Unlike the traditional classroom setting or family weekend get-away, summer enrichment programs and camps present unique opportunities for your child to mature from a state of parental dependency toward healthy self-efficacy, developing the necessary grit to live a life worthy of their calling. In short: summer enrichment programs and camps should be recognized as an opportunity to invest in your child’s future.
1.It’s a place where a kid can be a kid (outside of Chuck E Cheese’s of course).
You and I woke to cartoons and silly gameshows; this current generation wakes and immediately checks their social media where they are bombarded with violence, sex and political division. Summer enrichment programs and camps provide an outlet to experience life beyond the screen. They might resist at first — as any addict does — but a good, old-fashioned shaving cream war will do the trick because fun (play) is an important construct for healthy social and mental development.
2.It’s a place that inspires new ideas.
Comedian Nate Bargatze says when it comes to dining out, he struggles to think outside going to a chain place. I can relate; I’ll drive past forty unique restaurants on my way to Chipotle. It makes sense; we’re biologically wired to conserve energy and survive, so we develop habits and patterns in an effort to maintain control. However, this births a going-through-the-motions lifestyle in deed and thought. Getting away is the perfect antidote to invigorate new ideas and process through fears, hopes and dreams. And this happens because students’ defenses are weakened during summer enrichment programs and camps that offer vulnerable and safe — trustworthy — environments necessary for their thoughts to be openly shared and discussed.
3.It’s a place where life-long decisions are made.
When students are having fun and accept a new state of vulnerability, they explore parts of themselves they’ve long since hidden from the public domain. Their world is largely superficial, abounding in selfies and likes, which fuels the comparison game. From social media to standardized testing, students are continually being corralled toward conformity and are rewarded for compliance. Their decisions en masse are parroted replies, not owned responses. Yet at camp, when faced with choices like eating a gigantic chocolate-coated doughnut or king-sized Reece’s Cups for breakfast, freedom feels real. And then they get real, discovering something deep within themselves that needs to change; and since this thought materialized from within their own consciousness, it stands a chance to last beyond the momentary epiphany.
4.It’s a place where lasting relationships are forged.
It’s been said that our stories — our shared experiences — get better with each retelling. And that happens thanks to the neurochemical oxytocin which, when released, bonds us with others—these being the very people who help us experience fun, embrace our new ideas and hold us accountable to decisions we make. Additionally, for students that identify as outsiders, enrichment programs and camps allow them to engage with new, like-minded friends, which helps them feel connected to something larger than themselves and no longer as detached from the universe as originally believed. For everyone camp is a place to sense belonging.
5.It’s a place where their mettle is tested.
Dr. Tim Elmore writes in his book Three Huge Mistakes We Make Leading Kids and How to Correct Them that while he applauds the level of engagement from parents and youth workers, he warns us that an over-protected and over-connected approach to leading students negatively impacts their ability to succeed. As such he says students risk too little, are rescued too quickly and are praised too easily, leaving students with a high arrogance but hollow confidence. They are ill-equipped for a world full of risks, challenges and consequences. Enrichment programs and camps move lessons from the lecture hall to the laboratory where students can put their skills to the test in an environment that stretches them toward their capacity, and allows for debrief and growth. It’s here where students learn what they’re made of and what that looks like for their future; they learn to believe in themselves.
Having attended many camps that shaped my life, and now having for over a decade either participated in or created and led various summer enrichment programs and camps, without hesitation I implore parents to make this investment in your child’s life. To maximize the return on investment, ask this question upon their return: What was most useful for you? Asking this simple question, author of The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever, Michael Bungay Stanier says will validate that the camp was useful for the student, as they identify a take-away that will outlive the event and add a personal value for the them, while providing the parents with meaningful feedback and assurance that it was money well spent.
C.J. Wetzler is the youth pastor at The Message Church. Before transitioning into full-time ministry, CJ was a commercial airline captain and high school leadership and science teacher. He loves to mentor the next generation of leaders and considers himself a fast food connoisseur. For questions or comments, connect with him on social media: @thecjwetzler.