March 27, 2014 at 1:26 PM
The Westfield Area Y understands the middle school years can be an awkward time in a child’s life. What can a parent do to help your middle schooler gain confidence and build their self esteem so they are ready for the next school year? The answer is enroll them in a camp program. There are some key aspects of a camp experience that is beneficial to this age group. They are as follows:
1. An Identity: Kids need an identity. Middle schoolers are defined by their looks, material stuff (cool shoes, backpack, gaming devices), parents, grades and their athleticism. Camp allows kids to be known for being a team player, rock climber, jumper, friend, hiker, Frisbee thrower, cook, scientist, crafter, frog catcher and much more. This list is endless. When a kid walks onto a camp property they get to choose their identity. Where else in life does that happen?
2. An Emotionally Safe Environment: Middle schoolers need a supportive environment where they can make a mistake and it's okay. They need somewhere they can miss the bulls-eye and no one laughs. Instead, their friends give them pointers on how to do better next time. Camp provides this.
3. A Chance to be a Kid: We live in a world that forces children to grow up entirely too fast. Kids need a chance to be kids. They need to make s’mores, create and design their own comic book, make their own sculpture, dress silly, eat candy, paint pictures, play games and go on adventures.
4. An Opportunity to be Outside: Unfortunately, kids live in a world where they never have to go outside. However, kids need to get dirty, make forts, swim in lakes and catch fireflies. There are hundreds of articles and books out there about “the nature deficit” in children. To grow emotionally, physically and mentally, kids need time outside. As addiction to phones, computers, tablets and video games grows, it has never been more important for kids to have substantial time away from these things.
5. True Friends: There is something about people living together, working together, playing together and overcoming challenges together that creates friendships that are intense and long lasting. They are also different from school friendships that can often end on a whim and are just as often filled with drama. Knowing they have a safety net of “camp friends” makes the emotional rollercoaster of middle school more bearable.
6. Mentors: Kids need people other than their parents to invest in them. They need positive role models to look up to. Camp provides children with amazing, college-age students who truly care about them and want them to be the best version of themselves. Kids need people to teach them how to make friends, how to handle conflict and how to be a good sport. They also need to know that there are other people out there who struggled through middle school who are now thriving. When their counselor tells them that seventh grade was also a really hard year for them, it gives them hope that life will not always be as difficult as it is in seventh grade.
7. A Bigger Picture: Our preteens/teens need to know that the world is bigger than their middle school, hometown or even state. They need to know that when it feels like their world is crumbling around them in the halls of their school that their life is not limited to that place. They have friends from other towns and counselors who understand.
Kids today need camp more than ever, especially middle school kids. These preteens and newly-teens need to learn who they are and what they are great at in an emotionally safe and supportive environment that pushes them to play outside and grows their sense of adventure. Camp offers a way for kids to start developing those skills in the best possible environment. Camp is a gift we can give our children that they will benefit from and remember forever.
The Westfield Area Y offers many options for middle school kids and kids of all ages. To learn more about the Westfield Area Y Summer Day Camp programs, contact the Welcome Center at the Main Y Facility at (908) 233-2700 or visit www.westfieldynj.org.
The Y is the nation’s leading nonprofit organization committed to strengthening communities through youth development, healthy living and social responsibility. Financial assistance is available for those in need.