Summer Camp: Honing a Habit of Healthy Living

Children and teens love the summer — but is the feeling mutual? According to the National Summer Learning Association, the summer makes students vulnerable to forgetting the skills acquired during the academic year, losing months of grade level equivalency and gaining excessive weight. Summer camp can help reverse the decline.

The combination of daily lessons, enrichment and exercise strengthens the mind and body to prevent the “summer slide” and keep students on track for good health and academic success year round. By keeping campers mentally focused, eating healthy, physically active and away from tablets and technology, summer camp helps campers reach their true potential, discover a positive sense of self and grow from achievement.

A safe and nurturing place to learn, stay healthy, build relationships and overcome barriers, summer camp helps children and teens hone a habit of healthy living to last a lifetime.

Smart food choices.

Fast food is both easy and affordable. A few bucks and a quick drive-thru gets you instant access to a juicy burger, tasty fries and a refreshing soda. Convenience aside, the irony is fast food’s incredible inconvenience for children and teens looking to establish healthy habits. Accessibility to unhealthy foods (combined with lack of exercise) accommodates for record numbers of childhood obesity over the last three decades.

Poor food choices expose children and teens to a lifetime of bad and hard to break habits. Plagued with poor self-esteem and unhealthy body image, overweight and self-conscious children and teens rarely participate in team events or sports and demonstrate poor proactivity in making new friends. It’s a lonely, scary but totally preventable life experience.

Summer camp encourages children and teens to make their own food choices. Often their first experience of true food freedom, campers learn to test their own limits of healthy meal options. Pizza and French fries may cause a post-lunch stomach-ache but the camper learns from the experience. The advantage for campers is figuring out for themselves how to find balance in their diet.

Camp can also positively impact the mindset of healthy eating. Rather than a “cure for boredom” — campers learn to associate food and eating with necessary nourishment after long, exciting and active days. All things considered, summer camp is a place for children and teens to develop healthy eating habits and continue feeling great now and throughout life.

Physical activity and the great outdoors.

Compounding the consequences of poor food habits is lack of exercise. The main culprits: recordable and always available TV, tablet computers built for mobility, and attached-to-the-hip smartphones. The statistics are alarming: computer, TV and phone use is now the highest among any other generation. More time in front of screen means less time for physical activity and the great outdoors.

Free from the distraction of technology, summer camp forces children and teens to think outside the box in order to keep busy. Fast paced summer days filled with activities — sports, games, music, art, dance and more — engage even the most resistant of campers. By learning new skills, campers develop pride in newfound strength. Finding fun beyond technology becomes an equally challenging and rewarding experience.

Campers also watch and learn the active lifestyles of counselors who serve as positive role models. More than keep campers active for the summer, counselors inspire children and teens to continue moving and exploring their interests year round. The active, outdoor experience creates a foundation of health for campers to evolve into a lifestyle.

Making (and learning from) decisions.

Camp is a safe place for children and teens to make — and learn from — personal choices. Campers choose their own activities and experiences, resulting in a number of key benefits to promote healthy living.

Empowered to make their own decisions and open to the experience (either good or bad), campers either grow in the knowledge of making a good choice or learn to try something different the next time around. The decision making process in itself encourages a healthy lifestyle at camp and at home.

The decisions campers face teach personal responsibility and perseverance. In gaining a new sense of independence, children and teens develop the confidence to break free from unhealthy peer groups, habits and behavior patterns.

Learning important life skills.

The summer camp environment and community expects “good” from each camper. The unique way to live and play teaches every camper healthy behaviors like patience, inclusion, empathy, joy, laughter, self-reflection, independent thinking, problem solving and more. The end result is critical life skill acquisition.

Rather than a didactic experience, camp teaches life skills campers can practice day in and day out. From learning to associate success and confidence with physical movement of the body (climbing high mountain peaks), to learning to enjoy the space and freedom of the great outdoors (walking, running, hiking, playing), campers explore, connect, learn and grow from the people and world around them.

Rest and relaxation.

In exciting environments, adults can better regulate their energy than children and teens. The structured summer camp schedule operates with the optimal energy of campers in mind. After an exhausting abundance of high-energy activities, daily rest time prevents campers from tuckering themselves out. Rest and relaxation balances physical activity.

Campers take responsibility for getting enough rest. Long days quickly teach campers to get adequate rest both during the day and at night. Pushing to the limit plus taking it easy creates a happy balance. A new appreciation for sleep and bedtime teaches campers to better regulate their body’s need to rest at camp and at home.

Good hygiene.

Aside from getting dirty during the day, children and teens learn good hygiene at summer camp. After swimming, playing, sweating and discovering their messiest selves, campers look forward to cleaning up in the shower. Washing up after playing hard quickly catches on as the thing to do.

Every camper takes responsibility for their own cleanliness. Good hygiene practices like brushing your teeth to keep a nice smile become enjoyable and social. Campers embrace positive routines, take ownership of daily hygiene practices and learn to take better care of themselves at home.

Habits for a long and healthy life.

Summer camp is a whole body experience: a special chance for children and teens to make their own choices in an environment designed to celebrate and model active, healthy living. Campers discover a universal desire to experience growth and physical gains. With everyone identifying as their own person, all growth at camp is unique.

Campers walk away with a new appreciation, respect and passion for the healthy habits learned over the summer. The experience promotes the best for every camper on every level: physical health, positive attitude and a mindset focused on healthy food choices and an active lifestyle. Camp creates habits to benefit children and teens as they grow and help them live long and healthy lives.