By Sharon Peruzzi Strauchs, Director, Cortona Academy  |  Photo courtesy of Cortona Academy

There are two common kinds of basic summer camps available for children. There are the traditional camps we all think of when we think of summer camps: structured, outdoor adventure camps filled with hot summer days, punch, and plenty of buzzing insects. Then there are the other kind, for the, we’ll say, less fortunate children: the academic cram camps, where students sit glued to their seats, attempting to boost their GPAs with a steady diet of geometry, pre-calc, blood, sweat, toil and tears.

Due to the high-stress, competitive atmosphere in Northern Virginia, many parents feel compelled to put their students into the latter. Unfortunately, the pressure cooker environment can have harmful effects on the students. Angela Woolsey in the Fairfax County Times’ annual Fairfax Youth Survey recently reported high levels of stress on Fairfax County students, with more than a third of all students reporting high stress levels. Another Fairfax County Times article, by Cathy Cruise, reported that lack of sleep is common for Fairfax County students and that this dangerous lack of sleep leads to depression. She quotes GMU professor Adam Winsler’s study showing the correlation.

Summer camps should strive to take out the stress and make sure students are learning in a happy and nurturing environment. In such a positive atmosphere, then academic rigor can occur, but only with the accompanying social and outdoor activities. This then helps summer students not only prepare for college or the next school year, but also helps them prepare for life.

Michael Ungar, PhD, writes in Psychology Today that summer camps provide a much-needed place for students to build relationships outside of their home, with new kids. It forces them to meet new people, strengthening their identity. He also points out that forming relationships with other adults is important for building confidence. Perhaps best of all, he says, students gain a sense of belonging in summer camps that they don’t get by staying at home playing video games.

Linda Cameron of Ourkids.net is associate professor in the Curriculum, Teaching and Learning Department at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. She believes strongly in the educational power of summer camp, saying it positively influences the lives of many children. “Camp provides opportunities for children to adapt and grow social and emotionally. They can learn in a safe and caring environment how to cope with separation and operate successfully without depending on their parents,” Cameron says. As an educator, she has become concerned over the trend to push kids too far academically, while keeping them sheltered emotionally. Children need the opportunity to interact spontaneously with their fellow students, so they can learn to problem solve collaboratively, an invaluable tool for later life.

Creating a summer which becomes a life-long memory, that is the unique balance of academics and fun is, indeed, the goal of all parents because it is when children are happy and still progressing intellectually that parents feel confident that their child will transition smoothly to the following school year, with tools to move ahead…and memories of the blast they had during the summer. ML

Since 1992, Sharon Strauchs has been leading a talented team at Cortona Academy in Herndon, Virginia. 

Sources: Cameron, Linda: “Learning Benefits of Summer Camp,” http://www.ourkids.net/camp/learning-benefits-of- summer-camp.php

Cruise, Cathy: http://www.fairfaxtimes.com/articles/fairfax-teens-at-greater-risk-for-depression-suicide-due-to/article_e5633680-1ec7-11e6-b090-e36dfd21 a8d1.html

Ungar, Michael, PhD: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/nurturingresilience/201202/summer-camps-make-kids-resilient

Woolsey, Angela: http://www.fairfaxtimes.com/articles/health_and_food/annual-fairfax-youth-survey-reports-high-teen-stress-levels/article_ce29c472-94ae-11e6-8dd7-7ba2b0ca9541.html