With summer fast approaching, young people are amping up for a few months free from school. For the adventurous child who loves being outside or who just has a gift for helping others, summer adventure camps offer an amazing opportunity for them to develop valuable skills and grow their confidence. Here are some top options that can provide meaningful and life-altering summer experiences.
So, what are adventure camps?
With nearly endless choices on the market, they can be pretty much anything you want them to be. Biking cross-country, teaching English in foreign countries, rebuilding coral reefs and learning photography skills in some of the most beautiful destinations on Earth just scratch the surface of the kinds of programs available. Far from the traditional summer camps we may have grown up with, these programs emphasize learning, personal growth and stewardship. These programs focus on giving students new insights and confidence they’ll hold onto for a lifetime.
Cait Coffey, Assistant Director at Outward Bound, says, “It’s all about self-discovery and getting out of your comfort zone, away from your cell phone, into a place where you can grow as a person.”
By facilitating these experiences in a safe environment far from the comforts of home, students push themselves toward achievements they didn’t think were possible. “One of the ideas we focus on is helping students expand what they imagine and what they believe they can do,” says Jonathan Igoe, director of Overland, which offer summer camps for students in grades 4-12.
These camps often include a learning component beyond confidence development. Many offer training in hard skills and wilderness experience, certifications in SCUBA or sailing, service and leadership training or even college credit with their programs.
“We want to focus on the mind horizons by learning hard skills,” says Kate Farthing, Director of Programs at Broadreach, which offers global summer adventures for students in middle and high school as well as college. “Most programs offer certifications in something or another, and we have academic credit through Lesley University available to our high school students.”
The leaders of these programs are well-experienced and eager to help students learn. They go through vigorous safety training and meet the high expectations of whatever program provider they work with. “We’re looking for maturity and a commitment to teaching and a love of being around students,” says Jim Stein, owner and director of the Road Less Traveled, of the type of people he looks for to lead. “We’re looking for people who are there for the experience of the kids.”
Interested in a summer adventure for your young adult? We’ve done the research for you to help choose a program that’s the best fit for your child.
Outward Bound is the oldest and leading provider of wilderness training in the world. Founded during World War II as a response to the lack of skills training in younger soldiers, the programs revolve around their four pillars: physical fitness, self reliance, craftsmanship and, above all, compassion.
“We’re really different from a camp; we’re all expedition-based,” says Cait. “Our summer courses all start and end right from the airport.”
From the airport, students then hike or boat to their campsites, spending the entirety of their program living outside. With this approach, safety remains a top priority. “Being the oldest provider of wilderness education in the world, we really get to set the standard — especially in terms of safety,” Cait continues. “Our instructors are the cream of the crop because we’ve been around for so long. They’re not camp counselors, they’re really wilderness educators.”
Outward Bound is unique because they offer programs for people other than just students. Parents can join their 12- or 13-year-old on family trips. Adult courses are available in backpacking or sailing, and veterans have a program tailored to them — tuition-free. And because Outward Bound is a nonprofit, they offer a number of scholarships to make their programs accessible to a larger pool of eager learners.
Adventurous teens should check out the travel options available from Moondance Adventures. For 25 years, this Nashville-based company has organized journeys to all sorts of exotic and exciting destinations. Belize, British Columbia, Croatia, Kilimanjaro, Norway, and Thailand are just a few of the options available to teens and tweens ages 12 and older. Two- and three-week trips are available, and once your teen has aged out of being a participant, leadership jobs are available, with the average age of a Moondance trip leader being 23 years old. (Makes you want to go back, doesn’t it?!)
All Moondance adventures place a focus on developing a deeper love and appreciation for nature and the outdoors. The goal is to increase a participant’s confidence while fostering leadership skills and the understanding that hard work yields great things.
The focus of trips is divided into four categories to help participants select the option that will deliver what they most want to experience. Options include: Leadership, Service, Discovery and Classic. The appropriate skills will be honed on each so the experience yields lasting memories and growth essential for a life well-lived.
Overland began after founder Tom Costley rode a bike across the United States after his college graduation. Thirty-five years later, Overland aims to pass along that sense of pride and accomplishment to its students.
“We see kids who haven’t hiked or camped before, or done a bike tour or been abroad realize that there’s a whole world out there, and they’re excited to explore it,” Jonathan says. “We are focused on a group of students working together to achieve a series of goals.”
Overland focuses mostly on middle and high school students, but also offers programs for a younger demographic than many other camps.
“We have introductory trips for younger campers — 4th grade through 7th grade, ” Jonathan says. “Our youngest campers do day hikes on trails that are scouted and appropriate for them. Our older campers could be biking all the way across the United States, or doing some challenging hiking in Alaska or the Alps or Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.”
Overland instructors go through an intensive 10-day training program after they’ve had wilderness first aid, CPR and lifeguard training. Jonathan encourages parents looking into adventure camp programs to do their research to find providers like Overland that are accredited by the American Camping Association and that have strong reputations in their field.
Broadreach offers programs for an extensive list of interests — all offering college credit, internationally recognized certifications or community service hours.
“At least two of those are present on all camps,” Kate says. “Lesley University provides students with a transcript they can take with them to whatever university they attend, even if they get it as a 9th or 10th grader.”
The certifications range widely from Wilderness First Responder to Radio Operator. Students can earn college credits in subjects like anthropology, international development, marine science and language.
Beyond resume-builders, Broadreach’s programs are great character-building experiences as well. “When you travel, you learn hard skills and learn from these topics,” Kate adds. “It allows students to create a narrative around their experiences going forward into their lives.”
Broadreach puts a great amount of care and planning into each of its programs, emphasizing that planning summer programs is a year-round process.
The Road Less Traveled
The Road Less Traveled focuses on training students to be stewards of the Earth and the variety of people on it.
“As far as service goes, we have processing activities and designed curriculum to help young people understand that we are the strangers in the communities that we visit,” Jim says. “We’re in a place of active listening, reflection and respect with all the people that we meet no matter where they may be.”
They hold their students to a high standard, but their program leaders are expected to meet an even higher one. All leaders go through 80 hours of Wilderness First Responder training and have experience working with teenagers. In 28 years of operation, no participant has ever stayed overnight in a hospital due to injury.
“We tend to be very conservative as far as taking controlled risks,” Jim continues. “We’re not going to go hiking over a river during a storm — some people may want to do that to build self-confidence, but that’s not us.”
Instead, they tailor programs to the maturity of students and the depth of cultural experiences they’ll be able to process. The Road Less Traveled is also a Certified B Corporation, meaning they partner with other businesses to use their influence for good. “We meet rigorous standards of performance, accountability and transparency and really use the power of business to address poverty, climate change and build strong communities,” Jim adds.
Jim also encourages parents to check a program provider’s accreditation and make sure they are accessible with any questions that may come up.
Here’s to a summer filled with adventure and learning new skills!
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