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Why Free Play at overnight camp is so important for growing minds

This article in Outside Online Magazine caught my attention with its headline “The Importance of Free Play for Kids”. While much of our summer camp’s daily schedule is structured, for decades we have known how important it is for growing minds to have truly unstructured play time each day. It’s great to see how many doctors, educators, psychologists and social scientists are recognizing this now, too!

Take a look at our innovative
Structured Choice schedule 

According to a 2007 report in the American Academy of Pediatrics, “some play must remain entirely child driven, with parents either not present or as passive observers, because play builds some of the individual assets children need to develop and remain resilient.” There is real science behind the idea that self-directed play is essential to a child’s emotional and intellectual development (and the many 21st century skills that our summer camp focuses on teaching each summer).

Knowing that executive functions in childhood predict important life outcomes, researchers at the University of Colorado released a study in 2014 which “found that children between six and seven who engaged in less-structured activities like imaginative role-playing, reading for pleasure, and playing board games and tag demonstrated greater so-called ‘executive function,’ or the ability to organize their time, initiate tasks, and achieve goals without external direction—skills which help build self-reliance and success later in life (and ensure that they’re not still living at home when they’re 30).” We all want our children to grow to be happy, healthy, well-adjusted adults, and while structured learning has a part of play in that outcome, so does time spent freely interacting with peers, making their own decisions. These findings are really important, especially in light of the number of school districts around the country that have actually banned unstructured play time out of fear that children for children’s safety!


Free Play time is fun time at our brother-sister summer camp 

It’s why our brother-sister summer camp sets aside more than an hour each evening after dinner for self-directed fun and exploration during our Free Play period. For our campers interested in pursuing one of their passions they can choose to participate in a clinic or master class. Campers interested in more informal play can join in a pickup game of soccer or basketball, wander from arts & crafts to the film making studio, throw a ball against a wall, or maybe most gloriously of all, truly do nothing. The majority of our campers use Free Play time to sit on our many green lawns and chat with friends. Some play tag while others practice the lost art of rolling down grassy hills. You can hear the laughter floating around our campus. And all the while our counselors are supervising like the hummingbird parents mentioned in this article:

“train yourself to be a hummingbird, not a helicopter—one who hovers at a distance. “Watch kids from kitchen window, or let them explore the periphery of the park on their own,” says Louv. “Swoop in only if your child is in mortal danger. That’s a technique you can learn.” 

RELATED: Announcing Our New Free Play Sports Clinics & Artistic Master Classes!


These are the social and emotional skills you learn during self-directed time at overnight camp!

It’s a technique we train our counselors to be experts at. It gives our campers the opportunity to explore, laugh, and maybe even find some adversity, all within the safety net of our nuturing camp community. They learn crucial executive functioning and social skills like how to use and budget their time, how to navigate social situations with people of different ages, and even how to deal with the ups and downs of life. And above all else, IT’S FUN! With so much of modern existence so structured it is no wonder why so many of our campers tell us that Free Play is their favorite part of each camp day!

Learn more about the crucial skills
summer camps teach young people

Is your child curious about what they can do during Free Play during their summers at Kenwood & Evergreen? If so, click here to get our list of some of the great things our campers use this time for!