Summer Camps Can Transform Your Child

Summer camps are proven to build confidence, bolster physical and mental health, and connect kids to the natural world and to their community. This guide will share the major benefits of giving your child a gift that will last a lifetime.

Fresh air.

New friends.

Morning hikes in the woods.

Paddling on lakes and rivers.

These activities are the markers of a good summer camp, once a formative experience for many young people.

For many modern children, bound by rigid schedules and screens, outdoor adventures and fun may seem like a dream, but they don’t have to be out of reach. Summer camps come in a variety of sizes (and prices), so whatever your situation, you can find something to suit your child.

If you are considering sending your child to summer camp—even for a day—then this guide will share the major benefits of a camp experience so you can make an informed decision.

Physical Health Benefits

For most modern children, their school days are spent inside, often looking at screens, and with little time for unstructured interactions. With the reduction of recess and outdoor time, children and teens receive much less exposure to sunlight and fresh air, and since most socializing now occurs online, there is little in-person interaction.

By its very nature, an outdoor summer camp will address all of these issues. With activities ranging from paddling, hiking, and outdoor games, kids are guaranteed to be active and to have plenty of safe exposure to sunlight and Vitamin D.

And they’ll be interacting—in-person, not virtually—throughout the entire experience.

Even for inactive children—or those who feel they are uncoordinated or not outdoorsy—a good summer camp should be inclusive and encouraging, operating from a “Challenge by Choice” mentality. Counselors can encourage reluctant campers and make sure they are included in activities, giving everyone a chance to grow.

Mental Health Benefits

For many people, the idea of summer camp probably brings to mind silly campfire songs, canoe-balancing competitions, or games of capture-the-flag. While this may seem like only fun diversions, these activities have a deeper purpose: the formation of community through shared activities.

The benefits of nature exposure are now being documented in scientific studies. A 2019 review published in Current Directions in Psychological Science “found that being exposed to natural environments improves working memory, cognitive flexibility and attentional control.”


As kids play and laugh together, they develop friendships in more natural ways. Their interactions are no longer being rigidly structured through scheduled activities or filtered through smartphones, and they gain needed social skills as they work collaboratively to reach shared goals.

This social impact combats the sense of loneliness and isolation that young people now frequently report and leads to many mental health benefits, most notably a reduction in stress and anxiety.

Positive Memories and Environmental Stewardship

Because outdoor summer camps take place in nature (obviously!), campers often find themselves unconsciously connecting to the natural world, which has been proven to promote emotional well-being. The APA notes a 2019 study that found nature exposure was associated with “increases in happiness, subjective well-being, positive affect, positive social interactions and a sense of meaning and purpose in life.”

Who wouldn’t want those things for their children?

There are different pathways to this type of nature connection. While some programs are pointedly educational, many camps focus solely on having fun outdoors. If your child is interested in science, you could choose a camp with an educational focus; or if your child just needs a social outlet, you could choose a camp that promotes team building through outdoor sports.

There’s no wrong approach. As long as outdoor camps create a basis for nature appreciation, then campers come to associate the natural world with positive experiences. These formative experiences help build active and engaged young people who will become the next generation of environmental stewards.

How to Choose a Summer Camp

While summer camps come in many varieties, we recommend looking for camps that focus on outdoor activities and teach campers to work together. Outdoor camps often challenge young people to learn new skills as they navigate the natural world, and this is an experience that simply cannot be replicated elsewhere.

Any camp should promote safety first, and all counselors should be appropriately certified in at least Basic First Aid, with lifeguards on staff if swimming is involved.

Consider calling the organization to get a feel for how they run camps. Do they seem excited to spend time with young people? What activities will they do? Will they make sure every camper is included in activities?

Ask all of these questions and let your feelings guide you. In most locations, there are a variety of camps, run both by private outfitters and businesses as well as by local governments and community organizations.

If you are not sure where to start, look up your city’s recreation and parks department and check their offerings, or call a local outdoors outfitter or YMCA. Any of these places should be able to point you towards reputable summer camp opportunities in your area.

Try a Camp with Us

If you are local to central North Carolina, consider sending your child to one of our summer camps at The Haw River Canoe & Kayak Co. We emphasize nature-based learning, community-building, and self-confidence in an inclusive environment.

Please contact us for information on upcoming camps. We’d be thrilled to help your child or teen connect to the natural world.