The camp setting, setting campers up for success: research.
Youth Camper Perceptions of the Camp Context and Life Skills
* Camp context was found to support life skill practice among residential youth campers at the four Tennessee 4-H Centers, in the life skill areas of building relationships, communication and social interaction, decision-making, self responsibility, and teamwork and cooperation.
* Physical safety and security showed the strongest relationship with four of the five life skill measures.
* Although there was a significant relationship between a majority of the life skills and grade or gender, the contribution of grade or gender was minimal compared to the relationship between the life skill and the camp context.
Current research studies in positive youth development clearly establish that the context of development is critical as evidenced by the recommendations of several national research studies that suggest the role of the environmental context in positive youth development while fostering the practice of life skills, assets, or competencies is necessary for a successful transition to young adulthood. Adults involved in residential youth camping claim that the camp experience enhances children's development in a variety of ways, but there is limited empirical research from a camper perspective to document their claims and clarify exactly what it is that the camp context provides. This research explored the impact of residential camp on 720 fourth-through sixth- grade youth by studying campers' perspectives on the contextual settings of the summer residential camp programs at the Tennessee 4-H Centers and their relationship to the life skills supported by participation. The following four indicators of contextual settings were examined: physical safety and security, psychological safety and security, emotional and moral support, and supportive adult and teen leader relationships, and the following five indicators of life skills were studied: building relationships, communication and social interaction, decision-making, self-responsibility, and teamwork and cooperation. Of particular interest was whether the residential camp setting was perceived by campers to exemplify the characteristics of an environment conducive to positive youth development and to identify specific life skills or internal assets supported through participation.
Results and Discussion
The context of the camp environment was found to support life skill practice among residential youth campers at the four Tennessee 4-H Centers. When examining the relationships of communication and social interaction, building relationships, decision-making, self-responsibility, and teamwork and cooperation to the broad range of contextual features, with grade and gender as additional variables, together they accounted for an average 41.4 percent of the variance. This finding indicated that other unknown factors, aside from the contextual feature, grade, or gender, contributed the remaining 58.6 percent. Physical safety and security showed the strongest relationship with four of the five life skill measures. Although there was a significant relationship between a majority of the life skills and grade or gender, the contribution of grade or gender was minimal compared to the relationship between the life skill and the camp context.
As documented in this youth camp study, the Tennessee 4-H Camp environment does provide a context for positive youth development and supports the practice of life skills as substantiated in the larger context of these reports. This study also provides strong evidence that the camp environment makes a difference in the life skills supported and provides a benchmark for additional research. This research suggests that the context is more than the cabins, dining hall, and swimming pool; the context is more closely related to human and physical boundaries, expectations, relationships, and personal experiences than to facilities or fences. Research findings show that the context of the camp environment in relationship to emotional and moral support, physical safety and security, psychological safety and security, and supportive adult relationships is critical if life skills are to be enhanced.
Camps with limited budgets and personnel resources are often tempted to reduce the training of field staff and lower the standards for volunteer leader preparation and expertise. This research suggests that the important roles of emotional and moral support, physical safety and security, psychological safety and security, and supportive adult relationships in providing a quality youth development opportunity should not be underestimated. These areas should continue to be part of a comprehensive camp preparation and training curriculum. Limiting the emphasis placed on them to streamline training would compromise the quality and outcomes of the camp program.
This study has implications for other youth development providers. In many youth development programs, a multitude of opportunities are offered to youth with the objective of supporting life skills or building competencies. Many of them involve extended time away from home and even overnight excursions. If one looks at the items included in the subscales, they address boundaries, structure, expectations, interactions, and relationships that would be applicable to almost any setting. The magnitude of prediction the contextual features had on the life skills suggests that they are critical in any environment, not just the camp setting. However, these areas are often overlooked in the quest to offer a program according to the prescribed curriculum. This research suggests that time spent reinforcing the boundaries, structure, and social expectations is time well spent if the environment is intended to be one conducive to positive youth development.
Jeff Jacobs, Ph.D., has thirteen years of experience as a camp director and currently serves as an associate professor at California Polytechnic State University. His research and teaching focuses on outdoor and camp leadership. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Eccles, J., & Gootman, J.A. (2002). Community programs to promote youth development. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.
Essential Elements of 4-H Youth Development. (2004). Retrieved September 15, 2005 from http://www.atvyouth.org/atvdocs/EssentialElements4-H.pdf.
National youth development information center. (2002). Retrieved August 18, 2002 from www.nydic.org/nydic/devdef.htm.
Positive youth development in the U.S.: Research findings on evaluations of positive youth development programs. (1999). Retrieved August 20, 2002, from www.aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/PositiveYouthDev99/htm.
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Jill Martz, Ph.D., is the curriculum and outreach specialist for the 4-H Center for Youth Development Montana State University Extension. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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|Date:||Jul 1, 2007|
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