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Unlike the perceptible advantages that children gain from a summer program, the intangible advantages are harder to pin down. In conjunction with home and school, and maybe even a summer job, summer programs are one of the many building blocks that create an adult. And while few children realize how much they’ve been influenced by their summer experiences, as adults they often see how their lives were enriched and layers were added to their development.

A summer program offers communal living

Beyond facilities and activity schedules, the people whom children encounter — bunk mates, counselors, and staff — play an influential role. Kids living in cabin situations soon find out that when they don’t treat one another well, there are consequences. If one person chooses not to cooperate, the whole group is affected.

Of course, the maturity level and experience of the staff is a key factor. An experienced counselor can size up a child’s situation and step in to help someone who is shy or shore up a child who will get picked on before the child even knows it.

Gaining new perspective

Chris Yager takes small groups of teens off the beaten path in Asia with his student summer program Where There Be Dragons. Teens, who are in the throes of questioning their social, political, and economic environment see themselves in another light as a result of being in such a foreign setting, notes Yager. He contends that when teens are far from their normal circumstances, they react in new ways. Kids who have never been leaders take charge. The popular outgoing teen becomes the quiet observer.

It is a wonderful experience for a child or teen to come to a place where he or she is an unknown entity and freed from his or her usual context.

Trying new things

Trying out new things is another significant intangible benefit of a summer youth program. At home and in school, children can dodge new experiences. At well-run camps, they can’t. Of course, the primary goal of any well-run program is fun.

Independence from parents also exerts a strong influence. The child who is away from home encounters new experiences independently. With the safety net of insightful counselors and staff, children can risk finding out what works and what doesn’t in interpersonal relationships, while discovering new facets of themselves.

Choosing a summer program

Though summer programs and camps can have a deep impact on a child’s development, not all camps have what it takes — a well-thought out philosophy, a mature and alert staff, and counselors who provide excellent role models and give kids a fun time. By looking at the intangibles, you can choose a program wisely.