Skip to main content

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.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  • American Camp Association (1998) Accreditation Standards for Camp Programs and Services (1998 Edition). Martinsville, IN: Author

    Google Scholar 

  • Anderson-Butcher D, Cash SJ, Saltzburg S, Midle T, Pace D (2004) Institutions of youth development: The significance of supportive staff-youth relationships. J Human Behav Soc Environ 9:89–99

    Google Scholar 

  • Bjorklund DF, Brown RD (1998) Physical play and cognitive development: Integrating activity, cognition, and education. Child Dev 69:604–606

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • BSA Research Service (1998, August) A year in the life of a cub scout…boy scout…venturer. Irving, TX: Author

    Google Scholar 

  • Blom DE, Zimmerman BJ (1981) Enhancing the social skills of an unpopular girl: A social learning intervention. J School Psychol 19:295–303

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bumbarger B, Greenberg MT (2002) Next steps in advancing research on positive youth development. Prevention & Treatment, 5, Article 16, from http://journals.apa.org/prevention/volume5/ pre0050016c.html

  • Byers ES (1979) Wilderness camping as a therapy for emotionally disturbed children: A critical review. Exceptional children 45:628–635

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Cartwright GF, Tabatabai D, Beaudoin M, Naidoo L (2000) Self-actualization of youth in a summer camp. Psychological Reports 87:729–730

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Castellano TC, Soderstrom IR (1992) Therapeutic wilderness programs and juvenile recidivism: A program evaluation. J Offender Rehabilitation 17:19–46

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Catalano RF, Berglund ML, Ryan JAM, Lonczak HS, Hawkins JD (2002) Positive youth development in the United States: Research findings on evaluations of positive youth development programs. Prevention & Treatment, 5, Article 15, from http://journals.apa.org/prevention/volume5/pre0050015a.html

  • Dimock HS, Hendry CE (1929) Camping and Character: A Camp Experiment in Character Education. New York: Association Press

    Google Scholar 

  • Durkin R (1988) A competency-oriented summer camp and year-round program for troubled teenagers and their families. Residential Treatment for Children and Youth 6:63–85

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Durkin R (1993) Structuring for competence, relevance and the empowerment of children and those who care for them: A case study of the Sage Hill Program. Journal of Child and Youth Care 8:63–75

    Google Scholar 

  • Dworken JG, Larson R, Hansen D (2003) Adolescents’ accounts of growth experiences in youth activities. Journal of Youth and Adolescence 32:17–26

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Eells E (1986) History of Organized Camping: The First 100 Years. Martinsville, IN: American Camp Association

    Google Scholar 

  • Gambone MA, Klem AM, Connell JP (2002) Finding Out What Matters for Youth: Testing Key Links in a Community Action Framework for Youth Development. Philadelphia: Youth Development Strategies, Inc., and Institute for Research and Reform in Education

    Google Scholar 

  • Garst BA (2005) 2003-2004 Virginia 4-H Camping Report. Blacksburg, Virginia: State 4-H Office

    Google Scholar 

  • Garst BA, Bruce FA (2003) Identifying 4-H camping outcomes using a standardized evaluation process across multiple 4-H educational centers. Journal of Extension, 41. Available at http://www.joe.org/joe/2003june/rb2.shtml

  • Gillham JE, Reivich K, Shatté A (2002) Positive youth development, prevention, and positive psychology: commentary on “Positive Youth Development in the United States.” Prevention & Treatment, 5, Article 18, from http://journals.apa.org/prevention/volume5/pre0050018c.html

  • Gordon CP (1996) Adolescent decision making: A broadly based theory and its application to prevention of early pregnancy. Adolescence 31:561–585

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Greenberg M, Weissberg RP, O’Brien MU, Zins JE, Fredericks L, Resnik H, Elias MJ (2003) Enhancing school-based prevention and youth development through coordinated social, emotional, and academic learning. Am Psychol 58:466–474

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gregg CR, Hansen-Stamp C (2005) Reasonable supervision and the “safe” environment—What are the issues? Campline 14:8–12

    Google Scholar 

  • Groves DL (1981) Camping—Its past and future contribution to adolescent development. Adolescence 16:331–334

    Google Scholar 

  • Groves DL, Kabalas H (1976) Self concept outcomes in a resident camp group setting. Journal of the Association for the Study of Perception 11:11–15, 29–30

    Google Scholar 

  • Harris MW, Fried KL, Arana J (1995) The counter-gang: A program of therapeutic growth for New York City youth. Journal of Child and Adolescent Group Therapy 5:201–213

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Henderson KA, Thurber CA, Whitaker LS, Bialeschki MD, Scanlin MM (2006) Development and application of a Camper Growth Index for Youth. J Experiential Education 29:1–17

    Google Scholar 

  • Kaplan S, Talbot JF (1983) Psychological benefits of a wilderness experience. Human Behavior and Environment: Advances in Theory and Research 6:163–203

    Google Scholar 

  • King PE, Furrow JL (2004) Religion as a resource for positive youth development: Religion, social capital, and moral outcomes. Dev Psychol 40:703–713

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • LaGreca AM, Dandes SK, Wick P, Shaw K, Stone WL (1988) Development of the social anxiety scale for children: Reliability and concurrent validity. J Clin Child Psychol 17:84–91

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Larson R (2000) Toward a psychology of positive youth development. Am Psychol 55:170–183

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Leffert N, Benson PL, Scales PC, Sharma AR, Drake DR, Blyth DA (1998) Developmental assets: Measurement and prediction of risk behaviors among adolescents. App Dev Sci 2:209–230

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lewicki J, Goyette A, Marr K (1996) Family camp: A multimodal treatment strategy for linking process and content. Journal of Child and Youth Care 10:51–66

    Google Scholar 

  • Marsh PE (1999) What does camp do for kids?: A meta-analysis of the influence of the organized camping experience on the self constructs of youth. Unpublished master's thesis, Indiana University, Bloomington

  • Marsh R, Richards G, Barnes J (1986) Multidimensional self-concepts: The effect of participation in an Outward Bound program. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 50:195–204

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • McCall RB, Green BL (2004) Beyond the methodological gold standards of behavioral research: Considerations for practice and policy. Social Policy Report of the Society for Research in Child Development 18:3–19

    Google Scholar 

  • McCall RB, Ryan CS, Green BL (1999) Some non-randomized constructed comparison groups for evaluating age-related outcomes of intervention programs. Am J Evaluat 2:213–226

    Google Scholar 

  • Mishna F, Michalski J, Cummings R (2001) Camps as social work interventions: Returning to our roots. Soc Work Groups 24:153–171

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Nation M, Crusto C, Wandersman A, Kumpfer KL, Seybolt D, Morrissey-Kane E, Davino K (2003) What works in prevention: Principles of effective prevention programs. Am Psychol 58:449–456

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • National Collaboration for Youth (1997) Position statement on accountability and evaluation in youth development organizations. Washington, DC: Author

    Google Scholar 

  • Roth JL, Brooks-Gunn J (2003) What exactly is a youth development program? Answers from research and practice. App Dev Sci 7:94–111

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Seligman M (2003) Positive psychology: Fundamental assumptions. Psychologist 16:126–127

    Google Scholar 

  • Stein TA (1963) Some affective outcomes accompanying a camping experience of physically handicapped adults. Rehabilitation Literature 24:194–200

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Thurber CA (1995) The experience and expression of homesickness in preadolescent and adolescent boys. Child Dev 66:1162–1178

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Thurber CA (1999) The phenomenology of homesickness in boys. J Abnormal Child Psychol 27:125–139

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Thurber CA, Sigman MD (1998) Preliminary models of risk and protective factors for childhood homesickness: Review and empirical synthesis. Child Dev 69:903–934

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Thurber CA, Sigman MD, Weisz JR, Schmidt CK (1999) Homesickness in preadolescent and adolescent girls: Risk factors, behavioral correlates, and sequelae. J Child Clin Psychol 28:185–196

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Treasure DC, Roberts GC (1998) Relationship between female adolescents’ achievement goal orientations, perceptions of the motivational climate, belief about success and sources of satisfaction in basketball. Int J Sport Psychol 29:211–230

    Google Scholar 

  • Watson DL, Newton M, Kim M (2003) Recognition of Values-Based Constructs in a Summer Physical Activity Program. Urban Review 35:217–232

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Werner EE, Smith RS (2001) Journeys from childhood to midlife: Risk, resiliency, and recovery. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press

    Google Scholar 

  • Zimmerman EC, Carter MC, Sears JH, Lawson JS (1987) Diabetic camping: Effect on knowledge, attitude, and self-concept. Issues in Comprehensive Pediatric Nursing 10:99–111

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Christopher A. Thurber.

Additional information

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.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

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

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-006-9142-6

Keywords

  • Positive youth development
  • Camp
  • Outcomes