Best Summer Camp Ever

By: Stephen Gray Wallace

Best Summer Camp Ever

95 Years of Experiential Learning on the Shores of Cape Cod Bay              

Longtime director of Camp Monomoy for Boys Grant Koch coined a phrase that now serves as the curtain call for daily assemblies. “Make it a good one” stands in juxtaposition to the more common well wish “Have a good one,” and reinforces the truism of self-agency and its role in creating the optimal learning, social and growth experiences each new day brings.

Today, at the combined – and family-owned – Cape Cod Sea Camps (CCSC), boys and girls embrace such experiences within the context of an ever-expanding quest for the “Best Summer Ever,” a standard first articulated by the camp’s founder, Robert J. Delahanty, some 95 years ago (CCSC, 2016a).

That same standard is, of course, the goal for every camp and every camper, every summer.

The outcomes derived from experiential summer learning have been field tested, measured and authenticated by the American Camp Association, which accredits more than 2,700 camps representing more than five million children, teens and emerging adults each summer. The gains reveal themselves in such outcomes as the ability to make and keep friends; work in peer groups more effectively; rely less on adults and other people to solve problems; develop more confidence in the ability to succeed and contribute positively to family; become more curious, more inquisitive and more eager to learn new things … at camp, in school and, likely, for life (ACA, 2016).

Additional advantages can be found in the acquisition of “21st Century Learning,” including skills such as critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity (P21, 2016). Other educators add to that list content, context and courage.

How does CCSC define success? Meeting or exceeding expectations across five key metrics: independence (uses the many community resources available to ask for help and support when experiencing difficulties); self-reliance (makes positive choices and accepts responsibility for personal behavior); self-confidence (expresses confidence in his or her ability to succeed educationally and socially); exploration (embraces opportunities to try new things, make new friends, and contribute positively to the community as a whole); and respect (demonstrates respect for oneself, for others, and for the institution) (CCSC, 2016b).

For her part, Leah Shafer, in “Lessons From Camp,” stresses the many gains of summer learning, saying, “For so many kids, it signifies carefree days of swimming, playing sports, singing songs, and reveling in freedom from the demands of the school year. Camp means no homework, no studying, and no teachers. But significant learning is still taking place at summer camp – even if the campers don’t necessarily realize it” (Shafer, 2016).

Shafer goes on to note advances in self- and social-awareness, relationship skills, time management and responsible decision-making, cherry-picking 10 key experiences camp provides.

  1. Introducing children to an entirely new group of peers
  2. Creating a space where silliness is accepted, and bullying is not
  3. Setting up opportunities for children to find their own friends
  4. Requiring children to solve day-to-day problems on their own
  5. Modeling teamwork and sportsmanship
  6. Helping children uncover new skills
  7. Offering kids the chance to set and accomplish daily goals
  8. Presenting activities that are new to everyone
  9. Providing time for reflection
  10. Taking a break from technology

Not insignificantly, a summer at CCSC provides that electronic disconnect, helping young people to unplug and revel in real relationships in real time.

Veteran CCSC camper and Dartmouth College student Madeleine McArdle explains, “Because camps tend to remain primarily technology-free zones, everyone is able to fully commit to interacting face to face, building strong relationships and preparing to be successful later in life.” McArdle, who also serves as a member of the national advisory board of the Center for Adolescent Research and Education (CARE), continues, “What is vital to remember is that the time spent at camp is incredibly valuable and, for many, is worth so much more than spending days at home addicted to technology” (Wallace, 2016).

Camp is also a place where teens and emerging adults wrestling with the developmental “dilemma” of identity formation (Psychology Encyclopedia, 2016) can find solace and support. After all, trying to meld who they were, who they are and who they are becoming is no small feat. Yet, at camp, young people not only have an opportunity to be their authentic selves, but also can engage in the process of trying out alternative ones in a search for what works best in garnering maximum satisfaction and reward.

Corbin Freidman, a 14-year-old ninth grader, who spent the last five summers at Green River Preserve in North Carolina, spoke to those opportunities in a column for Camping Magazine (Friedman, 2016). “In my opinion, summer camp is one of the best experiences a child can, will, or could have. There are so many children in the world who feel restricted by society; I know because I was one of them. Often times it feels as if there’s a certain character I’ve built for myself at school and at home, but when you go to summer camp, you can change an entire aspect of yourself if you want, because these people don’t know that about you. You can change what you don’t like about yourself, or you can be an entirely different and new person if you want.”

Such freedom of self-expression platforms positive risk-taking.

In my own Camping Magazine piece, “The Myth of Risk,” I pointed out, “Most camp professionals have known intuitively for years what … research now makes statistically clear – young people who take positive risks are less likely to take negative ones. And there’s no better place to learn about positive risk-taking than at camp.

But, what do the kids say? We wanted to know, too … so we asked them. Here’s a representative sample of their responses.

  • I got to sail and spend the summer with friends.
  • I made new friends, met awesome counselors and had lots of fun in activities.
  • I made strong relationships with new friends that I think will last for a very long time.
  • I will keep in touch with my friends during the year and look forward to seeing them next summer.

Friendship and fun … Sounds good. But, wait, there’s more.

Even teens find a sense of family and fealty at camp, each of which help them prepare for their next big step in life: independence. Some 17-year-old, college-bound CCSC alums weigh in below.

Aggie Chamlin (Scarsdale, New York): “I feel as though camp has prepared me for the challenges and excitement ahead. As a nine-year-old, going into a bunk with 12 unfamiliar faces was a scary, daunting task. With college ahead, I will soon relive this experience in a more age-appropriate way. Also, camp has set an example for me on how a community can be built. I love being a part of something larger than just being an individual person, and I know I will turn that love into something special in college.”

Paula de Vicente-Tutor (Madrid, Spain): Having participated in a camp leadership program for four years has really changed me. It has made me a more mature person who now knows what responsibility really means. Living in another country has made me stronger as a person, because I wasn’t really used to going away from my family and friends for the summer. At camp I’ve had the opportunity of meeting such great and different people; different in the way of not having the same culture or traditions as mine, but all wonderful.”

Ben Quincy (Monroe, Connecticut): “I believe that camp has given me the tools to live and problem- solve on my own. It has taught me the important values of community and how much power you have to impact that community, positively or negatively. Camp has also given me exposure to different cultural norms and how to coexist with those ideas. Overall, camp has prepared me for college by pushing me out of my comfort zone and helping me to succeed even during challenging times.”

Peter Worzala (Madison, Wisconsin): I think that camp has helped me to realize what kind of person I would like to be. Camp has taught me some important lessons, particularly about the way you should value friendships with people and really get to know them on more than a superficial level. I learned the lesson at camp that everyone has an interesting personality – you just have to look for it.”

“The assets that camp promotes every summer, such as practicing coping skills, nurturing imagination, celebrating enthusiasm, fostering self-esteem and cultivating tolerance and diversity are competencies each of us get a chance to learn at camp,” says CCSC’s executive director Nancy Garran, a granddaughter of Robert J. Delahanty. “Camp provides a platform whereby our values are tested and enhanced each season. Maybe most important, camp remains a training ground for future leaders and the development of caring, self-reliant and capable human beings.”

Cape Cod Sea Camps – 95 years on and still creating the best summers ever.

Stephen Gray Wallace is president and director of the Center for Adolescent Research and Education (CARE), a national collaborative of institutions and organizations committed to increasing favorable youth outcomes. He has broad experience as a school psychologist, adolescent/family counselor and college professor. He currently serves as a resident camp director and director of counseling and counselor training at Cape Cod Sea Camps, a member of the professional development faculty at the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American Camp Association and a parenting expert at and NBCUniversal’s He is also an expert partner at RANE (Risk Assistance Network & Exchange). For additional information about Stephen’s work, please visit 

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Wallace, S. (2016). An untethered mind. The Huffington Post. July 6 2016. (1 Dec. 2016).

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