The American Camp Association is currently in the process of conducting a 5-year research project on the long-term impact of summer camps on children.
“The purpose of the Exploratory Phase, or Phase 1 of the Impact Study, was to identify distinct and transferable outcomes of the camp experience among emerging adults who attended camp as a child. Specifically, the research team explored the outcomes of camp that are distinct from other developmental contexts, such as school and sports, how camp participants use those outcomes to navigate work and school, and what happened at camp to facilitate outcome development.
Informed by these themes, the research team is now building a survey to determine the most distinct and transferable outcomes of camp and the camp mechanisms that promote these outcomes among emerging adults who attended camp as a child. Approximately 250 first-year staff will complete this survey as a part of the Mapping Phase (Phase 2 of the Impact Study) starting in January 2018.
The following represent themes from the interviews conducted in the Exploratory Phase (Phase 1 of the Impact Study). Because of the exploratory nature of this phase, it is important to consider these findings as emergent rather than conclusive or generalizable across all campers or all camp experiences.
- Camp appears to be a key context for developing relationship skills. This is consistent with past research on camp, but Phase 1 findings suggest that the relationship skills young people gain at camp might play a role beyond the camp experience.
- As a context for developing relationship skills, preliminary findings suggest that camp is an integral part of a young person’s overall learning, alongside school and other educational contexts.
- Camp is a unique learning experience that appears to promote skills transferable to 21st century school and work contexts.
- Preliminary findings suggest that camp is a safe place for young people to explore who they are and how they want to be viewed by others.
- Camp gives campers the opportunity to practice being around and appreciating people with attitudes, values, and abilities different from their own.
- Phase 1 themes suggest that ACA accredited camps promote camper outcomes through robust programmatic structures and processes distinct from other youth development experiences. These include:
- Prioritizing experiential learning in structured activities and during unstructured time;
- Meaningful interactions with caring, compassionate staff who serve as teachers and facilitators, and possibly near-peer role models;
- Small group experiences;
- Among overnight camps, communal living that is away from home.
Researchers at the University of Utah recruited participants from 22 camps selected randomly from the pool of ACA accredited camps. These camps included day and overnight camps, camps of different affiliations and for- or not-for-profit status, camps serving specific camper populations, and camps in from of ACA’ major regions.
Sixty-four first-year staff who attended camp as a child (any camp, not necessarily the camp for which they were employed) from the 22 ACA accredited camps participated in 20 to 30 minute interviews with members of the research team. In each interview, participants reflected on their childhood camp experiences, how they are using what they learned at camp in school and work, and what at camp helped facilitate these outcomes.”