Camp- The New Prozac

Camp: The New Prozac

This title appeared in bold letters on a power point slide at a recent conference I attended. Noted author, speaker, and expert in child psychology, Dr. Anthony Rao has been featured in numerous publications and tv/radio pieces for his approach to helping children largely without medication.  It’s a provocative statement, and while there are amazing benefits of modern medicine, it’s interesting to consider the way camp impacts the cognitive and social development of our kids.

The presentation he delivered cited the rising levels of anxiety in children, and the specific ways in which the young brain and body process and manage stress.  And as it turns out, research supports what I have often observed, that summer camp is an amazing antidote- simply because of the mission and typical activities of camp itself. Embedded in the camp day are so many of the things that researchers have known for years to be stress reducers. 

1)      Connection to nature is a powerful de-stressor, and here at Summer Fenn, our campers spend time exploring the outdoors both on and off campus. Research shows that a walk in the woods, interactions with animal life, and just plain ol’ sunshine can reduce anxiety and promote a sense of ease and relaxation.

2)      Movement is also connected to the relaxation response, and we do a LOT of moving our bodies and being active throughout the day. Of course there are quieter times of creativity, reflection (and air conditioning), but we know that kids process stress through their bodies. Having abundant opportunities to move, integrate and deplete anxious energy can make a world of difference. 

3)      Hands on learning experiences are special. They stimulate the brain in a unique way- doing a math problem at a desk is fundamentally different than cutting an angle on a woodworking project. The combination of motor and cognitive work is fully immersive, and provides a mindful quality to the task that offers the anxious brain a pause.

4)      Building friendships is at the core of the summer camp experience, and with our skilled and well trained staff, we provide models and guidance for navigating hundreds of social interactions that are not online or digital, but in person. There is a growing field of research that shows the ways in which children’s online personas are escalating increased anxiety. Camp is the counter-culture to the “profile” social dynamic.  

Most importantly Summer Fenn helps build confidence, with our particular focus on a highly trained staff and the “challenge by choice” approach to risk taking and guided support. “Confidence is the enemy of anxiety”, is another nugget that Dr. Rao shared.  As children build skills in self-regulation, self-expression, flexibility, perspective taking and more- they grow more confident, more autonomous, and more immune to the stress of their day. We camp professionals know a well-rounded day of play and meaningful activity are an amazing way to serve children of all ages, now we also know the power of our camp culture to unwind some of the stress and anxiety our world is dishing out. We look forward to playing, building, moving, hiking and connecting with our campers, and adding a little more ease and confidence to our community and our world.