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Wide Open Spaces: How Camp Can Help Kids’ Mental Health

By August 12, 2022August 15th, 2022No Comments
Dr. Susan VanderSpek

Interview with Dr. VanderSpek

One of the oldest programs that Scott Mission has offered is summer camp. This may surprise you, but our founders recognized the importance of fresh air, wide open spaces, physical exertion, and fun that are part of a quintessential camp experience. Decades of camp and glowing reviews from the children and youth that have taken part have deepened our belief that camp is an important program, particularly in light of the mental health crisis spurred on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Recently we sat down with family physician and Scott Mission Board Chair, Dr. Susan VanderSpek, to talk about the after-effects of the pandemic on children and youth, particularly on their mental health and how programs like our summer camp help. 

Question: We’ve been hearing a lot about the mental health of our children and youth lately, what have you experienced as a physician?

Dr. VanderSpek: We’ve been seeing a lot of adolescents, in particular, struggling with depression and anxiety. Kids are suffering, trying to cope, and trying to figure out what to do with the many thoughts that are racing through their heads. This can look like low mood, not enjoying life the same way they used to, and struggling to manage that. 

Question: Scott Mission Camp has been an important part of thousands of young lives over the years – what benefit does Camp offer kids?

Dr. VanderSpek: It’s well known that when children are outside, they move more. They sit less and play more. At Camp there’s so much more to explore: insects, plants, grass, the sky, along with playgrounds and canoes and water. Exploration serves so well as both a distraction, but also as an opportunity to grow and challenge our minds in different ways.

Camp provides a safe and good place for them to be able to release a little bit of the stress they’ve been feeling; they are able to exercise and perhaps get some of that stress physically off their body. Being outdoors is a great place for that because people automatically breathe deeper, step outside, move more and just, you know, smile being out there.

2 girls at Scott Mission camp

Question: Our Camp offers subsidies of up to 95% of the cost of camp, allowing children from across the Greater Toronto Area the opportunity to go to camp. What benefit is Camp for a child from the city? 

Dr. VanderSpek: I think there’s something that our body craves about being outdoors. We need that fresh air. We need to be near nature. I think it calms us, grounds us. It allows us to see God’s hand in a different way.

For children in the city, especially if we’re living in a tight city like Toronto being outside can be limited as well. Is their ‘outside’ a balcony or a little park nearby? Those are helpful and wonderful, of course, but getting to camp or a place where there is endless room to run and play is very inspiring [and promotes] freedom. It’s an opportunity to see things in a different way. From canoeing to crafts to exploring a forest, kids at camp get to have lots of new experiences.

Question: What can parents expect to see when they pick their child up from a week of Camp?

Dr. VanderSpek: Camp is going to be good for friendships; it’s going to be good for relationships with peers. When we play, work, and learn together we overcome challenges together. Whether it’s the challenge of carrying a canoe or, you know, figuring out how to get the mosquitoes to stop biting us.

[Parents will] see their children in new ways when they realize the things their children can do.

Question: Thank you for sitting down to talk with us – this has made me want to go to Camp!

Dr. VanderSpek: I think it is so important we’re focusing on children today, but really everybody will benefit from being outside. I think families are transformed when they’re able to be outside together. To be able to see each other in a new light, to laugh together and create memories together. I think those are really transformative in a family’s life and in children’s lives.

Support for our Summer Camp Program provides deep subsidies for low-income families to give their kids the opportunity of Camp. Time after time, we hear from campers that their week at camp was their favourite week of the year. You can help provide that experience for a camper this year by donating towards our 2022 Summer Camp Campaign at 

Donate to Scott Mission Camp!