Research: The Camp Setting, Setting Campers Up for Success


Research

by Jill Martz, Ph.D.

Since Maslow's introduction of his hierarchy of needs, scholars
have recognized the importance of individuals having their basic needs
met before being able to achieve higher order needs. This premise holds
true in camp settings. Camps need to attend to the basic camper needs
of feeling safe and supported in order for campers to be able to survive
and thrive. The following research study evaluates how well camps measure
up in meeting the basic needs of campers and in providing a supportive
and nurturing atmosphere where positive youth development can occur.

Youth Camper Perceptions of the Camp Context and Life Skills

Research
Highlights

  • 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.

Purpose

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.

Practical Applications

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.

References
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.atv-youth.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.
Readability, (2004). Everything you ever wanted
to know about readability tests but were afraid to ask. Retrieved
February 10, 2004, from http://www.gopdg.com/plainlanguage/readability.html.

Consulting Editor

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 jacobs@calpoly.edu.

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 jmartz@montana.edu.

Originally published in the 2007 July/August
issue of Camping Magazine.

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