Blog: Bright Ideas

Outdoor Summer Camps v. Educational Summer Camps: The Best Day Camps Offer Both

Summer camp is as American as apple pie, part of our collective culture. And though conventional wisdom tells us summer vacation began as an agricultural necessity, it has become a tradition, part of our national rhythm. But as much as kids look forward to the summertime school recess, it can present some problems for families. Working parents are challenged to find safe, supervised activities for kids. The lazy, hazy, unstructured days can lead kids to succumb to the draw of digital devices. Summertime stasis can cause them to lose achievement gains made during the school year.

Long before school’s out for summer, many parents preemptively seek a summer day camp to combat restlessness when the novelty of summer freedom wears off. But how to choose what kind of camp? Outdoor day camps offer the allure of active play surrounded by fresh air and sunshine. On the flip side, educational summer camps tempt kids with inspiring themes and hands-on exploration. Faced with this decision, many parents have opted for hybrid programs that offer educational stimulation paired with structured outdoor play, thus providing kids the best of both worlds.

Benefits of Outdoor Summer Camps

Camp Galileo CampersThough a recent Gallup Poll revealed that parents prefer outdoor play to media and electronic devices (62 percent to 6 percent), creating the opportunity can be a challenge. Screen time has become a tug-of-war. Outdoor summer camps require kids to unplug and engage with friends. These types of summer camps are found everywhere, including in parks, at churches and through recreation centers. Most have these elements in common:

  • Structured activities supervised by young adult (16+) “near peers” 
  • Creative elements, like arts and crafts, with outdoor venues offering freedom for messier media, such as paint, plaster, paper mache and glitter
  • Active games and sports that encourage team building and healthy competition 
  • Nature study and scavenger hunts that take advantage of the great outdoors 
  • Camps with water access also support swimming, canoeing and water sports

The health benefits of active play are undeniable, and putting kids in touch with nature can be a grounding influence. The pace, the energy and the relative freedom all reinforce the vacation vibe.

Educational Summer Camp Benefits

Whether to indulge kids’ personal interests or give them an academic edge, educational summer camps are rewriting the summer narrative. The days when summer learning represented remediation have given way to an explosion of enrichment opportunities. Some camps offer the chance to focus on specific individual interests, such as cooking, coding or chemistry. Others offer a broader, interdisciplinary experience, such as a STEM or a thematic educational camp.

Participation in an educational program combats “summer slide,” the well-documented phenomenon by which students lose academic standing by the end of the summer as compared to the start. Though it varies by grade level, content area and family income, the average achievement loss is one month. Research tells us the fix is access to high-quality educational activities. In addition to combating summer slide, this kid-centered learning gets them actively involved in relevant, open-ended problems—it provides opportunities to build problem-solving and collaboration skills and its emphasis on critical thinking expands their depth of knowledge.

The Best of Both Worlds

Since both outdoor and educational summer camps have clear benefits for kids, which one do you choose?

Galileo campers outside

Why not both? Or, rather, one camp that incorporates both elements into its structure. Picture a daily schedule that captivates kids’ curiosity, enriches their knowledge and skills and gets them actively involved in outdoor games with new friends. Campers can travel through space, engineering cosmic exploration devices, testing their prototypes outside before applying science and art to construct a solar system model. Or they can take a deep dive into the incredible human body, experiencing in action its abilities during outdoor play, then bioengineering and assessing protective apparatus and discovering the body’s complicated art and design. Throughout these adventures, kids are communicating and negotiating social skills; they have access to appropriate technology and tools. They are learning through play and having a blast.

Summer Reboot at Galileo

Combining the best aspects of both outdoor and educational camps is what has made Galileo camps a favorite summer destination. Our kid-centric program design ensures that learning is fun—and it’s effective. The Galileo Innovation Approach® is being studied by the AAA Lab at Stanford Graduate School of Education, and they’re finding that participation in our camps is helping kids develop important life skills such as persistence and the ability to collaborate—it’s even helping them transfer those skills to other tasks outside of camp.

In seeking to redefine summer vacation as a dynamic learning opportunity, Galileo’s camps offer a variety of exciting programs that incorporate the most inviting aspects of outdoor day camp with the most innovative educational approach. Through participation, kids are empowered to view themselves as innovators, designers, communicators and creative problem-solvers, while still enjoying structured outdoor activities in the beautiful weather. Learning through play adds value to the summer, keeping kids on the path to success in school, in the workplace and in life.

Galileo offers a wide variety of innovation camps in the San Francisco, Southern California, and Chicagoland areas. Join our mailing list to be notified when registration opens and keep up-to-date on our camp happenings. Or, for more information about Galileo camps, contact us here.