Good Old-fashioned Summer Camp Fun

A mix of longstanding traditions and welcomed changes is what defines summer camp today. The core of today’s summer camp experience, however, remains the same as in the past: gaining independence, trying new things, learning, forging friendships, and having fun.

Dear Mom and Dad,
I’m having a great time at summer camp! I’ve met two new friends! And I learned something new today. It’s called a cafeteria—not a mess hall. See you at 5!
Junior—Sent at 1:38 p.m. via email

Many people have fond memories of spending a week or two away at camp during the summers of their childhood: camp counselors and friends, secret handshakes, and sticky fingers from marshmallows over the fire—“The Berenstain Bears Go to Camp” type of memories with hikes, the “final night sleep out,” and ghost stories.

Days were filled with “the peanut butter river” team-building challenges, scavenger hunts, and preparing the best pranks (Kool-Aid in the shower heads, perhaps?). Actual letters were written home, T-shirts worn with names written on the tags, and people even got sunburned—gasp!

Good old-fashioned summer camp was great, wasn’t it? Alas, it’s a thing of the past….

Not so fast!

The American Camp Association (ACA) estimates that there are 12,000 summer camps in the United States today, with more than 11 million children and adults attending camp annually.

Peg L. Smith, CEO of the ACA, writes, “The value of camp is resonating with more and more young people and adults…. There is something solid behind what seasoned camp directors have always known, and what parents have witnessed—genuine learning and growth occurs in the unique camp environment.”


Today’s summer camps

A mix of longstanding traditions and welcomed changes is what defines summer camp today. The core of today’s summer camp experience, however, remains the same as in the past: gaining independence, trying new things, learning, forging friendships, and having fun.

Yet, the view of a summer camp as only a woodsy place with hiking, canoeing, and campfires has evolved. Summer camps offering a wide variety of customized activities have gained great acceptance, allowing kids to try activities that pique their interest.

Specialized camps can include everything from cooking and computers to robotics, horseback riding, gymnastics, and more.

Pick a camp, any camp

  • Academic camps: mainly focus on science, math, history, computers, or creative writing
  • Adventure camps: include outdoor hobbies such as rafting, hiking, horseback riding, or rock climbing
  • Art camps: specialize in theater, music, film, painting, or dance
  • Religious camps: focus on faith and worship
  • Sports camps: sharpen skills in tennis, soccer, baseball, or basketball
  • Family camps: offer team-building activities and bonding experiences for the whole family
  • Special needs camps: designed especially for kids living with an illness, such as cancer, asthma, a physical disability, or a learning disorder
  • Day camps: include half-day camps and mini-stay-overs, and provide customized scheduling

Of the 12,000 summer camps in the United States, approximately 7,000 are resident, meaning campers stay overnight, and 5,000 are day camps. Increasing in popularity, day camps provide more affordable options, and allow parents to send their children to multiple summer camps. While week-long resident camps average nationwide anywhere from $600 to $2,000 and more, day camps average approximately $300 weekly and can be as low as $20 for a one-day camp. Maybe Mama and Papa Berenstain Bear were on to something—after all, the cubs attended Grizzly Bob’s Day Camp.

Summer camps today can, indeed, look very much like the camps of the past. Yet they can also differ vastly, taking place on the campus of a university, the small stage at a local theater, or even in the pottery studio of an art gallery. Regardless of the scenery, activities, or location, the camping experience remains the same: broadening horizons, taking chances, meeting new people, and having fun.


Lessons learned

Fun meets education in the classrooms of camp, the magical place where children are so busy enjoying themselves that they don’t notice that they are, in fact, learning.

Geocaching lessons offered at some camps, for example, teach kids science and math skills. Art camps provide wonderfully messy lessons, and physics or astronomy can be learned around a campfire, or by looking up at the sky. A canoe trip can include a history or geography lesson.

Summer camp offers children a chance to reinforce and extend the lessons they learned in school through experiential, or hands-on, learning. Keeping kids’ brains active and engaged can help prevent the “summer learning slide” that evidence points toward.

Summer brain drain

  • Test scores slip. Research spanning 100 years shows that students typically score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer vacation than they do on the same tests at the beginning of the summer.
  • Skills are lost. Students lose about two months of grade level equivalency in mathematical computation skills during the summer months.
  • Reading level decreases. Low-income students lose more than two months in reading achievement when they’re not in school.

Learning is more than textbooks and tests. The beauty of summer camp is that kids don’t think of it as work when they are pointing out constellations in the night sky, or testing the inner temperature of a roasted marshmallow.
Summer camp reinforces not just cognitive learning, but emotional learning, too. Self-identity, self-worth, self-esteem, leadership, and self-respect are core elements of the summer camp philosophy. Parents have long reported that their children are more caring, understanding, and more equipped to stand up for what they know is right after returning from summer camp.
Though somewhat evolved from the camps of the past, summer camp remains a place where mama and papa bears can rest assured that their cubs will create lifelong memories.

Choices, choices, choices

Right here in our Great Lakes Bay Region, parents have hundreds of summer camp options. Here are a few things to keep in mind when choosing your camper’s experience.

  • Does the camp’s philosophy or mission statement mesh with your family’s?
  • Are activities offered that your child enjoys?
  • Are areas you’d like your child to improve in a focus of the camp?
  • Does the camp meet your child’s physical and emotional needs (a significant factor in deciding between day or overnight camp)?
  • Is the cost of the camp in your price range?
  • Have you heard positive word-of-mouth recommendations about the camp?

Talking with camp staff members and directors can also help parents find the right fit. Many camps offer tours and staff introductions prior to camp starting, so both parent and child will feel comfortable with the program they choose.


Bona fide summer camps in the GLBR

  • Growin’ Gardeners (gardening basics), Dow Gardens, 989-631-2677,
  • Class Act Workshop (youth theater class), Pit & Balcony Theatre, 989-754-6587,
  • SMEK (Science and Math Extravaganza for Kids), Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum, SVSU, 989-964-4000,
  • Cartooning Is Cool Mini Camp (introduction to drawing cartoons), Midland Center for the Arts, 989-631-5930,
  • All Day All Sports Camp (sports skills development), Midland Tennis Center, 989-631-6151,
  • Greater Barrier Reef Snorkeling Camp (snorkeling basics), Midland Community Center, 989-832-7937,
  • Kids Camp Culinary Fun With A Splash (cooking and baking instruction), Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth, 989-652-0450,
  • Rainbow Parfait Explosion (arts and crafts classes), Creative 360, 989-837-1885,
  • The Summer Reading Program (reading encouragement and activities), The Public Libraries of Saginaw, 989-755-9826,
  • Asthma Camps (asthma education), Delta College, 989-686-9444,
  • Civil War Boot Camp (learn about life during the Civil War), Midland County Historical Society, 989-631-5930,
  • Youth Basketball Academy (basketball skills development/improvement), Dow Bay Area Family Y, 989-895-8596,
  • MCTV’s Video Camp (learn to create a TV program), Midland Community Television, 989-837-3474,
  • YMCA Camp Timbers (traditional summer camp activities), 989-345-2630,
  • Future Zoo Keepers (animal care), Children’s Zoo at Celebration Square, 989-759-1408,
  • Nature Day Camp (outdoor programs and activities), Chippewa Nature Center, 989-631-0830,


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