AMES, Iowa -- With many summer camp opportunities canceled due to the pandemic, parents may be wondering how to occupy their curious and active school-age children without this traditional, summer activity.
“This year parents can start a new tradition and foster some camp activities and benefits at home,” said Cindy Thompson, a human sciences specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.
“One of many benefits of both daytime and residential summer camps is the development of new skills, especially those associated with emerging independence,” said Thompson, who specializes in family life issues. School age children love to learn, especially when there is an element of challenge. They often are eager to develop real-world skills.
“As children transition from elementary school into the middle school years, independence through acquiring new skills is an ongoing area of interest as they begin to see themselves as part of a bigger world outside of the family unit,” Thompson said. “Summer camps often give children an opportunity to step outside of their comfort zone to try something different, which allows them to develop new skills and build confidence.”
Another benefit of many summer camps is the opportunity for vigorous physical play and connecting with nature.
“Running, jumping and tumbling are all activities much easier to fully engage in outdoors,” said Thompson. Many summer camps also provide new ways to experience nature through activities like hiking, kayaking, sleeping in tents and cooking over a fire.
“In order for children to get outside their comfort zone, parents need to be willing to do so, too,” said Thompson. Following the directions on a recipe, using a new art medium like clay or pitching a tent in the backyard are a few examples of new and challenging experiences for school-age children.
“For children to get the most out of these experiences, parents need to be prepared for mistakes to happen, messes to be made, and an end-result that might be quite different from what they had in mind. But it is in these moments that children are likely to gain new knowledge and confidence,” Thompson said.
Despite the potential push back, school-age children still look to parents for guidance and reassurance. When parents are willing to try new things and learn along the way, children are much more likely to do the same.
For more information on how school-age children develop and how parents and other caregivers can support school-age children’s interests, check out Iowa State University Extension and Outreach’s series Ages and Stages.
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