As we head into the new year camp professionals and others are looking at how they would like to make an impact in the coming year. I have worked in various positions for the summer camp season at Vanderkamp Center from kitchen assistant to most recently Summer Program/Waterfront/Worship Director. Vanderkamp Christian Summer Camp and Retreat Center has been a place of growth and development for children, adolescents, and adults since it began offering summer camp programming in 1965. Over the past several years I have had the pleasure of working there in my various capacities whether paid or as a volunteer.
The Vanderkamp philosophy towards interacting with people of all ages starts with the concept of freedom of choice and “no discounts”. “No Discounts” refers to the concept that you want to take every experience for it’s full value whether you like it or not. You want discounts on products and services not on your experiences. With this in mind Vanderkamp has accepted the challenge of helping children develop the necessary creative, negotiation, and communication skills needed to be successful in the world we live in through adding an unstructured play area. Vanderkamp is just one example of many ways camps try to evaluate and improve the services they provide.
Every year there is something new to expect and learn from. Many camps and programs that are working with youth are trying to evaluate how to best serve their target populations. As a result, I find myself wondering what are the most important outcomes and impacts that children and adults should be taking away from summer camp.When you are looking at summer camps for your children or you are a summer professional one of the first questions you ask yourself is what are the campers going to be learning? What benefits will the children be gaining by attending a summer camp? What the camp decides are important outcomes from a camp experience can be different from what consumers would like to see from the camp and vice versa.
In general, the American Camp Association (2014b) points to ten benefits of camp. In particular these benefits include three core competencies of social skills development, self-respect and character building, and community living/service skills. Each of these core competencies are broken down into categories:
Social Skills Development: Leadership, Communication, Participation
Self-respect and Character Building: Responsibility, Resourcefulness, Resilience
Community Living/Service Skills: Caring, Fairness, Citizenship, Trustworthiness
Notice that these categories are broad due to the national level the American Camp Association works at in accrediting summer camp programs and that when determining what is learned from a particular camp experience an individual should check a camp’s website or contact a camp directly. Under communication we can put verbal, nonverbal, and written communication types or we could narrow down to the concept of each individual skill such as negotiation, and active listening. When thinking about the skills that we would like campers (whether youth or adult) we need to consider the skills that we use everyday in order to function. As we go through our day we are using intrapersonal skills such as stress reduction, time management, initiative, creativity, and self confidence as well as interpersonal skills such as negotiation, decision making, problem solving, and assertiveness. Which of these skills are the best learned in a residential or day camp setting? What skills do you as a camp professional or consumer believe are the most beneficial to learn?
Not only do we need to consider the skills that our campers are learning but also the values that we are working to instill in them as well. The Boy Scouts of America (BSA, 2014) have the Scout Law which reads “A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.” Each of these are values and personal characteristics that the BSA tries to instill into their members. What do you want your children to learn? What values and personal characteristics are essential and beneficial in today’s society? These are just a view of many questions to be asked in determining what a camp wants to instill and what a parent wants their children to learn. Beyond these questions we can turn to what type of attitudes we hope to see our campers leave summer camp or youth programs with. Do we want them to leave with hope? or something else?
Skills, values, and attitudes are important to developing what we consider to be important in our lives and how we interact with each other and conduct ourselves. Overall, the outcomes that a camp works towards varies by each individual summer camp. It is important to do research on how the camp runs and what the camps mission statement is. Through such research camp professionals are able to determine what they would like to focus on and consumers can decide whether the camp they are looking at is the right fit. The American Camp Association (2014a) discusses that camp is recognized by professionals as being valuable in helping children and others mature and develop in various aspects of their lives. With camp being such a precious experience for children it is important that consumers and camp professionals determine what outcomes they consider to be most important from such an experience.
Take on the challenge of reflecting on the questions I’ve raised and be prepared as together you and I look at what research says individuals take away from a camp experience. In order to continue exploring this topic feel free to check out my references and come back to explore with me in future posts.
American Camp Association (2014a). “Benefits of Camp: Psychological Aspects”. Retrieved December 27, 2014 from http://www.acacamps.org/media-center/benefits-of-camp/psychological-aspects
American Camp Association (2014b). “Media Center: Benefits of Camp”. Retrieved December 25, 2014 from http://www.acacamps.org/media-center/benefits-of-camp
Boy Scouts of America (2014). “Boy Scouts”. Retrieved December 27, 2014 from http://www.scouting.org/scoutsource/BoyScouts.aspx