Our children have been through a lot over the past year. The Covid-19 pandemic has stolen so much from our children and up-ended the foundations of their lives. It’s been nearly a year of “missing out.” Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, this has reportedly increased the rates of youth depression, anxiety and sadness. This summer, parents are prioritizing mental health alongside physical health for their kids — and summer camp could be key.
Bob Ditter, a child and adolescent therapist, has worked with camps around the world to train staff and provide guidance on child development. He has some valuable insights about the impact of the pandemic on youths, and on how camps can help.
“If the pandemic has reminded us of anything, it is that virtual connections, including social media, leave something vital out of things for us as human beings,” Ditter said. “Most people think of school as essential and camp as elective. What I have come to realize is that camp gives kids that deep drink of connection, of creativity and of inspiration that grounds them and fortifies them for the demands of the rest of the school year.”
Summer camps have been around a long time, but they are more relevant and important than ever before. According to research by the American Camp Association, a traditional sleepaway camp — where a child or teen spends one to four weeks away from home — helps kids experience growth and development beyond specialized day camps or classes. Sleepaway camps offer kids a chance to develop deep and meaningful friendships through small groups, the freedom of being unplugged, ample fresh air and the growth that occurs with independence.
Being in nature supports a connection to others and to something that is bigger than oneself. This is particularly important as we help our children meet the challenges of the pandemic and heal from a year of isolation and loss.
Last summer presented incredible challenges for camp operators, and many chose not to welcome campers. In 2020, Cheley Colorado Camps took unprecedented measures to ensure that every aspect of camp met or exceeded public safety recommendations so that parents who wanted a path to a modified camp had one. We operated six sessions and hosted more than 200 Colorado campers for horseback riding, hiking, climbing, fireside chats and more. And we did not have a single COVID-19 case.
We have been hard at work planning for camp this summer – when we also will honor Cheley’s 100th anniversary – and will once again take stringent health and safety precautions. We look forward to offering the full camp experience to kids who are yearning for close friendships, wide open spaces and carefree laughter. As my grandfather used to say, “Great things happen when youth and mountains meet.”