Summer Camps and Programs in the Development of Children
The purpose of this paper is to represent to the reader the importance of organized summer camps and programs in youth development. A special emphasis throughout the paper is placed on the influence of recreation on child development and personal growth.
By defining the effect of the summer camp experience and presenting relevant statistics from reputable opinion leaders, this paper will reveal that summer camp programs play a significant role in the youth development. There are three key development areas discussed in this paper, which include social skills, self-identity, and physical / health.
There are nearly 10,000 camps in the United States accompanying over six million children each summer (National Camp Association). Summer camps have been an American tradition dating back to the early 1900s. The summer curriculum of these camps bring out the excitement of the season, while offering a myriad of opportunity for childhood learning and growth.
Some of the key positive outcomes of the camp experience as stated by Camping Magazine author Garavaglia-Maiorano include the following:
Critical thinking and inquiry skills used as primary tools to examine issues.
Campers learn and increase collaboration with each other.
Active learning replace passive instruction.
Continuous and spontaneous reflection occurs throughout the entire process.
Campers develop a sense of civic and social responsibility.
Participants serve and be served by their involvement.
Campers increase self-esteem and self-knowledge.
Campers develop communication, problem-solving, and social skills.
Particular camp influences are over social, interpersonal and physical growth areas. Camps allow children a safe haven to discover and express their individual character, learn about their social and environmental responsibilities, and to participate in healthy outdoor and recreational activities.
Core Development Areas
Social Skills Development
Social skills are critical to the development of youth into successful adults. Social systems involve information sharing, problem solving, rules and procedures, and inter-personal interaction with peers and adults. Each of these areas is prevalent in the camp environment along with an atmosphere of recreation.
Research conducted by Roper Starch shows that Americans value the role that outdoor recreation plays in addressing social concerns, particularly as they relate to youth.
Even in the case of tough social problems such as juvenile crime (71%), underage drinking (66%), and illegal drug use (64%), outdoor recreation is viewed by a strong majority as having a positive role to play (Roper and Starch).
A camp environment provides a vast opportunity for the outdoor recreation experience, while offering the expertise of camp professionals in the building of social assets. Specific assets include social values and competencies, the constructive use of time, the understanding of and control of behaviors, and the respect of social diversity.
Numerous camp professionals have noted social values and competencies as key development outcomes. Particular activities and influences of the camp experience that affect the building of this asset include the opportunity to make new friends, to have positive social interactions with peers and adults, and to work together as a team.
Not only do campers participate in team sports such as baseball, basketball, soccer and volleyball, but they are also often engaged in other social team building functions such as backpacking, camp crafts, rafting, outdoor cooking, and etcetera.
Team and community spirit is also fostered through work groups, assigned chores and activities such as collecting firewood, food preparation, and various other group functions. Campers and staff work together to accomplish the many tasks of daily camp living. In this cooperative environment, the result, in most any case, is a common sense of social pride, accomplishment and contribution to the camp as a whole.
The constructive use of time can be learned through the various camp activities that are outlined on a schedule. Camps are managed through day-to-day structure with clear boundaries and expectations. This process enables youth to better understand the necessity and value of the productive utilization of time.
The understanding of and control of behaviors can be developed as campers experience interaction with others under camp guidelines and procedures. Summer camps bring together youth from different racial and socioeconomic backgrounds for extended periods. This diversity provides great learning opportunities for young campers to understand the value of people, and to gain respect, honesty, caring and sharing capabilities. The idea is to accept and understand differences, to celebrate what we share and to embrace a peaceful society. According to research conducted by Roper and Starch, Influential Americans or "thought leaders," endorse the idea that kids who take part in outdoor recreation are less apt to engage in vandalism and other criminal activities (57% strongly agree versus 49%).
There are even a number of camps that have been created for at-risk children, including children living in poverty, kids with poor social skills, and children with alcoholic and drug abusive parents. These are children in which, according to Roper Starch, two-thirds are expected to be at high risk to make serious mistakes in life that affects them forever (e.g., drugs, teen pregnancy, low educational attainment, antisocial behavior).
Children who witness or experience violence in the home are more likely to become perpetrators or victims of violence later on. This means that children who live in homes where their mother's partner beats or sexually assaults her are at higher risk of being victims of the same violence themselves or of committing violence later on (U.S. Department of Health).
It is critical for our society to develop programs, including special camps, to aid in violence prevention.
One program example is Trail Blazer Camps, which "serves at-risk children and encourages the development of academic and social skills as well as self-esteem." The program focuses on hands-on workshops and academic development for children.
Other examples, such as New Horizon Youth Camp and Blue Star Camps, operate recreationally focused environments. Programs include fishing, hiking evening bonfires, swimming and pool parties, talent shows, and awards banquets for campers.
The purpose of these camps is to offer at-risk youth an opportunity for a fresh start in a non-judgmental atmosphere. As campers are expected to put their best foot forward, individuals are taught how to resolve conflict without intimidation and inappropriate behavior. Individuals are also able to participate in positive recreational activities, and most importantly, development efforts are taken to aid in violence prevention.
Individuals are also taught to be responsible, cooperative and to look out for others. There are a number of camps that operate "buddy systems" where individuals are paired up with other individuals for specific tasks or activities. One camp uses the buddy system for swimming. To make its lifeguards' jobs easier, the buddy system is instated calling for participants to keep an eye on their buddy. If a buddy needs help, the other buddy contacts a lifeguard. The effect of this program is instilling responsibility and accountability in individuals.
There is much to be said about the role of recreation in preventing violence and negative behavior.
Statistics show that students who spend one to four hours weekly in extracurricular activities are 49% less likely to use drugs and 37% less likely to become teen parents than students who do not participate in these types of activities (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services).
Camps offer the opportunity for attendees to gain a wide exposure to different people in different walks of life.
Campers come from diverse socio-economic classes, different backgrounds and different family structures. Therefore, the development of compassion and empathy for fellow human beings is a core social development area.
Camps offer children opportunities to share stories around a campfire, to contribute their thoughts, ideas and suggestions. As children acknowledge the thoughts and feelings of other children, it is natural to develop compassion for each other. Learning to be understanding, to be civil and accepting of other individuals will aid campers in social situations as they grow older and particularly as they become adults.
Socially, another value of recreation and summer camp participation is environmental awareness.
For children, often the outdoor experience itself has the greatest impact on social development.
Children learn a general appreciation for the outdoors. Children are taught the value of conducting themselves in a safe and environmentally responsible manner.
Camps offer the ability for children to explore wilderness areas, outdoor skills, plants and vegetation, animals and ecology.
There are also a number of other outdoor activities and adventures that aid in the environmental awareness process such as hiking and backpacking, bicycling, horseback riding, etcetera.
There are some camps that take the environmental approach a step further by specializing in outdoor education and nature studies. Examples include Barry Conservation Camp, Outward Bound, YO Adventure Camp and Westcoast Connection Outdoor Adventures.
Travel camps such as the Lost Coast Environmental Wilderness Trip in California offer remote wilderness experiences. Lost Coast features 30 miles of "roadless coast, forests plunging to the sea, creeks and spectacular beaches, bald eagles, and bears." The trip concentrates specifically on environmental education and recreation. There are other similar camps throughout California and Colorado.