Making camp friendships that last

Making friends at campBy Cathy Ashby

There's something very special about the friendships formed at summer camp.

Maybe it's the compressed time frame or the shared bathrooms. Or the late night talks or the collective pangs of homesickness. But, whatever the reason, in few other environments are such strong bonds formed in such a limited time frame.

 What makes summer camp friendships so special?

According to the American Camp Association, making friends at camp is easier than at other places because camp provides an environment in which children can learn how to make a friend and how to be a friend as part of a safe, supportive community. To that end, most camp counselors are trained to make sure that campers start making friends as soon as they arrive. They introduce campers to one another. They plan get-to-know-you games. And they watch out for kids who aren't making friends quickly. Camp staff members know that the kids need to work and play together, contribute and cooperate with each other. They also know that making friends is a lot easier when the campers have a trained facilitator looking out for them.

Common interests and shared experiences also play key roles in camp friendships, especially at specialized programs like sports camps or academic camps, where even shy kids find comfort and confidence in knowing that the other kids enjoy the same things they do. An aspiring young poet may have one friend at home who shares his passion, but at a writing program, he'll find dozens of comrades in creativity.

On the other hand, campers also find themselves in close quarters with children from different families, different schools and, sometimes, different parts of the world. The variety can spark conversation and draw campers together.

Regardless of their similarities or differences, camp friendships run deep. Christopher Thurber, Ph.D. and Jon Malinowski, Ph.D., authors of The Summer Camp Handbook, explain the strong bonds of camper friendships in this way: "When kids live with a group of their peers under the supervision of positive adult role models, their care and concern for others increases. This sense of kinship solidifies lessons about sportsmanship, sharing and responsibility. Most important, the experience forges bonds of friendship that last a lifetime."

Cathy Ashby is a former camp director and counselor.

 This article was originally published May 2013.

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