More than 14 million kids head off to summer camp in the United States alone each year. And while many assume that the lessons learn at camp have more to do with knot-tying and papier-mâché than real life, there are actually countless important skills being learned at camp every summer. According to research published by the American Camp Association, going to camp fosters important skills, from navigating relationships to being more assertive, giving those who attend a surprising crash course in real world preparedness along the way.
So, while your memories of camp may have more to do with tying hitch knots than learning skills you use as an adult, these 20 lessons you forgot from summer camp that are actually useful might just remind you how influential those summers away really were. And when you want to raise your own children, check out these 40 Parenting Hacks for Raising an Amazing Kids.
How to Interact With Other Species
While it may seem silly, there are few times in life after camp that someone will give you realistic advice about how to fend off a bear. Although the likelihood you’ll ever be attacked by a wild animal are slim, knowing to hang your food away from your campsite, which bears to fight versus which ones to run away from, or how to avoid getting kicked by a horse might just serve you well on adventures you enjoy later in life. And those tricks for dealing with mosquito stings you learn at camp are always surprisingly useful when summer rolls around each year. And for safer ways to get in your daily burn, try out these 10 Amazing Workout Videos from the ‘90s That Are Still Awesome.
How to Unplug
According to recent research from the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average kid between ages 8 and 18 spends more than seven hours a day engaging with entertainment media across a wide array of devices. However, at summer camp, where phones and gaming systems are off-limits, kids learn a lesson many of us could stand a refresher in as adults: how to live without those devices and be more present. And for more reasons to ditch the devices, check out The 30 Best Reasons to Take a Digital Detox.
How to Sleep Anywhere
That comfy queen-sized bed you’re used to at home? Yeah, don’t count on finding anything similar at camp. Those comfort-free cots and sleeping bags on the ground set a precedent for being able to sleep anywhere that serves many of us well later in life, like those nights we spend on friends’ futons when we’re traveling or those frugal post-college years we pretend sleeping on an air mattress is anything but an exercise in spinal torture. And for more ways to improve your life, check out these 70 Genius Tricks to Boost Your Confidence.
How to Respect Nature
For many kids raised in urban environments, the closest they get to interacting with nature on a regular basis is seeing blades of grass spring up between gaps in the sidewalk. However, those who attend summer camp learn to respect nature by being immersed in it. Better yet, researchers at the University of British Columbia have found a significant link between children who play outside and those who are invested in protecting nature as adults.
How to Cook With No Supplies
Want to see someone whip up a meal from what looks to you like an empty cupboard? Ask your nearest Boy Scout. Camp—especially those overnight trips in the woods where you learn to cook around a campfire—can teach anyone to make a gourmet meal out of virtually nothing, a skill that serves many of us well in those penny-pinching post-grad years when ramen and a pack of frozen peas are considered a gourmet dinner.
How to Interact With Members of the Opposite Sex
For many kids, particularly those who attend single-sex schools, getting to know members of the opposite sex is a harrowing experience. And even for those who attend co-ed schools, trying to navigate having a crush on someone and having to see them every day until you hit 18 is no easy feat, either. Fortunately, camp teaches us how to interact meaningfully with members of the opposite sex, learning to treat them as equals—and not just people to potentially date—along the way. And when you want to improve your own relationships, ditch these 40 Relationship Tips That Are Actually Terrible.
How to Be Alone
While living under mom and dad’s roof offers few opportunities for true solitude, camp often provides plenty of solo downtime. Whether you’re hanging out alone in a bunk during a free period or sleeping solo in a tent on a camping trip, summer camp teaches us the value of being alone without being lonely.
How to Fend for Yourself
Without our parents or the teachers we’ve known for years around to help us, camp teaches us another important skill: how to fend for ourselves in tough situations. Whether we’re feuding with a bunkmate or are trying to nab the last spot on an off-campus trip, camp is one of the first experiences many kids have with self-advocacy, and one that often shapes their future, as well. And when you want to start living your best life, master these 30 Life Skills Every Man Should Know.
How to Be a Good Sport
Whether you’re competing in a game of capture the flag or having a camp-wide color war, there’s no denying that camp teaches you the importance of good sportsmanship. While, after a contentious competition at school, you could retreat to the comfort of your own home, kids at sleepaway camp have to both play and live together, making amicable resolutions essential. And considering how many different teams you’ll play over the course of a summer, learning how to get along with new teammates is just as important as losing gracefully. And for more lessons on living a better life, discover The 50 Best Ways to Be a (Much) Better Man.
How to Be Truly Independent
For many kids, summer camp is the first time they’re away from home. In getting this much-needed break from our parents, we learn independence, getting our first taste of freedom from living under their roof. Better yet, without mom or dad there to catch us if we fall, we learn how to be assertive and advocate for ourselves, as well.
How to Be Responsible
While few 10-year-olds don’t have actual work experience, camp often teaches us a similar amount of responsibility. Setting tables in the dining hall, straightening up bunks, and helping with camp-wide clean-ups all foster a sense of responsibility not easily taught in an academic setting.
How to Nurture Our Inherent Talents
Being stuck in a math class that doesn’t challenge you or a history class that bores you to tears hardly fosters a love of learning in most kids. Fortunately, at camp, where kids can pursue their artistic passions without a hefty portion of calculus on the side, we learn what our talents and interests are and enjoy ample opportunities to hone those skills.
How to Work as a Team
When you’re all living, working, and playing in the same space, teamwork is key to keeping things civil day in and day out. Whether you’re on the same team for a game of kickball or are trying to work through an issue as bunkmates, teamwork is non-negotiable when you’re living together in tight quarters at camp. Teamwork makes the dream work, after all.
How to Be Resilient
At school, a bad or minor illness often means we get to go home and veg out on the couch while watching bad daytime TV. However, at camp, we learn to be resilient and pick ourselves up after a fight with a friend or get back on the horse—sometimes literally—after we’ve been sidelined by an injury.
How to Be Disciplined
There’s nothing like a bugle blaring outside your tent at 6 in the morning to teach you a thing or two about discipline. While begging for five more minutes in bed may work with your parents, the strict schedules adhered to at summer camps set a precedent for a disciplined future. Instead of spending the summer indoors sleeping late and playing video games, camp teaches us how to stick to a schedule dictated by someone else from the time we wake up to the time we go to sleep, an invaluable lesson in self-discipline skill we can all use as adults, too.
How to Be More Self-Confident
It takes a shocking amount of self-confidence to go somewhere you’ve never been and know no one and try to make friends. Camp pushes us into the self-confidence deep end, forcing us to muster up the self-confidence and courage necessary to meet new people and try new things far from our usual safety nets.
How to Be a Leader
Leadership skills don’t develop overnight—there’s a reason CEOs pay tens of thousands of dollars on weekend retreats aimed at nurturing them, after all. However, while being a leader doesn’t come naturally to everyone, camp helps many of us foster the leadership skills we never knew we had. Being thrust into new activities and roles in social groups often means finding out what kind of leader you are, a skill set most of us find essential as adults, both at work and in our interpersonal relationships.
How to Get Outside Our Comfort Zones
From learning how to swim to going zip-lining, there are countless things we do at camp that are well outside our comfort zones. Fortunately, this can set an important precedent for outside-the-box thinking and pushing our limits as adults, as well.
How to Love Exercise
Getting repeatedly picked last for kickball at school is rarely the catalyst for a lifetime love of physical activity. However, at camp, where kids get to go horseback riding, kayaking, swimming, play in color wars, and generally spend the bulk of their time being physically active, kids learn to love exercise, making themselves more likely to keep it a major part of their regular routine as adults, too.
How to Make Lifelong Friends
Perhaps the best lesson we learn at camp—and one that serves us well in adulthood—is how to make and maintain lasting friendships. While the friends we make at camp may retreat to their corners of the globe when camp is over, maintaining those friendships sets the stage for doing the same after high school, college, or when our friends start taking those dream jobs far from home. And when you want to expand your social circle, This Is the Best Way to Make New Friends.
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