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Play at camps can help child development

Date: 3/27/2013

By Lucy Jackson Norvell

There's a lot in the news lately about the value of play. Child development experts have always considered opportunities for play essential to optimal child development. And today's families and schools are facing a serious problem – time for play has been squeezed out of the schedule.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and other child development researchers have issued a number of reports in the last few years emphasizing the importance of play in the lives of developing children. There's a renewed interest in ensuring that children's lives include enough play.

Playing develops essential life skills like cooperation, compromise, and teamwork. It encourages social-emotional learning. And playing prepares the developing brain for future challenges of all types – cognitive, social, emotional, and physical.

Summer camps provide unparalleled opportunities for play and at camp, play is a priority. In fact, play, in a variety of forms, dominates the camp day. The fun experiential educational settings of day and overnight camp, where children learn by doing, are full of opportunities for both unstructured free play and play guided by adults. And these opportunities are woven around times of specific instruction and formal learning.

At camp, playing means moving – often in new and different ways! Whether it's a spontaneous game of tag, a unique camp specific game, a wide game involving a few hundred people, a traditional contest such as a baseball or soccer tournament, an intense gaga match, or a noncompetitive game that fosters group cooperation, playing at camp involves moving around a lot: running, climbing, swimming, jumping, stretching. And these are all forms of exercise that are not always part of children's non-camp lives.

Camp play encourages safe risk-taking by allowing campers to try new things – things they may not have felt brave enough to try before, like zooming down the zip line, singing a solo in the talent show, or extending the hand of friendship to someone new. Camp experiences allow children to try new experiences and to "try on" new attributes and qualities.

Playing at summer camp doesn't only stretch children's muscles, it also encourages them to stretch themselves in all ways and to stretch in the direction of their goals! Campers move beyond their comfort zones and push themselves to exceed their own goals. Campers grow into their own potential through play. Playing at camp also helps children learn teamwork. Campers build cooperation, compromise and conflict resolution skills under the guidance of trained counselors. Through play, children have critically important experiences of leading and following, and of balancing the needs of the group with their own individual needs and wants.

The settings of summer camp throughout New England – whether nestled among the lakes, forests, beaches, and mountains, or located in or near cities invite, encourage and inspire play. Every child deserves the benefits a play-filled summer camp experience can provide!

Provided by Lucy Jackson Norvell, director of Public Information, American Camp Association, New England. The American Camp Association, New England, a 501 (c)3 organization that serves as the region's leading source for "all things summer camp."

Families and camp professionals in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont can visit or call 781-541-6080 for help finding a camp or for additional information and resources.