Camp: School for Kids’ Character!

As winter pushes towards spring, parents start to plan for summer. Camp is a fantastic option for many children. Parents can struggle, though, to decide which camp is right, and how to structure the summer.

 What is camp for? Is it to explore a new interest, or meet new kids? Should my child get to cement important friendships or hone a skill she already has? What about academics and the summer slide? Should there be some unscheduled days in there if we can manage it? The choices can feel overwhelming.

 So a better question is “What can camp do for this child, this summer? What will help your child get one step closer to being the respectful, responsible, resilient adult you are working to raise? Most kids take a step back from the “3 R’s” of school during the summer. What a great time to take a step towards these 3 R’s of great character!

 Specialty camps build skills and confidence. Even if your child does not turn into a star athlete or virtuoso musician, he or she will become something of an expert for that week (or session) in a set of skills. The great camps we have in Pittsburgh build knowledge as well as hone ability, and many kids like to know a lot about something!

 Day camps encourage kids to play hard and try a whole variety of new experiences! With wonderful options like gardening and rock-climbing, swimming and crafts and sports of every kind, children often find they love something they had never even heard of before the summer.  When our children leave home for a day of camp, they are often supervised by older teens and young adults. While this may make some parents nervous, this is actually a great opportunity for our kids!  

With a teenage counselor your child will:

  • Learn to ask for what they need.
  • Get some practice waiting.
  • Try some new activities.
  • Perhaps find a role model.
  • Play hard!

Being supervised by someone a little younger and less experienced will encourage your kiddo to build a little resilience, and speak up for herself. Since these counselors are supervised by older, more experienced camp administration, this is actually a perk of summer.

Are you considering an overnight camp experience for your son or daughter? What an amazing learning opportunity overnight camp is! Those 3 R’s – respect, responsibility and resilience – mature like crazy when kids and teens go away from home, for a week or for a summer.

Respect develops when you have to live with people you’ve never met. There has to be a way to get along with that kind of annoying kid sharing your bunk, and your cubby, and your floor space and the other 22 kids sharing your bathroom! Summer camp is the place to find the ability to have empathy and boundaries, to show tolerance and learn to like someone different than anyone you’ve ever met.

Responsibility is the bread and butter of communal living. Want a child to come home who knows how to sweep a huge, messy room, set and clear a table for 14, and clean up garbage strewn about after a storm? Someone who understands that the jobs on the chore chart have to get done before fun can be had. A young person in your own home who pitches in for the greater good!

Resilience is one of the hardest character traits to teach. The ability to stand in the face of adversity, we know that our children need this, but don’t know how to build the skills. We can give our kids and teens lots of chances to find their own inner strength, and to develop it. Camp trips are a great tool.

Resilience is the answer to the doubts we have as parents. Won’t he miss me? What if she gets sick? Homesickness, bug bites, disappointments and injuries all would be weathered without mom or dad. As the camp doctor at a fantastic overnight camp, I can tell you that kids do look for a parent in those moments. And then they surprise themselves as they turn to counselors, new friends, and their own inner strength to get through and get over the hardships. What pride and self-confidence they discover as they learn of their own resilience.

 What is camp – in all of its wonderful variations – for? Camp is for growing. Camp is school for character building. So, whatever your child needs to learn this summer, think about the character growth that camp can offer.

Deborah Gilboa, MD ( is a Pittsburgh based parenting expert and family physician.  She is the spokesperson for the 2014 Parenting Expo taking place on March 8th and 9th at the Monroeville Convention Center. For more info, go to