Summer Camps & Social Intelligence – the Best of Both Worlds

There are two common kinds of basic summer camps available for children. There are the traditional camps we all think of when we think of summer camps: structured, outdoor adventure camps filled with hot summer days, punch, and plenty of buzzing insects. Then there are the other kind, for the, we’ll say, less fortunate children: the academic cram camps, where students sit glued to their seats, attempting to boost their GPAs with a steady diet of geometry, pre-calc, blood, sweat, toil and tears.

summer camp 2018

Due to the high-stress, competitive atmosphere in Northern Virginia, many parents feel compelled to put their students into the latter. Unfortunately, the pressure cooker environment can have harmful effects on the students. Angela Woolsey in the Fairfax County Times’ annual Fairfax Youth Survey recently reported high levels of stress on Fairfax County students, with more than a third of all students reporting high stress levels. Another Fairfax County Times article, by Cathy Cruise, reported that lack of sleep is common for Fairfax County students and that this dangerous lack of sleep leads to depression. She quotes GMU professor Adam Winsler’s study showing the correlation.

Cortona Academy’s summer camp strives to take out the stress and make sure students are learning in a happy and nurturing environment. We combine academic rigor with social activities and outdoor activities. The goal of the summer program at Cortona is to help students prepare for life – not just college.

Michael Ungar, PhD, writes in Psychology Today that summer camps provide a much-needed place for students to build relationships outside of their home, with new kids. It forces them to meet new people, which strengthens their identity. He also points out that forming relationships with other adults is important for building confidence. Perhaps best of all, he says, students gain a sense of belonging in summer camps that they don’t get by staying at home playing video games.

Linda Cameron of is associate professor in the Curriculum, Teaching and Learning Department at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. She believes strongly in the educational power of summer camp, saying it positively influences the lives of many children. “Camp provides opportunities for children to adapt and grow social and emotionally. They can learn in a safe and caring environment how to cope with separation and operate successfully without depending on their parents,” Cameron says. As an educator, she has become concerned over the trend to push kids too far academically, while keeping them sheltered emotionally. Children need the opportunity to interact spontaneously with their fellow students, so they can learn to problem solve collaboratively.

For all these reasons, Cortona’s summer camp combines academic courses with fun activities that allow students to collaborate and play spontaneously. In past years, students have done culinary 3D printing, furniture design, painting, wearable electronics, and fashion design. They have also participated in projects in drama, music, and dance production. This year these and even more exciting projects are being planned. This wonderful program gives students the ability to combine these relaxing, creative programs with remedial, Gifted, and AP-level courses, all taught by Cortona’s full-time professors, many of whom have PhD’s. Our parents have equated Cortona’s Summer Camp to getting the benefit of a private school education for their child in the summer…at a fraction of the cost!

We’re excited for the 2018 summer and hope you are, too!


Cameron, Linda: “Learning Benefits of Summer Camp,”

Cruise, Cathy:

Ungar, Michael, PhD:

Woolsey, Angela: