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The Benefits of Camp

There’s a lot of great research about the benefits of camp experiences for young people. Over the past 12 months, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting several of those researchers, including our own team member Pete Allison from Penn State, and I’m grateful for their work establishing a greater understanding of camps’ impacts on child development.

As our summer camp season is set to begin in June, I thought I’d take a minute to talk about a few of the benefits of summer camps and how that happens through River Mountain camp experiences.

Camp gives young people a greater sense of independence.

Away from home, meeting new kids, no devices to retreat to. Yikes, sounds scary! And that’s ok. Summer Camp is where kids grow and “grow up”. Being a little scared is a natural, important first step. Those feelings of uncertainty and that void of what’s being left behind lasts less than 24 hours. Once the first activity starts and the first smiles are exchanged, kids start feeling more confident quickly.

Our River Mountain staff is 110% in tune with this early phase of the emotional journey (we were campers too back in the day!). Everything we do with our young guests from the moment they arrive is done to get them as comfortable as possible, as quickly as possible. We call them Day 1 Ice Breakers, not in a corporate ra-ra kind of way, but in a ‘let’s get these kids bonding and happy together asap’ kind of way. The first introduction to their cabin, the first meal, the first bonfire - everything is done to help your kids settle in and feel comfortable quickly.

By the end of the week, all the fear and uncertainty is long gone. Accomplishments, friendships, and self determination are all that remain. Facilitating and watching this transformation in young people is the best part of the experience for us! And you’ll be able to see it in the nighty pictures and images that we send out to parents.

Camp is a place to learn new skills.

For River Mountain experiences, this is divided into two parts. First is exactly what you might think - outdoor adventure skills and teamwork! How do I paddle a 2-person or 10-person canoe with my partner(s); how do I set up a tent with my tentmate; how do I help my partner up to the first step on the climbing wall. Working through real skills and real challenges. These challenges and little victories are powerful. They supply the confidence that anything is possible, now and far down the road.

The other type of life skill that River Mountain teaches is empowering young people to create more life/tech balance in their lives. Pete and Penn State have been instrumental in helping us create this unique programming. Tech companies are never ending in their battle for young people’s attention. Notifications, hooks, intentional design - the digital world is created to be addictive. So what skills do your kids need to be counter intentionally engineered products? First off, they need to realize it. We think it’s important to have open, intentional discussions (many of which are around the campfire with s/mores!) about tech’s goals and how it’s impacting young people’s lives. Next, it’s thinking more deeply about the activities and experiences we’re having at River Mountain versus day to day interactions and clicks of the digital world. How does being in nature make us feel, are we surviving without our devices for a few days, did we find that place on a map using a compass and a map and not google maps?? Of course we did! And then finally, how can we take these new learnings back home and apply them to everyday life. These can be simple things (not sleeping with our phone), or they can be tougher things (not letting social media dictate our self image).

Creating more self determination and healthier habits around tech use is one of the central themes of our programming. We believe raising awareness about tech use, and on the flip side the benefits of the outdoors, are crucial for young people to begin to think about.

Camp exposes kids to people outside of their established communities.

I love this one. There’s nothing better for a young person than meeting new people and learning how to create new friendships. And it’s even more important in today’s world, with so many virtual “friends”, to learn how to foster new, real relationships.

Establishing new peer-to-peer and peer-to-guide relationships and knowing you can do it might be the most important life skill a young person can learn today. As all adults know, college interviews, job interviews, and “real life” are right around the corner.

Camp gets them active.

I would put a slight River Mountain twist on this one. Our team thinks it’s vitally important for young people to acknowledge how being active and out in nature feels, along with establishing some self determined goals for staying active when they return home. Whether it’s hiking or yoga or canoeing, these are all things that young people can continue to do long after summer camp ends. And they’re proven to have long lasting benefits to young people’s growth and development.

The encouragement to not only do new things, but the encouragement to continue to do them - whether it’s through continued conversations with other campers, continued communication with guides, or through the River Mountain journal that all of our guests take home - kids should never stop getting out into nature and being active!

As always, if you have any questions about River Mountain and our summer camps, email or call me anytime. Happy to help.

Ryan Tyrrell

Founder, River Mountain


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