/BY MOLLY THOMPSON/ //SPECIAL TO THE AJT//

Decades ago, when the last school bell rang, kids would take to the outdoors during the summer months to explore creeks, hike woods and survey neighborhoods on bikes.

Today, kids are more disconnected from nature and less engaged in outside fun. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American children ages 8 to 18 spend 7.5 hours a day on electronic media during the summer months.

But getting outdoors is essential to developing the spirit, mind, and body of school age children and teens, say YMCA experts; and camping is an ideal setting for doing just that.

Located on a beautiful 100-acre campus with 1.7 miles of shoreline along South Carolina’s pristine Lake Wylie, Camp Thunderbird offers co-ed water and land adventures for children ages 7 to 16.

Just four hours from Atlanta, Camp Thunderbird has welcomed campers wanting to escape the buzz of city life for more than 75 years.

“Camping is synonymous with personal development. It provides kids with the opportunity to practice social and decision-making skills through new experiences,” says YMCA Camp Thunderbird Director Kaye Carraway. “Kids come to camp to develop life-long friendships and memories, learn new skills and a take a week off from the normal pressures of life.”

YMCA Camp Thunderbird continues its legacy of innovation with the addition of several new or expanded activities and adventures in 2014.

As part of an expanded land offering, Backyard Games will engage campers in pickle ball, badminton, shuffleboard, spike ball, can jam, horseshoes, bocce ball, and other lawn based games.

Campers will enjoy action-packed enhancements to the Roller Sports offering along with a Sports Sampler featuring disc golf, gaga ball, rugby, cricket, and other sports games. Finally campers will learn about Geocaching and Orienteering, using GPS and other navigational techniques to hide and seek items all over the camp property.

Former Harvard University President Charles Elliot said, “I have a conviction that a few weeks spent in a well-organized summer camp may be of more value educationally than a whole year of formal school work.”

Carraway agrees. “Campers have new experiences in nature,” She explains. “Away from their regular routine and family, campers feel new independence that helps them believe in themselves. This gives kids the confidence to try new things and learn new skills. Most importantly, camp builds relationships and relationship skills like cooperation and sportsmanship. Our counselors are carefully selected and trained. They provide care and support and serve as incredible role models for our campers.”

Carraway also says that counselors truly make the camp experience come alive. She encourages parents to choose a camp with a low counselor to camper ratio that ensures a high level of engagement with cabin counselors, activity leaders, and other capable and trained staff.

“Our cabin communities are like families,” says Carraway. “Campers eat meals family style, participate in cabin devotions, participate in team building and encourage each other in activities. Many parents tell us that their campers come home with manners and healthy habits that they practiced at camp. Some even make their beds.”

For more information about YMCA Camp Thunderbird, visit www.campthunderbird.org. Would you like to provide a camp experience for a child in need? Give online at www.ymcacharlotte.org/donate and select Camp Thunderbird as your branch.