Single-sex camps can seem just a tad old-fashioned in a world where children of both sexes mingle freely at school, sports and parties. But before parents (and kids) dismiss them, it’s worth checking out some of the positive benefits such camps can provide. Living for a couple of weeks with kids of the same gender can help young people develop self-confidence while forging lasting friendships.
Camp Nominingue is a camp for boys in the northern Laurentians. Elisa Van Wagner, the camp’s business manager, says the unisex environment helps boys develop a stronger sense of who they are. She notes that the boys aren’t bombarded with the pressures of getting along with the opposite sex, which allows them to focus on developing their camping skills and learning to communicate with each other. According to Van Wagner, parents are often “gobsmacked” by the increase in their boys’ self-confidence upon their return from camp.
Jacqui Raill is the director of Camp Ouareau, a camp for girls in St. Donat with a French-English language program. She agrees that a single-sex environment can helps young people focus on developing their skills, interests and friendships.
For the girls, not being concerned about appearances seems to have a positive effect. Raill says that it takes just two or three days for the girls to shed their carefully made-up and coiffed city-girl images when they arrive at camp. Then, when it’s time to leave, “the hair has to be just so, the make-up goes back on and the clothes change. My girls tell me that when they’re here, they really feel like they can be themselves,” Raill says.
Furthermore, Raill sees a stronger sense of self as the precursor to forging good friendships. “I think we all know that to be in any relationship you need to be happy with yourself and know who you are.” Developing bonds with members of the same sex seems to come more easily when there aren’t any members of the opposite sex around to act as distractions. Raill, who has worked at Ouareau for more than 30 years, says being at an all-girls camp provides girls with the tools they need to talk and work with other females. She describes the kind of lifelong friendships she’s seen campers develop as “a sisterhood that helps them all through life.”
Taylor C. Statten is managing director of the Taylor Statten Camps in Ontario, which are made up of an all-girls and an all-boys camp on islands one kilometre apart on Canoe Lake in Algonquin Park. Statten says kids are more comfortable and confident when they’re in groups of the same gender.
The family has considered merging the two camps in the past, but Statten says the parents of his campers are more comfortable with the two camps kept separate. This alleviates any concerns parents may have about precocious or risky romantic behaviour among boys and girls.
Of course, the possibility of summer romance may be precisely why some older campers would prefer to go to a co-ed camp. So camp directors do urge parents to have an honest discussion with their children about attending a single-sex camp. It may not be the right choice for everyone, but many children will feel a certain sense of comfort, even relief, that they only have to deal with campers of the same sex.