I recently had a meeting with several camp leaders in Australia, where they had just completed their summer camp programs (that’s November-January down under). I asked how their summer went during COVID-19, to which they responded “Fantastic!” They said it was their biggest summer ever, up by 20% over pre-COVID levels.
While the summer season doesn’t start here for another three to four months, camping leaders and parents alike in the United States are asking, “What is going to happen with camp this summer?”
As the Executive Director of HoneyRock, the Outdoor Center for Leadership Development of Wheaton College, I oversee eight weeks of summer camp for 1st through 12th grade. I believe that summer camp is desperately needed now, and it can be offered safely if we continue to follow proper health protocols. As the data coming out of Australia suggests, there is a deep hunger for the camp experience amidst the deprivation we have all experienced during COVID.
Summer Camp is Needed Now More Than Ever
Parents have first-hand experience regarding the impact of COVID on kids. Extensive research is now emerging which backs up what parents already know. COVID has had tremendous negative effects on our kids. Social isolation, inactivity, increased screen time, interrupted school, and continuous disruption is impacting the mental and physical health, learning, and social development of children and teens. [2-5] The potential long-term impact on an entire generation is significant. 
The summer camp environment is the antithesis and the antidote to the loss and deleterious effects of COVID. Rather than social isolation, camps offer a caring community and friendship. Instead of inactivity and screens, camps offer a wide range of activities that allow kids and teens to enjoy the outdoors and participate in activities that engage the whole person. During a summer camp experience, kids share life together with friends and mentors. They experience the freedom, joy, and connection that kids and teens crave which in turn leads to lasting memories and transformation. This is exactly what our kids always need, but they especially need it now to fill up what was lost this past year . 
Even in the early stages of the pandemic we saw this play out at HoneyRock. Last summer, we were able to safely operate summer camps at HoneyRock before tests and vaccines were widely available. As we do every summer, we sent a survey to camper parents after their child’s session, asking them to share where they saw growth in their camper as a result of their summer camp experience. The numbers you’ll see below are higher than any other year on record.
- 93% of parents reported growth in the ability to connect God’s Word with their daily lives.
- 100% of parents reported growth in personal character.
- 100% of parents reported growth in willingness to face challenges.
- 99% grew in engagement with daily activities and events.
- 96% grew in their desire to serve others.
These statistics indicate that our children are more receptive to learning and growth because of what they’ve experienced and lost over the past year. Their readiness for camp is at peak levels. An experience at camp this summer could provide the fresh air, strength, healing, and connections kids and teens need during this time.
Can We Operate a COVID-Safe Summer Camp This Summer?
Yes. Here are three reasons why:
Children are at significantly less risk of contracting or spreading the disease.
According to an article that summarized the research, “Children, especially those under 13, are less susceptible to infection, less likely to experience severe symptoms, far, far, far, far less likely to be hospitalized or die if they are infected, and are less likely to transmit the disease if infected.”(
Mitigation efforts work.
Last summer at HoneyRock, we did not have an outbreak of COIVD-19 while hosting 400+ campers and 115 staff on-site for four weeks. This was in part due to implementation of NPIs (non-pharmaceutical interventions) at camp. NPIs include pre-arrival quarantine and testing, using cohort models, monitoring symptoms, physically distancing, using masks when mixing with non-cohort groups and individuals, increased hygiene measures, enhanced cleaning and disinfection, increased programming outdoors, identifying infection and isolating early, and indoor ventilation.() Each of these preventative measures adds an additional layer of protection and significantly decreases the likelihood that COVID will enter or spread at camp.
Deep Life-Changing Learning.
Last spring when COVID was new, our society responded by shutting down everything. The vast majority of camps cancelled their summer programs. However, our team at HoneyRock decided to move forward with adapted schedules and programming.
We all had to modify our behavior and sacrifice for the sake of others and for the opportunity to enjoy life together at camp. This process changed us and equipped us all for the year ahead. Most importantly, we learned how to sacrificially love one another through self-denial and service. As noted by the parent responses above and in our end of summer staff reports, the depth of learning and growth was unparalleled and wholly worth the effort and sacrifice. The eternal, life shaping outcome which we experienced was the opposite of the emotional, physical, and spiritual cost of staying at home and worth the risk.
I encourage you to seriously consider camp for your kids this summer. As one camper parent put it at the end of summer last year, “My kids desperately needed camp, and so did I.”