The Trends in Summer Camp Programming

Connexeo - 05/23/2018

Second in a series on summer camp trends and themes.

Summer camps have evolved from the days when day camps would mean pick-up softball games, nature walks, capture the flag and perhaps story time.

Municipalities, community centers, private enterprises and even school districts have created all sorts of specialty camps that have allowed youngsters to broaden their interests outside the scope of school or take up an activity that may not be offered at the recreational or select sports level.

The American Camping Association’s 2015 Emerging Issues summary found that in the previous two years:

  • 22% of camps had added adventure programs.
  • 19% added gardening programs.
  • 15% added full-family programs.
  • 12% added nature/environmental education programs.

Other new programs included health and wellness, fitness, service learning, cooking with food from camp gardens and, for teens, college planning programs.

One large trend being seen in summer camps at all levels is the establishment of community service programs. While there are camps than send middle and high school students overseas for community service projects, an estimated 56% of camps domestically implemented community service projects into their programming.

Some examples of these projects are, according to an article on, conducting sports competitions to raise money for charity, helping built a Habitat for Humanity home, volunteer work at senior centers and/or homeless shelters, and the like.

One camp had a fund-raising car wash to help a camp for low-income students.

“You could see how excited the kids were; not only by the success of their event, but also by getting to pay forward their enriching camp experience,” the fund-raising camp owner told Campsite.

Right next to helping the community is helping the planet, and another camp trend is “going green,” as evidenced by the 12% of camps mentioned above that have added environmental education programs. Of course, nature has always been a cornerstone of many summer camps, but the increased emphasis on green initiatives in everyday life have extended into camp programming.

Some camps specialize in teaching campers how to garden, compost and eat nutritionally – and they actually eat the fruits of their own labor. The children at one camp harvest the crops that are served in the camp’s organic salad bar. They also consume antibiotic-free milk and beef.

Perhaps the most rapidly expending trend in summer camping is the camp-school partnership. The American Camping Association noted that 49% of camps have some sort of connection to a school or to educational curricula, and that 20% of camps partner directly with schools.

Some of these programs, such as the Break-Aways Program in New York, are geared toward reducing summer learning loss. This 20-year-old program, conceived by a former New York City Public Schools chancellor, is designed for at-risk youth. They spend up to 28 days in camp, and each day’s activities include three hours of literacy education.

Other urban camp/school partnerships take place in St. Louis and Little Rock, among other places. Elsewhere, “Prep for Prep” camp programs are available nationwide, in which potential prep school students are identified in the fifth grade and go to summer camp for two years – after which scholarships to prestigious private schools often await.

Some programs aren’t that complex. Arts and science teachers will often have camps dedicated to their subjects, often on school property, which serve as adjuncts or previews to the upcoming academic year. And, of course, there are the band and sports camps run by music directors and coaches that start teaching the high school’s system to incoming middle school students.

Summer camp trends evolve with the times. Today, they seem to be moving toward community service, going green and working with schools.

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