Summer Camp: What does the Research Say?


Camp Skills

Previously I discussed the important considerations that need to be taken into account as a camp professional and consumer when thinking about the outcomes of a summer camp experience. To review, 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. 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 (Ugalde, 2014).

With the outcome of the camp experience being such an important concept; looking at what psychological research shows as benefits of camp can be helpful for both camp professionals and consumers in deciding what outcomes they would prefer to see come out of a camp experience. Woods, Mayes, Bartley, Fedele, and Ryan (2013) evaluated the psychosocial outcomes of 102 youth participants in a summer camp. Throughout their research the participants in chronic illness camps showed an increase their their confidence to figure out how to accomplish their goals and have increased attitude of hope. When thinking about the conditions that these youth are having to contend with it is important to notice that there are specific camps in which programming for youth with chronic illness allow these youth to have similar summer camp opportunities to youth who are not suffering from chronic illnesses (Woods et al., 2013). In my last post I was describing the importance of knowing what your ideal outcomes are in comparison to a summer camps. If you have a child that is suffering from a chronic illness the ability to increase their hope and ability to accomplish goal-oriented behavior would allow the youth to start making strides towards a happy life through choices they have made versus choices the illness has made for the youth. Even if your not a youth or your youth do not have a chronic illness how important is hope? how important is their ability to complete goal-oriented behaviors? By giving someone the opportunity to go to camp that has a set standard of what their campers will achieve and be able to accomplish after they leave camp you are ensuring that the future generations are able to take on their individual lives with a healthy knowledge and skills base.

Kirschman, Roberts, Shadlow, and Pelley (2010) found an increase in hope of inner city youth who attended a summer camp. Hope allows for optimism and courage in the harshest of times throughout a person’s life. If it were not for hope how many of us would want to continue in the existence we live each day after we’ve been in an accident? or have a chronic illness? Hope allows gives us the optimistic attitude to support us in achieving our goals. Goal-oriented behaviors including going to college, starting a career, having a family, and marriage all start with simpler goal-oriented behavior such as “I will get into the green swimmer section at the swimming area.” If a youth does not learn to accomplish goals that they set for themselves while they are young they will have a learning curve when it comes to accomplishing goals set by their employers. Without having learned and practiced the skills to accomplish goals the possibility of the youth losing motivation to achieve their goals may occur causing them to be in a wasteland of doubt, anger, and low self-esteem.While this possibility is an extreme it is important to consider that low motivation can stem from not being able to manage stress, procrastination, depression, and a fear of failure.

Besides increasing a youth’s ability to accomplish goal-oriented behaviors and increasing hope what others benefits does summer camp have for youth? and how can these benefits influence what outcomes we would like to see from summer camps? Thurber, Scanlin, Scheuler, and Henderson (2007) explored the developmental outcomes of the camp experience by looking at four domains: positive identity, social skills, physical & thinking skills, and positive values & spirituality. These authors found that in all four domains there was an increase that was more than “expected by maturation alone”.  Thurber et al. (2007) describe that summer camps focus on prevention science and positive youth development so that youth are able to develop and be viewed as assets instead of liabilities. With this positive focus on youth the authors go on to say that “camp professionals have always felt that high quality camps provide supportive relationships, challenging opportunities, and chances to take initiative in abundance. Many camps – both religiously affiliated and not – provide a kind of spirituality that helps develop social capital and morality.” The camps that Thurber et al. (2007) focused on were all accredited by the American Camp Association because according to the authors these camps needed to meet upwards of “300 rigorous health, safety, and management standards”. The results of the study showed that there was an increase in self-esteem, independence, leadership, friendship skills, social comfort, peer relationships, adventure and exploration, environmental awareness, values and decisions, and spirituality. These increases are in areas that I believe can be considered (in the United States culture at least) to be considered beneficial and important in developing youth so that they can grow up to be happy and respectful citizens.

While Thurber et al. (2007) saw increases in their four domains they also saw some trends through correlations. These correlations included that longer summer camp experiences can lead to “slightly strained peer relationships and slightly less exploration.” Other correlations included that if a camp is designated to a solitary purpose such as a religious-affiliated camp there will be an increase in the amount of change in the aspect the camp specializes in. Additionally, the more room for growth that campers are given the more change they will exhibit (Thurber et al., 2007). From these correlations we can start to question whether it is an important outcome for the summer camps to have a strict structure or if it is acceptable for there to be less structure as long as the safety and risk management pieces are taken care of first. In most cases my experience has shown that as long as safety and risk management is taken care of by the camp staff then less structure is able to allow for even more growth and change in the campers. With all of these benefits of summer camp in mind and the outcomes that you have established to be important from a summer camp experience we now turn to the camp experience itself and how to evaluate it.

If you have ever experienced a superb quality summer camp then you know that the staff are interested in the youth, young adults, and parents that come for camp as soon as they have registered for a camp program. These quality summer camp programs have directors that take time to try if not accomplish learning each and every campers name, check in on programming, and evaluate their staff. The summer camp staff themselves invest themselves deeply into their relationships with those who come for summer camp programming in an attempt to help their campers achieve and develop to their greatest potential. In a future post I will discuss further how to evaluate a summer camps outcomes and experience as a consumer in which I will elaborate more on how you can identify some of these superb summer camp programs.

In order to continue exploring this topic feel free to check out my references and come back to explore with me in future posts.


References:

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

Kirschman, K. B., Roberts, M. C., Shadlow, J. O., & Pelley, T. J. (2010). An evaluation of hope following a summer camp for inner-city youth. Child & Youth Care Forum, 39(6), 385-396. doi:10.1007/s10566-010-9119-1

Thurber, C. A., Scanlin, M. M., Scheuler, L., & Henderson, K. A. (2007). Youth development outcomes of the camp experience: Evidence for multidimensional growth. Journal Of Youth And Adolescence, 36(3), 241-254. doi:10.1007/s10964-006-9142-6

Ugalde, J. (2014). “Summer Camp: American Camp Association Outcomes vs Your Outcomes.” Retrieved December 29, 2014 from http://www.jonugalde.wordpress.com/2014/12/29/summer-camp-american-camp-association-outcomes-vs-your-outcomes

Woods, K., Mayes, S., Bartley, E., Fedele, D., & Ryan, J. (2013). An evaluation of psychosocial outcomes for children and adolescents attending a summer camp for youth with chronic illness. Children’s Health Care, 42(1), 85-98. doi:10.1080/02739615.2013.753822

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