Four things your kid will get from summer camp

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Growing up on the East Coast, I never saw the Indiana Dunes or Wisconsin’s many beautiful lakes. However, thanks to my parents sending me to a camp in upstate Pennsylvania, I got a glimpse of life outside my suburban subdivision.

For the first time, I swam in a lake, shot arrows, threw a boomerang and did familiar activities such as soccer and painting. I met kids from Canada, the Midwest and kids from Staten Island long before Jersey Shore had stuffed ideas down my throat about New Yorkers and summer folly.

Summer camp today isn’t just a replacement for school. What your kids gain will match the dollars you spend tenfold in life experiences.

Exploring a passion

Steven Goldstein runs Play-by-Play, a sports broadcasting camp for kids from ages 10 to 18. Here, your little sports nut can sit behind sports desks at Northwestern, Comcast and ESPN, while meeting men and women who make their living reporting live sports from the sideline to the radio tower.

“It’s a dream week for kids who love sports, and kids get to live and breathe sports, possibly exploring journalism as a career,” Goldstein said. “Love for sports is the equalizing factor. Even shy kids blend in, and they won’t be shy by day three or four.”

TV cameras may not be for every kid, and budding athletes can enroll in multi-sport and single-sports camps of all kinds. In addition, some camps focus on healthy activity without organized sports.

Building friendships

Susan Messing, a Chicago-based comedian and actress, sent her daughter to Harand Camp of the Theatre Arts in Kenosha, which combines traditional camp activities with singing, dancing and acting. It all seemed a natural fit since Sofia had been on stage with mom already.

Still, Messing’s 8-year-old got more than a spotlight and stage time.

“She went for a three-week session and sobbed when it was time to leave,” Messing said.

Besides drama study, kids at Harand and other arts camps get a first taste of building important friendships while rehearsing their numbers.

A sense of responsibility

Whether it’s an appreciation for conservation or the starring role in a camp skit, kids and tweens absorb a sense of accountability when clued into group activities. According to Jim Scherer of Camp Anokijig in Plymouth, WI, most kids come to camp with good citizenship built in. Sometimes just giving them activities can bring out their best.

“We teach outdoor skills. But the great adventures they experience like learning how to steer a boat and holding peers gives kids a sense of trust and responsibility. Also, things like pitching a tent and doing day hikes together build interpersonal skills and leadership,” Scherer said.

Camps such as Anokijig ask kids to set a goal to achieve something they want to do, such as learning to swim. Later, campers are recognized in a knighthood ceremony and honored with medals. Many also allow older kids to train as mentors and later earn money as camp counselors during summers after graduating high school.

According to Girls in the Game, a Chicago group that runs camps and after-school programs, kids involved in group activities have higher grades, have higher self-esteem and are less likely to get into trouble down the road.

Outrageous fun

Amidst the talk about responsibility and growing up gracefully, Scherer pointed out something else.

“Camp activities give kids a potential for life-changing growth. More importantly, kids should have outrageous fun.”

The truth is that no matter what your kid is into, whether it is arts and crafts, sports or just being outdoors, the Chicago area has plenty of variety for boys and girls of all ages.