by John Willson M.S. LRT/CTRS, Executive Director of SOAR, sponsor of the 2016 Happy Mama Retreat
As the Executive Director for a program specifically serving youth diagnosed with ADHD, I am often asked the question “What benefit will my child gain from attending an outdoor adventure camp?” Perhaps you want to know the same thing. Let me begin by asking you to do a simple exercise. Think about a place of serenity, healing, and rejuvenation. Can you visualize it? I believe most of you imagined fresh air, the sound of a nearby stream, and the wind rustling through the trees.
The outdoors can be such an amazing place to nurture the human spirit. In September of 2004 Frances Kuo and Andrea Taylor submitted their research: A Potential Natural Treatment for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Evidence From a National Study, in the American Journal of Public Health. The research conclusions indicated that “green outdoor settings appear to reduce ADHD symptoms in children across a wide range of individual, residential, and case characteristics.” This point is further emphasized in a wonderful book by Richard Louv titled Last Child in the Woods where he coined a phrase “Nature Deficit Disorder” to express the distance that has formed between the outdoors and a lot of children in our world today. Adventure summer camps help tackle both of these conclusions by filling the gap between children and nature, and in turn helping reduce some of the symptoms of ADHD.
Camp can and should be a time for children to have fun, expand their abilities, and learn more about their potential. It can also be an amazing place to learn and practice important life skills, especially for children diagnosed with ADHD or other learning disabilities. Outdoor adventure programs are specifically designed to empower children to make healthy choices, learn more about themselves, overcome challenges, and relate lessons learned from these experiences to other aspects of their lives back at home. Campers have a chance to make new friendships, which give them an opportunity to practice important social skills and meet lifelong friends. Children will also encounter an array of opportunities to foster new problem solving skills and to gain a measure of independence by taking on responsibilities such as keeping up with their personal belongings, doing their own laundry, and preparing their own meals during adventures.
Along with developing important social relationships, summer camp is a wonderful opportunity to nurture leadership, develop communication skills, and explore new areas of interest. While at camp, most programs have systems set in place to allow students to rotate responsibilities, ensuring each child has an opportunity to explore their leadership potential. In addition to fostering leadership, a summer adventure camp experience can also give young people a chance to participate in new activities. Let’s face it, time is a commodity, and during the school year there is only so much exploration that can occur. Many kids today don’t get a chance to be outdoors nearly enough. Outdoor adventure camps, on the other hand, offer a wide spectrum of activities that some kids couldn’t even imagine doing at home that will foster activity, creativity, and ingenuity. Possibilities include: rock climbing, hiking, canoeing, rafting, SCUBA diving, snorkeling, horseback riding, surfing, high ropes courses, and so much more! At SOAR, students will climb a cliff, then during reflective discussions look at the link between skills used during the climb, and similar skills needed to navigate friendships. For instance, the safety rope attached to a climber is a great representation of the trust relationship between the child and the people who support them. Therefore, we take extra care with the ropes, as we should with those relationships. We call this the metaphoric transfer of learning. These experiential opportunities are a few of the great gifts that outdoor adventure can give to children.
I recently attended the wedding of a former camper. When she saw me she rushed over and screamed, “Big John, you came!” She looked so beautiful on this important day, and I was so impressed with how far she had come. Her parents joined me and reflected about the girl she was. Her mother expressed with tears in her eyes, “We couldn’t have done it without you. We never thought this day would come.” You see, camp isn’t just a way to fill time in the summer, it’s a wonderfully unique opportunity to help children develop their potential, nurture their spirit, and provide a platform to launch their development. When you find the right camp for your child, the result can be increased self-esteem, a new found sense of independence, and a magical place where children get to be exactly who they are.
SOAR was founded in 1977, by an adult with a learning disability, who believed that focusing on an individual’s strengths, rather than their deficits, was critical in ensuring success. Throughout the past 40 years, our programs have been adapted around the specific needs of the LD and ADHD youth we serve. Our understanding of this population is in everything we do—the way we approach challenges and adventures, the way we structure each day, the way we handle conflicts, and in the way we celebrate each participant’s abilities. With the goal of success in mind, our program provides challenges that allow participants to increase self-confidence, develop life skills, and experience success. SOAR offers summer camps across the United States in NC, WY, FL, CA, NY and internationally. Learn more at soarnc.org or contact SOAR’s Admissions Office at 828-456-3435.