Making Sense of Camp Options for Teens


Choosing a Camp That Boosts Learning
By Bobbi DePorter, Co-Founder of SuperCamp & President of Quantum Learning Network


Bobbi DePorter shares points for parents to consider when evaluating summer camp options, on Big Blend Radio.


Every year, parents are faced with the same question: how to make the summer both fun and constructive for their kids. Many families turn to summer camps, whether for sports, outdoor recreation, nature study, or academic and life skills. The good news from the American Camp Association is that kids benefit from all kinds of summer camp experiences. That’s because young people need to be stimulated and active to keep growing during the months they are not in school.

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. Studies indicate that most students lose about two months of grade level equivalency in mathematical computation skills over the summer months.

Between 2001 and 2004 the American Camp Association conducted research with over 5,000 families from 80 accredited camps to determine the outcomes of the camp experience.

Results of this landmark study provide scientific evidence that camp as a unique educational institution is a positive force in youth development. Parents, camp staff, and children themselves reported significant growth in positive identity, social skills, physical and thinking skills, positive values, and spirituality.

The results suggest that summer camp helps young people:

– Become more confident and experience increased self-esteem.

– Develop more social skills that help them make new friends.

– Grow more independent and show more leadership qualities.

– Become more adventurous and willing to try new things.

– Experience spiritual growth, especially at camps that emphasize spirituality.

We know kids lose academic knowledge during the summer. And, we also know kids grow as learners while at camp. However, there is a gap in research between summer academic learning loss and the positive youth development outcomes attributed to camp.

We do know that high quality programs are considered to be positive interventions.

James Kim, Assistant Professor of Education at Harvard University, looked at different approaches to summer reading and found that voluntary summer reading programs work best when adults and teachers get involved by helping students to choose appropriate books and employ simple techniques to improve skill and understanding. With this research in mind, it is not surprising that more families are turning to summer enrichment programs that add value to the summer camp experience and that are led by teacher/mentors who are able to build a rapport with students that school teachers and even parents find challenging at times.

Here are some points to consider when evaluating programs for your son or daughter for this summer:

– Does the area of enrichment have any practical application to your child’s academic future? As with people, each program has its own strengths. It’s important to match your child to the camp. It’s also critical that you understand each program’s curriculum. If a child expresses interest in a particular field, chances are there’s a camp for him or her. Conversely, many students can benefit from a broader learning experience that can help them in all subject areas.

– What kind of training and expertise does the staff possess? If a summer program bills itself as providing new skills to participants, make a point to learn about the background of the staff. Are the program leaders teachers themselves or experts in a particular field? Also, inquire as to the training they receive. Seek references from parents of kids who’ve attended.

– Is there a balance between learning and fun? The last thing a student needs in summer is more school. A good summer enrichment program gives students the feeling that they’re at camp, not back at school. While some programs try to combine learning and fun by giving the campers adequate free time, the best camps incorporate fun right into the learning. When a student enjoys the learning process, the brain does a better job of assimilating and retaining new information.

– In what ways can a program enrich a student’s life? When most people hear “summer enrichment” they think of academic enrichment. Look for camps that not only help students acquire new skills in such areas as creative writing, reading comprehension, problem solving and critical thinking, but that also help them grow in life skills that build confidence, motivation and self-esteem, as well as communication and leadership.

– What’s a good length of time for a summer enrichment camp? There is no set length that is best. Students do benefit from some downtime in the summer. However, camps that last just a few days will have limited long-term value. Teens, in particular, are nocturnal. Some of the best learning can come in the evening sessions of summer programs. Look for enrichment camps held on college campuses. Middle school and high school students enjoy the experience of living in college dorms for a week or more. It can even prove to be inspirational as they begin to think about college.

Sending your son or daughter to the right summer enrichment program can pay long-term dividends for the entire family. Newly acquired academic skills, increased motivation or added confidence can translate into better grades, as well as new academic and personal interests. In turn, this growth can lead to better colleges, college scholarships and rewarding careers.

Bobbi DePorter is the President of SuperCamp and Quantum Learning Network, a U.S.-based educational firm producing programs for students, teachers, schools, and organizations across the United States and worldwide. SuperCamp is the leading academic summer camp in the world. Visit



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