Summer Camp and the Great Outdoors: A Natural (and Powerful) Combination!

Tents set up at the Great American Backyard Campout in Prospect Park, Brooklyn
Photo courtesy of Curtis Fisher
Guest post by Peg L. Smith

As a parent, one of the things I want most for my children (and all children) is the freedom of spirit that includes one’s heart and mind: To explore who they are — their strengths, what they love, their work styles, and what values they want to have. To test their abilities, try new things, and take risks. To connect and share freely with others, contributing to a community and being part of something bigger than themselves.

There is no better setting for this sense of spirit than the great outdoors, and there is no better way to achieve it than through a camp experience. Nature experiences have been a cornerstone of organized camp experiences since their beginning over 150 years ago. And they are still important today: According to the American Camp Association’s (ACA) most recent Sites, Facilities, and Programs report, over two-thirds of ACA-accredited camps indicate they intentionally target programs or initiatives to connect children with nature.

Research clearly shows that time spent in the outdoors has critical benefits for our children. A study from the University of Essex has shown that time spent in nature improves cognitive functioning, reduces stress, and allows for opportunities of self-discovery. But with kids spending seven hours plugged into a screen each day, sedentary, structured free time is the norm. Our wireless connections create invisible wires — wires that tie up our children’s minds, imaginations, physical activity levels, and time to build authentic connections with others and themselves.

But the outdoors and the camp experience combine to cut those invisible wires while fostering positive, powerful, and lifelong habits, skills, and mindsets. At camp, kids get outdoors; get moving (most exceed the recommended sixty minutes of physical activity per day!); learn how to live together in a caring, supportive community; and find the time to reflect on and explore their interests.

I’m thrilled by the recent partnership of ACA and NWF to reach more kids and parents with the positive impacts of outdoor experiences. We want nature to be a part of kids’ and families’ everyday lives. I encourage you learn how you can make the most of summer with a camp experience by visiting, where you will find expert resources, planning tips, and ACA’s Find a Camp database. Also, your family can join in NWF’s Great American Backyard Campout, which encourages families to gather outdoors and camp on June 22. As you participate in the Campout with your family, you will be doing so alongside many participating campers and staff at ACA-accredited camps.

Peg Smith 03-2011_01

Have a great summer!

With four decades of experience as a change agent in youth development and transformation, Peg L. Smith is the chief executive officer of the American Camp Association® (ACA). ACA is the champion of better tomorrows — providing resources, research, and support for developmentally appropriate camp experiences. Learn more at or

About ACA

The American Camp Association® (ACA) works to preserve, promote, and enhance the camp experience for children and adults. ACA-Accredited® camp programs ensure that children are provided with a diversity of educational and developmentally challenging learning opportunities. There are over 2,400 ACA-accredited camps that meet up to 290 health and safety standards. For more information, visit

Like us on Facebook for more year-round activities to get you and your family outdoors.

National Wildlife Federation’s (NWF) Be Out There is a national movement to give back to American children what they don’t know they’ve lost- their connection to the natural world. With a wealth of activities, events, and resources, Be Out There reconnects families with the great outdoors to raise happy, healthy children with a life-long love of nature.