This summer, my kids and I experienced Camp KidJam for the first time. Neither of them had been away from home for several nights in a row like this. They were excited and a bit nervous! I saw so many benefits worth sharing if you’re a parent/leader wondering if it’s a good idea to take elementary kids to camp.
In fact, there was this moment that I wish I could have captured. It was late the night of the first, very busy day. The kids were already in their PJs and I was passing out letters from home for them to read. The four girls in my group curled up on the same twin bed in the college dorm room with big grins and lots of giggling, saying things like: “I miss my mom so much, but this is so much fun.”
Whether it’s a week or a long weekend, overnight camp helps kids to:
- BOND – It doesn’t matter if they’re already plugged in to your church or if they’re brand new. Going away together puts them all in the same boat. They’re learning how everything works at camp, in this place, at the same time. And they’re getting to know each other in one big, long burst—where they might usually spend an hour or two together at church in a week, they’re playing, talking, eating and joking for hours on end. They help each other dress up and compete as a tribe or one team.
- BUMP – At camp, kids run right into others with different personalities, ideas, opinions and backgrounds. As others share, they might hear that one kid doesn’t have a dad, or maybe they have a parent in jail, or maybe they share their house with a lot of other relatives. They’ll be in each other’s space constantly, on a bus or van, in a room or bathroom, at a cafeteria table or in a row in the Large Group area. As they interact, they’ll learn about keeping confidences and responding with love.
- STRETCH – Away from home and what’s known, kids will have the perfect chance to personalize and really own what they think and believe. They’ll have the opportunity to be exposed to and try new things, some of them outside of their comfort zone. Kids might respond differently surrounded by friends and an authority figure that isn’t a parent. They can feel safe after a lot of time together to ask questions or share something that’s heavy on their mind. Kids get to make a lot of their own decisions in the cafeteria line and during free time.
Watching kids in the dorm, it was way too easy to flash forward in my mind and picture them at college someday. The biggest difference is that they will probably be there alone. But at camp, there was a teenager, a 20-something or another adult leader to help them process and navigate this new reality. I watched their confidence grow and wasn’t surprised by proud comments like: “Someday, when we go to college, it won’t be our first time. We’ll have done it before!”
What other benefits have you found in taking kids to camp? How can you tell—what are the signs—that your ministry is ready to get-away?