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The primary purpose of many camps is educational, athletic, or cultural development.A summer camp environment may allow children to learn new skills in a safe and nurturing environment.In the USA, residential camps that have overnight facilities are sometimes called "sleepaway camps".Summer camp is often the first time that children spend an extended period of time away from home.The practice of running residential holidays for children away from their own home seems to have originated in Appenzell in the Alps in 1876, when Pastor Bion set up holiday camps in which children made tree-houses, sang songs, did drama, made kites and had adventure games.Post-war France used Pastor Bion’s model to take children who had grown up during the war years, away from cities, and their scheme ‘colonies de vacances’ became state controlled, part of their state education system for all children.

Children and adolescents who attend summer camp are known as campers.This is largely to counter a trend in decreasing enrollment in summer camps, which some argue to have been brought about by smaller family sizes and the growth in supplemental educational programs.There are also religiously affiliated summer camps, such as those run by Christian groups and various denominations of Judaism.Camp directors conduct the hiring of seasonal counselors, instructors, and support staff, often during job fairs held on campuses.At some camps, all campers stay overnight in cabins and eat all their meals in a cafeteria.

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