doing your best, emphasizing participation rather than winning or being the best
  • A wide variety of new and traditional activities, sports, and games
  • Focus on fun and gaining a healthier lifestyle

Social Support
If young people see peers and adults they admire, like their counselors and other campers, engaged in enjoyable active pursuits, they will likely want to model a similar behavior. If your child’s favorite counselor routinely engages in games, swimming, hiking, and other enjoyable activities, it’s easy to imagine that your child will follow suit.  In the company of new and old friends, these new adventures, as well as the shared, nutritious meals are simply more rewarding.

Camps can play a vital role in contributing to lifelong patterns of exercise and excellent nutrition. Camp is a great place to offer good food, great activities, a positive environment, safe and secure location, and most of all, fun.

Adapted from the article, “Kids and Healthy Lifestyles,” by Viki Kappel Spain; M. Deborah Bialeschki, Ph.D.; Karla A. Henderson, Ph.D. Reprinted from CAMP by permission of the American Camp Association; copyright 2006 American Camping Association, Inc.

Originally printed in CAMP Magazine, reprinted by permission of the American Camp Association © 2006 American Camping Association, Inc.

[divider] Day Camp Offers Benefits Close to Home
A camp experience is beneficial for a variety of reasons – camp teaches children independence, helps develop self-esteem, and allows a child to take healthy risks in a safe and nurturing environment. The experience helps many children develop authentic relationships with peers and adults learn to be a part of the natural world, and participate in human powered activities.

But what if you have decided that a traditional resident camp isn’t a good fit for your child? Is there a way to provide camp’s benefits without an overnight stay? Yes, there is – day camp.

Day camp is one of many camp options available to families today. It allows for children to experience camp close to home. Perhaps a child is too young for resident camp, or perhaps scheduling does not allow for extended time away from home.  Regardless of the reason, a day camp is an excellent alternative.

Just like resident camps, day camps offer a wide range of programming and activities – from sports to arts to science and education. Day camps can also offer team building activities, leadership training, and wilderness programs. It’s important to find a camp program or camp activities that best suit your child.

When selecting a day camp, there are important issues for parents to consider. Parents should considering asking the following questions when researching day camps:

  •     Is the camp accredited?
  •     Is transportation available?
  •     Is there extended care before and after camp?
  •     Will the camp provide lunch?
  •     Are campers grouped by age, activity, or both?
  •     Does the price include the full range of activities?
  •     Are parent visits encouraged?
  •     What are the credentials of the Camp Director? Staff?
  •     What are the safety procedures in case of an accident?

Camp is critical to the education of the whole child. It is an equal opportunity life changer – teaching children and youth the real life skills they need to become successful adults. A positive day camp experience can teach real life skills, develop self-esteem, and help a child gain a sense of independence and community. But most of all, children will create memories that last a lifetime.

For more information, visit www.ACAcamps.org.

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