The air buzzes with the laughter of youth and the heat of a Minnesota summer. Trees rustle in a gentle wind as campers disperse for different activities—archery, kayaking, and scaling a rock wall are just a few possibilities for the day. This is summer camp at Tanadoona.
Since 1924, Tanadoona has been a beloved home away from home for many. A place to unplug from devices and reconnect with themselves, others, and nature. There are countless benefits to a summer camp experience and while each and every camper and staff member will have their own unique story, here are five benefits we know from research and directly from the families who have attended.
1. Nature is healing.
Time spent in nature can do wonderous things for our mental and physical health like lowering stress, improving sleep, and more. Campers at Tanadoona are truly immersed in nature, surrounded by 103 acres of Big Woods, wetlands, and prairie. With the average American child on a screen 7.5 hours a day, a device-free week at camp is a refreshing break, especially during the pandemic. Studies show that youth who spent time outside were able to cope better during COVID-19 and reported higher levels of well-being.
Jayna Davis, Camp Fire Minnesota’s Outdoor Programs Coordinator (and former Tanadoona counselor), witnesses the positive changes in campers firsthand. “It’s amazing to see campers calm down throughout the week. Sometimes youth who struggle with anxiety will get into a nature lesson, hike, or climb to the top of the rock wall, and by the end of the lesson, they can’t believe it’s the end of the day. When youth are in nature, they slow down. They stop thinking what’s next and learn to be present and breathe in the air.”
2. Youth learn to respect nature.
Tanadoona’s focus on nature inspires future environmental stewards. By catching (and releasing) frogs in the wetland and building forts in the woods, campers get the chance to be creative and marvel at their outdoor surroundings. “I like the freedom of Tanadoona. There’s just you and the smell of the trees, the birds flying around. It’s a peaceful, warming place—I hope a lot more people can experience it,” says former Counselor-in-Training (CIT) Drew.
With a mix of outdoor play and lessons in ecology, wilderness skill building, and more, youth learn practical and important ways to enjoy nature and take care of it. Throughout the week, campers often resolve to do things like “pick up trash when I see it even if it’s not mine” and “be careful with wildlife.”
3. Youth build confidence.
At Tanadoona, we encourage campers to design their own goals and figure out how they’re going to reach them while they’re here. Whether that goal is meeting new friends away from home or completing the ropes course, counselors inspire campers to dig deeper and find their spark.
“Campers of all ages are seen for who they are and who they want to be, bringing big goals and dreams–with the ability to achieve them.” explains Jayna. Youth have the opportunity to try new activities and are encouraged along the way if they are afraid or don’t succeed at first. Teaching resilience and setting goals helps campers become more self-assured and find passions they may not discover otherwise.
“Year after year of falling, then getting back up, not just at camp, but in my own life as well—being at camp built my determination, persistence, courage, and self-confidence. Not to give up when something gets hard, or seems impossible, but to keep trying for that goal,” recalls Talia, former camper and Junior Counselor.
4. Make new friends!
One of the highlights of camp is the connections, some lifelong, that form in just a week through shared experiences and team-building. It is common for first-time campers, initially hesitant to get out of the car, to not want to leave at the end of the week because of their newfound relationships. However, we understand that the unknowns of camp can be scary at first and are happy to accommodate buddy requests when possible. Tanadoona counselors are trained in facilitating group dynamics, conflict resolution, and creating a safe and welcoming atmosphere where everyone is encouraged and supported in being themselves to foster new friendships.
5. Campers are supported by caring role models.
Tanadoona counselors serve as mentors, helping campers learn about themselves and others. They also encourage campers to learn new skills, stretch their comfort zones, support each other, and have fun in a safe outdoor environment. Research shows that youth with a mentor outside the home report higher self-esteem and learn to seek guidance from trusted adults. In 2019, 92% of Tanadoona campers agreed they built positive relationships with caring adults (spark champions as we like to call them) and peers during summer camp.
“Our counselor was awesome with our son and made him feel valued and affirmed,” says one camper’s parent.
Discover more about camp programs, apply for a scholarship, and check out our employment opportunities to help create these experiences for young people!