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It's More than Just Fun: The Benefits of Attending or Working at a Camp

Nicolle Bengtson, CCLS 
Certified Child Life Specialist: Solid Tumors
Texas Children's Hospital Cancer Center

As adults, we often look back at our memories from summer camp and reflect on the experiences we had, the people we met, and the lessons we learned. Children, regardless of their medical history or background, should also have the ability to share their own camp stories and experiences. Camp is beneficial in many ways and often creates lasting memories, teaches life skills, and positively changes the lives of children, young adults, and families. As professionals, camp can remind us to slow down, improve our ability to work as a team, give a sense of purpose, and overall inspire us.  For children, attending camp can promote independence, make time for imagination and play, improve overall happiness, teach resilience, allow for connection with others, create lasting friendships, and build self-esteem.  In 2014, a study was conducted to measure changes in social skills and overall happiness in children who have attended camp.  The post camp survey showed positive changes in both social skills and overall happiness. (Thurber, et al., 2007).

For children with chronic or acute medical conditions, camp can be the perfect medicine. Medical-based camps are often designed to meet the unique needs of children and young adults with specific medical conditions like cancer and blood disorders, epilepsy, cardiac conditions, kidney disorders, etc. These camps can allow children to connect with others going through something similar and give them the opportunity to share experiences, feel comfortable in their own skin, and build a sense of identity. For caregivers, a medical-based camp can give them peace of mind knowing their child will be cared for by trained camp staff and will receive the necessary medical care they need while they are away. This can also be a time for built-in caregiver respite and give them the much-needed parental self-care they deserve.

As professionals who work with children, it can be important for us to advocate for camp attendance and explain the benefits and importance of attending. I have had the chance to co-direct two different camps over my professional career. One camp supporting bereaved families and the other supporting teenagers with cancer. These experiences have shown me the therapeutic value of children and families participating in camps as well as attending myself as a staff member.  Due to these positive experiences, I find myself continuously making camp referrals and educating patients and families on what camps are available and helping them search for the best fit for their child or family. This can be a tedious task, especially when there is not an awareness of camps available in your area.

Here are a few resources that provide great retreats or camps as well as organizations that can help you find the right fit for your child or patient.

Camps/Retreats for Adolescent and Young Adults:

     -First Descents
Children’s Grand Adventure

Other medical base camp programs:

     -Camp Sunshine

Finding the right camp in your area:

     -Kids Camps
American Camp Association

Referring children to attend camp is very important but attending camp as a volunteer/staff member can be equally as beneficial. Having the opportunity to get out of your normal work environment and see children and families in a new setting can be the perfect opportunity to try something new. This can be a great way to build new professional skills and it can also provide self-reflection in the work that you do. Seeing children out of your normal clinical setting can challenge you professionally, allow you to see things in a new light, and re-inspire you by giving you new goals and ideas for your practice.

Overall, supporting and attending camp has many benefits for children/families as well as for your own professional growth. Investigating camps in your area will give you many additional tools and resources for the children you serve that may have a lasting impact in their life.


Thurber, C., Scanlin, M., Scheuler, L., & Henderson, K. (2007). Youth development outcomes of the camp experience: Evidence for multidimensional growth. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 36(3), 241-254.

Monke, A. (2022). The impact of camp experiences on social skills and happiness. American Camp Association.  

15 benefits of summer camp for your kids. GWRYMCA. (n.d.) kids#:~:text=Children%20will%20feel%20a%20greater,on%20the%20world%20around%20them.

Child Life Profession