Youth Development Outcomes of the Camp Experience: Evidence for Multidimensional Growth

Abstract

Three thousand, three hundred and ninety-five families, whose child attended one of 80 different day or resident summer camps for at least one week, completed customized questionnaires that measured growth from precamp to postcamp in four domains: Positive Identity, Social Skills, Physical & Thinking Skills, and Positive Values & Spirituality. Parents, children, and camp staff reported significant positive change in these four domains; more than would be expected by maturation alone. Most gains were maintained or showed additional growth six months later. Few of the camp's structural elements correlated with growth, nor did striking gender, age, or ethnicity differences emerge. The study highlights the particular strengths of camp as an educational institution and social movement and suggests that different variations of summer camp can provide potent developmental experiences.

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Correspondence to Christopher A. Thurber.

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Christopher A. Thurber is full-time faculty at Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire. He received his PhD in clinical psychology from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1997. His major research interests include homesickness, youth camping, and developmental psychopathology.

Margery M. Scanlin is the Executive Officer for Research at the American Camp Association in Martinsville, Indiana. She received her EdD from Temple University in Philadelphia, PA, in 1982. Her major research interests include youth development outcomes, program improvement in youth organizations, and organizational aspects of effective camps.

Leslie Scheuler Whitaker is a Senior Associate with Philliber Research Associates in St. Louis, Missouri. She received her PhD in social science research from Washington University in St. Louis in 2000. Her primary research areas include youth development, arts education, and program evaluation.

Karla A. Henderson is a professor in the Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism at North Carolina State University. She received her PhD in education from the University of Minnesota in 1979 and is currently a member of the American Camp Association Board of Directors. Her research interests include leisure behavior theory, camping and outdoor education, and gender and diversity issues.

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Thurber, C.A., Scanlin, M.M., Scheuler, L. et al. Youth Development Outcomes of the Camp Experience: Evidence for Multidimensional Growth. J Youth Adolescence 36, 241–254 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-006-9142-6

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Keywords

  • Positive youth development
  • Camp
  • Outcomes