As the end of another school year looms, thousands of kids across Canada will be gearing up to attend summer camp.
In Ontario alone, about 350,000 children will attend camps this summer, says Heather Heagle, executive director of the Ontario Camps Association.
“Those children are learning to be team players and leaders,” she says. “They’re learning about their own physicality and their own intellectual abilities to make decisions.”
The problem is, she says, many lack the basic skills they need to take part in traditional camp activities.
Some of those skills are physical, she says, but other skills involve communication.
“Children are spending too much time playing games on computers rather than going outside and playing,” she says.
“They’re not learning how to be a team player. How to communicate with others. How to play with another person. How to be social. What behaviours are acceptable.”
Heagle points out that many summer camp coordinators are changing the focus of camps to help build in physical literacy skills that kids aren’t picking up the rest of the year. “That’s why you see so many instruction camps these days — tennis instruction, badminton instruction, swimming instruction,” she says.
“Camps are becoming more specialized because kids aren’t playing like they used to.”
Part of the issue is that parents are more involved than ever before in their children’s lives, says Heagle.
Yet by trying to keep our kids safe and happy, we are making decisions that kids should be making by themselves.
“That interfering doesn’t allow children to work out issues for themselves.”
As parents, we need to step back and allow our children to make decisions, even if that entails watching kids make mistakes, maintains Heagle.
“We have to start letting children be more independent if they are to learn how to think properly,” Heagle adds. “We have to change society and not be too overprotective.”
Overprotective parents create kids who are afraid of taking risks. When kids show up at camp, they’re often fearful of trying new things, Heagle says. They don’t trust their own abilities, and they don’t know what they’re capable of accomplishing.
“They lack the ability to make a decision on their own,” she says. “Should I play soccer, or sit in my room and be safe? Should I play baseball, or learn more academic things after school because it’s safer?”
Many choose the safer option because it’s familiar, instead of learning a new skill, or taking a risk.
“They decide not to do things because they don’t have the self-trust to move themselves in a new direction,” Heagle stresses.
Sure, they may make the wrong decisions, she notes. “But that’s part of being human.”
And it all contributes to what makes our society work, she maintains, citing various prime ministers — including Pierre Trudeau and Kim Campbell — who learned new skills at summer camps as children.
“We have to go out and act together to make this society good,” Heagle emphasizes. “We did it in the past, and we have to continue to do it now.”