At camp, play is a powerful form of learning

Photo courtesy American Camp Association
Play can be a powerful form of learning and a summer camp experience can maximize play opportunities.

“The traditional summer camp recognizes that play is a powerful form of learning that contributes mightily to the child’s healthy physical, emotional, social, and intellectual development.”

So said Tufts University child development expert, Dr. David Elkind.

American children seem to be in constant motion. Their schedules are packed with homework, chores, music lessons, and organized sports. With a lack of time for good, old-fashioned play for children, Elkind warns that there can be health and psychological consequences.

The American Academy of Pediatrics concurs with Dr. Elkind. In a report written in defense of play and in response to forces threatening free play and unscheduled time, AAP concludes free and unstructured play is healthy and, in fact, essential for helping children reach important social, emotional,and cognitive developmental milestones as well as helping them manage stress and become resilient. An estimated 21 to 30 percent of children in grades one to six get 15 minutes or less of recess a day, making opportunities for play in out-of-school-time even more important.

In a world where kids do not always get to be kids, summer camp experiences meet children’s developmental needs by offering opportunities to engage in unstructured play, experiential education, healthy and safe risk-taking, an “unplugged” environment, and a community that includes creative, caring adult role models.

Summer camps offer day and overnight experiences for children that maximize opportunities to play in a tremendous variety of ways. From free play to performing plays, from intense athletic contests to non-competitive games, opportunities for learning through play are paramount at camp.

For more information about camp or tools for selecting a camp, visit or contact the American Camp Association New England.

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