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Inside Camp: What Research Tells Us about the Lives of Children
How can parents count the ways children grow and flourish at camp? Friends? New skills? Displays of self-confidence? Steps toward independence and thoughtfulness?
Philliber Research Associates teaming with the American Camp Association has just released the results of a landmark study that demonstrate the gains are remarkable - over 5,000 parents, children, and camp staff are readjusting their measuring sticks-growth in positive identity, social skills, physical and thinking skills, as well as the important areas of positive values and spirituality go hand-in-hand with the camp experience.
According to Peg Smith, chief executive officer of the American Camp Association, outcomes are all about research and responsibility. "These concepts of independence and discovery come into play every day as we look at ways to enhance the growth and discovery process in youth. Our research demonstrates unequivocally that with the idea behind camp and the thousands of individuals who support children in these experiences, we are unmistakably on the right track. One of the truly exciting aspects of this research is these measurable gains continue after camp ends, and the researchers confirm that length of camp session isn't a determining factor - it's camp itself," says Smith.
Leadership, adventure, making friends, confidence - all after spending time at camp.
Positive Identity: Self-Esteem and Independence
"Self-esteem does not come from empty praise, but from feeling competent; from having successful experiences; from making genuine contributions."
Christopher Thurber, Ph.D.,
Child Psychologist and Author
Athens Y Camp for Boys, Georgia
Dear Y Camp Staff,
I have to admit I was very nervous about dropping George off for his first day of camp. He has never been away from home before, and I have never been without him for more than a night away at his grandparents. We read all the information from camp and felt prepared but apprehensive about the upcoming week at camp. My fears were immediately put to rest when we arrived at camp. All of the staff was very polite and energetic. Chris went out of his way to welcome us to cabin 8 and help us get settled. The week really flew by, and we got a letter from George that read, "Dear Mom and Dad, Camp is great" and that was it. When we picked him up we could immediately tell a difference in him. All the way home he talked about his cabin, the counselors, the food, and especially the new friend he made. The confidence he gained has been great. Thank you for a wonderful camp experience. We will definitely be back next year.
Athens Y Camp Parent
Social Skills: Leadership, Friendship, Social Comfort, Peer Relationships
"I'd say that you learn mostly how to interact with different kinds of people and are open to different ideas. You learn how to cooperate well with others who share and don’t share the same opinions as you."
Teo, age 14
Tumbleweed Day Camp, California
Carter began camp at age five. At first, he was truly a fish out of water. Some of the differences between Carter and the other children were very apparent, some not so apparent. Carter was an African American in a camp setting where most others campers were white. There was no father figure in Carter’s life and he often displayed his anger by striking out at others—afraid of failure more than we realized. With the encouragement and patience of the counselors, Carter was able to begin talking to the staff and other campers and participate happily in camp activities. Difference took on far less importance and a sense of belonging took its place. Carter spent many summers at Tumbleweed, became expert at the ropes course and climbing wall, challenged himself in ways he never thought possible. As Carter grew up at camp, his mother asked us to make an exception so Carter would be able to participate in our CIT program over more than one session. She confirmed what all of the staff knew—that camp was a safe place for Carter where he could be himself.
John Beitner, Director
Camp Talooli, Camp Fire USA, New York
There was a very special young girl who started coming to camp after her mother reported that she was not functioning well at home—all of the relationship difficulties that middle school girls often find occupy their lives. When her mother asked why she didn’t want to have her school friends join her at camp away from home, she said that camp was what she really looked forward to all year and that she could be herself at camp. She went on to become a CIT and is now a junior in college. Camp was one of the transforming experiences of her childhood.
Physical and Thinking Skills: Adventure and Exploration, Environmental Awareness
"I have the conviction that a few weeks in a well-organized summer camp may be of more value educationally than a whole year of formal school work."
former president of Harvard University,
in his 1922 treatise on education
Pine Hill Day Camp, Alabama
Matthew had been attending Pine Hill for several years. The staff regarded him as challenging—little control over his feelings or reactions, hot tempered at times. And to complicate matters, Matt towered head and shoulders over his peers. Each summer we would notice positive ways in which Matt adjusted and began to fit in. A breakthrough moment came when he reported that he felt accepted at camp, he loved the pool where size didn’t matter, and finally he was able to have the summer of his life. It’s a real turnaround moment when everyone realizes that camp promotes an environment where kids can feel at home and be themselves.
Positive Values and Spirituality: Values and Decisions, Spirituality
"In some ways all camps have a spiritual component. Either because of the beautiful natural setting, the opportunities for bonding with others, or meaningful religious practices, young people have an opportunity to connect to the earth, to each other, and perhaps to a higher power."
Christopher Thurber, Ph.D.,
Child Psychologist and Author
Athens Y Camp for Boys, Georgia
I remember PJ as a camper. His first summer at camp was when he was nine years old. He was the smallest kid in the group and was very shy. All the other kids made fun of him. He was the last one picked for any kind of game. No one wanted to be his swim buddy. Sessions were three weeks long, and he thought he was going to die before camp was over. But over those three weeks with PJ, we began to notice a change. There was one thing he did very well and that was making lanyards. He could do the 16-stitch corkscrew better than anyone. Once the other kids found out he could do this they started to be his friend. At first it was to get help with their lanyards, but they learned that PJ was a kid just like them. PJ learned that God made everyone different and special. And once he learned that important lesson he gained confidence and individuality. He became friends with the other campers and remained at camp as a camper and staff member until he was 23. PJ’s individuality is what makes him so memorable.
The impact of camp is resonating with more and more young people and adults—lessons learned, friendships formed. There is something behind these stories, and the talk of what is different about camp—the genuine learning and growth that occurs in these unique environments. As Peg Smith reflects, "We are just beginning to understand and thoughtfully measure the impact of camp in the lives of children and young adults and recognize the opportunity and privilege that we have to serve the camp community—it’s an exciting time to be able to influence the direction of our future."
For more information on how camp gives kids a world of good, visit www.CampParents.org or call the American Camp Association at 800-428-CAMP (2267).
RESEARCH MATTERS-AMERICAN CAMP ASSOCIATION
- Sharing Youth Development and Research—Enriching the Lives of Children
- The largest research study of camper outcomes ever conducted in the United States supported in part by a generous grant from Lilly Endowment Inc.
- Conducted by a respected, independent research group.
- We asked over 5,000 families about positive identity and social skills:
Parents reported positive outcomes in 10 of 10 categories!
- Camp helped me make new friends. (96%)
- Camp helped me get to know other campers who were different from me. (94%)
- Camp helped me feel good about myself. (92%)
- At camp, I did things I was afraid to do at first. (74%)
- My child gained self-confidence at camp. (70%)
- My child continues to participate in activities learned at camp. (63%)
- My child remains in contact with friends made at camp. (69%)
Copyright 2006; American Camp Association.