As a camping professional, one of the questions I hear the most is, why camp? Why, when there are so many other options, should someone choose a Girl Scout camp experience? After 20 years, I think I’ve heard every last reason from parents against adding camp to their girl’s summer schedule: “We already spend a lot of time outdoors as a family, take family vacations, and visit national parks.” “She gets plenty of outdoor time at soccer practice.” “Dance team is enough exercise.” “She has lots of friends at school.” Yes, all of these activities are wonderful, and you should encourage your girl to keep doing them—but you should also consider encouraging your girl to go to camp.
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And now, because I know you’re going to ask, here’s why: Girl Scout camp is so much more than girls doing regular ol’ stuff outdoors. Yes, we offer archery, swimming, ropes, horseback riding, theater, hiking, art, backpacking, outdoor cooking, and more (so much more!). And while each of these activities are great, the greatness of a Girl Scout camp is more than the sum of its parts—it’s all of the activities, friendships, experiences, personal growth, tradition, and fun, sprinkled with camp magic and mashed together over the span of one, two, or even three weeks away from home.
Let’s jump right in to the 7 ways Girl Scout camp is so beneficial for girls (and may be the best choice for your girl this summer)!
1. Camp gives every girl the chance to be part of a powerful sisterhood that will have her back through thick and thin.
Every girl needs a powerful identity that makes her feel confident in front of others. In the real world, we often feel defined by our appearance, material stuff, parents, grades, and athleticism but, at Girl Scout camp, girls are free from the regular social structures of their social and family life. This freedom enables girls to be who they truly are, explore the best versions of themselves, and cultivate authentic relationships with fellow campers and staff mentors.
As part of the Girl Scout sisterhood, she gets to be a great climber, creative artist, friend, master s’more-maker, strong hiker, song leader, outdoor cook, archer, and maker. And hey, if she wants to change her name for the week, she can do that, too! Camp may be the best opportunity someone has during adolescence to be a part of a community that won’t judge her based upon outward appearances and achievements. She’ll learn new things about herself and watch new parts of her personality come to life. Not only does that feel good, but it does amazing things for her self-esteem as well.
2. Camp is the perfect opportunity for her to challenge herself in a support environment.
As part of each Girl Scout camp experience, campers learn to conquer their fears, take healthy risks (physically, socially, and emotionally), and make decisions on their own. And the encouragement girls receive from fellow campers and staff makes it a safe environment to try new things, experience failure, and try again. Whether she is overcoming a fear of heights on the ropes course or trying a new vegetable in the dining hall, Girl Scout camp provides a much-needed space to explore new, and sometimes fearful, challenges that will ultimately give her the courage to challenge herself at school and in her community. That’s grit, and it’s powerful stuff.
3. Girls to turn their technology off and turn their personalities on as they connect with the outdoors.
The GSNorCal summer camp experience is technology-free. This means that your girl’s time away from home is also a chance to take a vacation from the constant barrage of screens in her daily life. Not only is this a valuable change in routine, but experts suggest that there may also be some health benefits to unplugging! Stepping out from behind a screen for a week or two helps campers rediscover creative powers and engage with the real world, real people, real activities, and real emotions.
4. Camp gives girls access to empowering mentors and role models that will help her succeed.
At camp, girls won’t just be learning from their peers! Girls need caring adults, other than their parents, to invest in them and serve as positive role models. In fact, experts say that kids love to learn, but it’s only natural to feel fatigued from being instructed by adults day-after-day! At camp, your girl will have the chance to meet college-aged adult mentors (her camp counselors) who genuinely want her to be the best version of herself and who will encourage her to make her bed, take showers, take turns, and take on new challenges in a way that parents can’t fairly compete with. Ask any parent of a seasoned summer camper and I’m sure they’ll agree: spending time away from home, finding role models in older campers and counselors, and learning from people with such varied backgrounds is nothing short of formative for their children.
5. Summer camp intentionally helps kids develop the soft skills they won’t learn in the classroom.
Learning to share, communicate, and live with people she isn’t related to is a really useful skill (and great preparation for college, living with roommates, and succeeding in the professional world). Fully participating in the Girl Scout camp experience means joining a community where everyone must agree to cooperate and respect each other as they live and share a space with other campers. This environment teaches girls to address conflict, adapt to different personalities, work together, and learn to compromise with each other.
In the great outdoors, girls succeed by becoming an active part of their camp community. They learn teamwork and collaboration through ropes course challenges, preparing meals, setting up tents, cleaning their campsite, and spending time with mentors that model positive behaviors. They live together, share chores, resolve disagreements, and experience firsthand the importance of communication and interpersonal skills. Most importantly, girls learn from each other as they’re given the chance to experience girls and staff from incredibly varied backgrounds and start to discover that the world is so much bigger than the 50-mile radius they call home.
6. Camp gives girls the space to break from routine and explore the Power of Play.
Forest bathing is trending right now, and for good reason: outdoor experience supports healthy child development. Our girls live in a world where they never have to go outside, but girls need the chance to play in the dirt every once in a while! They need the space to make forts, swim in lakes, catch fireflies, dress silly, go on adventures, and just enjoy play for the sake of play. Unlike the majority of our day-to-day lives, camp gives girls the chance to get outdoors, take in the fresh air, relax and recharge, exercise, and find balance between routine and unstructured time. (Bonus: she gets to wear the same clothes for a week and you can’t tell her to take a shower.)
7. At camp, singing loud, silly songs is practically a sport (and it’s good for the soul)!
There’s no denying that singing kooky camp songs is the best, but did you know singing is also good for your health? Songs are an integral part of daily life at camp, and stick with girls long after the summer is over. Ask anyone who went to summer camp what their favorite camp song is, and chances are you’ll get more than the title—I bet most people will belt out the entire song for you!
If you don’t think you’ve ever experienced the joy of song before, think about a time you sang ‘happy birthday’ at someone’s party or your alma mater’s fight song at a football game. It’s an experience filled to the brim with freedom, comraderie, and happiness, and it just feels good to let loose every once in a while.
In conclusion: camp may be exactly what your girl needs this summer.
So, what’s the best thing about camp? And no, it’s not hitting your first-ever bullseye, canoeing across the lake with friends, or reaching the top of a mountain to see the world from new heights (though those are awesome perks she’ll be talking your ear off about when she returns). As a parent, you may not be there to see it but, when she’s at camp, she’s learning about the world around her, skill-building, and challenging herself in ways you’ve never thought possible. And when she returns home, you might not notice it right away, but I can guarantee she’s grown.
Maybe, in the months after her stay at camp, you notice her start to find her voice, try a new food, or expand her friend circle. Maybe she offers to help out around the house or joins a new club at school. Whether it’s a new behavior, new skill, or a new level of confidence, you might start to wonder, where in the world is this coming from? This—the personal growth, the courage to be herself, the daring to try new things—is what camp brings to the table. Girl Scout camp is the full developmental package and, the most important part is, you’re not there.
Before you go, I discussed this topic with a few other members of our Camps & Adventure team in a recent Facebook Live – check out the recording below!
Mary-Jane Strom—Mary-Jane is the Senior Director of Camps & Adventure at Girl Scouts of Northern California as well as a lifetime member of Girl Scouts, joining as a Brownie and completing her Gold Award in 1991. Mary-Jane fell in love with the outdoors and camping at a young age after her aunt sent her to Girl Scout camp as a birthday present. Mary-Jane has spent every birthday since at camp, returning summer after summer after summer. When not at camp, Mary-Jane enjoys a variety of other outdoor activities, like open water swimming and running.