For kids who attend camp, the experience can be described in any number of ways. Fun, challenging, exciting, an adventure.

Camp also teaches a broad range of skills, in the art studio, on the playing field, on the water and atop mountains.

But camp also teaches kids abilities that transcend specific activities, abilities they can carry with them into home and school and social settings. Take, for example, the benefits that come from giving campers the opportunity to take risks in a safe environment.

Risk-taking at camp – such as the physical challenge of a ropes course, or the emotional risk of performing on stage – teaches kids resilience and builds confidence. So, while kids at camp may experience fear and anxiety about trying new things, the lessons they learn in that supportive and safe environment make taking that leap a just-right choice.

Catriona Sangster directs Camp Wawenock, a girls’ camp in Raymond, and also serves as president of Maine Summer Camps, a membership organization supporting more than 120 member camps across Maine. Sangster said at Camp Wawenock, staff members are trained methodically to provide campers with a safe and comfortable environment, which, in turn, promotes healthy risk-taking.

Campers know they won’t be laughed at, for example. Rather, they’ll be encouraged to try again.

Sangster said the counselor-camper relationship also promotes risk taking. Campers “idolize their counselors, want to perform for them and please them.

At another girls’ camp, Alford Lake Camp, in Hope, director Sue McMullan said campers gain self-confidence when they realize they “don’t have to be successful in everything they try.”

Indeed, it’s “not how you’ve done it, or how well, but that you’ve tried it,” McMullan said. Again, the staff are key.  “Follow-through feeds campers’ souls,” she said. If a counselor processes a camper’s experience “in the moment,” the camper gets the message of “’I’m going to stick with you no matter what.’”

“It’s all about connection, all about relationships,” she said. “Being able to say, ‘that was awesome, you tried that, and you learned a lot, now you know what you can do differently,’” is a key to a counselor working with a camper, McMullan said.

“It’s so important that we try to create a community where everyone is valued for things they can do, and supported in things that are challenges.”

At Camp Agawam, a boys’ camp in Raymond, assistant director Karen Malm said “camps are set up for healthy risk-taking.”

There’s a “sense of family at camp. You have people to catch you.” As campers get older, they sense that even more and are “really willing to put themselves out there,” she said.

Malm said a ropes course is a perfect example of kids taking healthy risks.

“You have all those safety factors around you. You’ve got that harness, and confidence that you will be caught metaphorically and physically.”

Like other directors, Malm said staff members are integral to the equation. Counselors serve as role models who encourage campers to take challenging steps.

Malm said Camp Agawam’s schedule is also “set up to encourage risk-taking.” Campers over the course of their stay will try every activity the camp offers, she said.

The camp’s trips program also offers kids a “great sense of accomplishment.” The fact that campers are not graded on their efforts also supports risk taking.

“It’s not the same as school, where you’re trying new things, but repercussions can be tough,” Malm said.

Matt Pines, director of Maine Teen Camp in Porter, agrees.

“For a lot of campers, it might be the first time in a long time where it’s competition by choice, or they don’t have to compete,” he said. “That in and of itself makes them so much more comfortable taking a risk.”

Pines said that as kids age, they often see participation in activities as a “binary choice: all in, or don’t do it at all. At camp there’s a third way, do it because you love it.”

“A really big part of it is being away from expectations: parental observation and judgment, and peer and teacher judgment,” Pines said. Not having to worry about what teachers or parents think allows campers “to try new and different things.”

“It’s the first step to developing a new skills or hobby,” he said.

Pines said that a “culture of support and encouragement,” can also prompt campers to do things they may be afraid of.

“A lot of kids these days don’t have the knowledge that you can be scared and go forward at the same time,” he said. Maine Teen Camp is intentional about supporting kids to keep pushing forward, and then talking to them about the experience. As a result, kids may learn how to experience fear and anxiety, yet still keep going. That gives them a sense of their own capabilities, but also “speaks to a growth mindset,” Pines said.

“They start to understand and appreciate that they may have more control over their feelings and emotions than they previously recognized,” he said. “It’s hugely valuable for them to be able to have opportunities to identify what it feels like to be scared, and persevere and move forward.”

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.