Lauren Bent head shotA tradition for many during the summer months, camps were one of the first industries to re-open last year following pandemic-related shutdowns.

And while they are a source of fond memories and character building, Lauren Bent, associate professor of higher educational leadership at Regis College, wants to find out just how important they were to child development and family dynamics during the public health crisis.

“I have seen firsthand what kind of impact summer camps have on children,” Bent said. “They develop self-confidence, build social and emotional skills, and engage in new activities. Particularly during the pandemic, when many children were socially isolated, anxious, and sad, summer camps provided a sense of connection, familiarity, and fun.”

Bent’s research, which she is conducting with Meghan Murphy, an assistant professor of sociology at Bridgewater State University, was selected as a Kaneb grant recipient for the 2021-2022 academic year. Named for Regis College alumna Virginia Pyne Kaneb ‘57, these research grants are presented annually to Regis faculty.

Already underway, Bent is interviewing parents and guardians in Massachusetts who sent their children to recreational day camps during the summer of 2020. She is focusing on parents’ and guardians’ perceptions about their children’s experiences at camp and what changes they noted in their children during and after their camp experience.

“Camps were some of the first recreational industries to put mask wearing and physical distancing into practice for children,” Bent said. “And based on my early interviews, participants said their children’s camp experience in 2020 helped them transition to school where they had to wear a mask and interact differently with teachers and friends.”

She added that the camps were just as important to parents as they were to children. Those who she has interviewed reported that after having to simultaneously balance childcare, homeschooling, and working from home during shutdowns, parents found they were less irritable and burnt out while their children were at camp.

“For many parents and guardians during the pandemic, their approach has been to take things day by day and plan for the future,” Bent explained. “The participants have shared that they haven’t reflected holistically about their family’s experience over the past year but that this research project is giving them that opportunity.”

For now, Bent said the scope of her project is just on parents’ and guardians’ perceptions, but she hopes to eventually interview camp counselors and administrators to get their perspectives as well.