Blue Mountain Ranch Camp.

Blue Mountain Ranch Camp. (Photo: Blue Mountain Ranch).

How summer camps aid in children’s self-discovery and enhance their educational experience

Rocky Mountain Day Camp.

Rocky Mountain Day Camp. (Photo courtesy: Rocky Mountain Day Camp)

It happens every year, yet it somehow manages to take us by surprise each time: no sooner have we penned those new year resolutions than it’s time to set up the summer calendars. When school’s out, freedom beckons, and kids need things to do.

When it comes to summer activities, we’re spoiled for choice throughout our scenic state. Camps entice a full range of fun in step with kids’ vibrant imaginations, offering everything from crafts to climbing, arts to archery. On a deeper level, camps provide kids with immense opportunities for learning and growth, including building independence, social skills, confidence, and more. We reached out to several local camp providers for their insights on how camps can help kids stretch and grow.

Kids are empowered with independent decision-making
No matter how determined we are to steer away from so-called “helicoptering”, by its very nature parenting involves a certain amount of decision-making, whether that means setting the rules or merely weighing in. Summer camp opens doors wide open for kids to make choices.

“Often kids come to us used to their parents planning out their whole days,” says Blue Mountain Ranch Youth Camp Director Tim Graf. Graf’s grandparents founded the sleepaway camp in 1946, which he now runs with his parents, Suzie Allen Graf and Bob Graf. “Camp instills fresh independence beginning with the very way it’s set up: all the activities to choose from, decisions to make from planning the day down to what to wear in the morning. Putting kids in charge of decisions like these is a huge area where we see a lot of growth.”

YMCA Day Camp

YMCA Day Camp (Photo: YMCA of Northern Colorado).

At Blue Mountain Ranch, campers sign themselves up weekly for their entire week of activities, choosing from the likes of archery, rappelling, an exciting ropes course, the ever-popular horseback riding, swimming, arts and crafts and much more. “With five activity periods daily, we could be offering 40 activities in a single day,” Graf says. 

Sleepaway camp may represent the most sheer volume of time kids are faced with decisions while away from their parents in one stretch, but day camps are equally focused and impactful when it comes to facilitating decision-making within a safe environment. 

“Within our summer day camp model, we have structured activities that range from arts and crafts to STEM projects, outdoors, nature-based exploration, active play, field trips, and more,” says Brittany Vella, Executive Director of School Age Programs and Day Camp for YMCA of Northern Colorado. “Within our framework, we always allow for choice. We think choice is really important for fostering resilience and independence.”

Camp fosters social skills and new connections
At camp, kids are united with peers from a wide span of areas and backgrounds outside of their usual routines. Here kids form new friendships independent of adult vetting. Moreover, the fresh, camp experiences can go a long way in establishing connections. 

Blue Mountain Ranch Camp.

Blue Mountain Ranch Camp. (Photos: Blue Mountain Ranch).

“While trying new things and getting better at favorite activities, we’re making new friends and creating lifelong bonds,” says Holly Hansburg, owner of Rocky Mountain Day Camp. “Our campers return to RMDC year after year so excited to see their ‘camp friends’. The connections made with both our staff and fellow campers can last a lifetime.”

Kids develop responsibility
While the foremost allure of summer camp is the pure fun of it, embedded are opportunities to take manageable risks and take on responsibilities. Kids have to do things for themselves – gathering their swim gear, putting on sunscreen, asking for help, or taking on bigger tasks. Rocky Mountain Day Camp’s Counselors in Training Program offers older campers leadership experience, splitting their time between assisting counselors and being campers.

At Blue Mountain Ranch, kids develop responsibility for caring for animals, too, Graf says. “Kids always want to help out in our horse program – pitching in, mucking stalls, grooming, feeding. A lot of kids who have never been around horses find their way to the corral, really connecting with the animals.” 

Blue Mountain Ranch Camp.

Blue Mountain Ranch Camp. (Photos: Blue Mountain Ranch).

Camp encourages kids to discover their best selves
Self-growth may now always look “fun”, Vella says. It can be tough and uncomfortable. It may start with a child clinging to their parent’s leg. Ultimately, camps work tirelessly to facilitate environments, trusted teams, and activities that give parents peace of mind knowing their children are cared for and set up to thrive.

“Our programs focus on social-emotional learning,” Vella says. “We use a specific curriculum that encourages children to tap into their individuality, find their identity, and build resilience.”

Outside of facilitated growth, camp uniquely encourages kids to check in with themselves away from their typical expectations and roles and be presented with whole new arrays of choices. Here is a boundless opportunity for kids to discover who they truly are. “Joining a new group of peers from Boulder County and beyond, campers can find new passions, hone their skills, step out of their comfort zones, and engage in new activities, all of which in turn fosters their independence and self-confidence,” says Hansburg. 

Learn more
> YMCA of Northern Colorado Day camps in Boulder, Lafayette, Broomfield, Longmont, Berthoud, Loveland, Johnstown, and (new!) YMCA Camp Tumbleson Lake near Ward; Overnight experiences at YMCA Camp Santa Maria; Day Camp registration opens Feb 10; YMCA Camp Santa Maria registration is open now;

> Rocky Mountain Day Camp, Family-run day camp offered in Boulder (2 locations), Erie, and Superior;

> Blue Mountain Ranch Youth Camp, Boys and girls family-owned sleepaway camp for ages 7-17. Old-fashioned summer camp experience with world-class horseback riding;

By Wendy McMillan,
Raised in the Rockies