What Does Camp Do for Kids? Chapter 5

The purpose of this study has been to identify any influence that might be made by the organized camping experience on the self constructs of youth. To answer this question a random effects model of meta-analysis was employed. The meta-analysis reviewed as many studies as could be located that contained some measure of the referenced influence. A coding process extracted data from the studies in order to calculate an effect size for each independent case. Data that could be used to establish the influence of moderators on the identified effect was also extracted. The reliability of the coding process was verified using a panel of coders and was reviewed by a separate panel of experts.

The effect sizes from each case were combined and a random effect was calculated according to The Handbook of Research Synthesis (Cooper & Hedges, 1994). Additionally, the effect sizes from the independent cases were analyzed in relationship to the moderator variables using line plots of the data-points, step-wise regression analysis, and effect size combination and comparison sensitivity analysis. The multiple analysis provided for a triangulation approach to identifying those moderators that were correlated to the random effect.

Using Pearson's r as the metric for effect size, a small but significant positive random effect was identified, r = .1032. The random effect, by definition, is generalizable to the population. Triangulation identified a camp's philosophy as it relates to enhancing a construct of self as being the significant contributing moderating factor for the effect identified. A sensitivity analysis of effect sizes for only those camps classified as having a focus on self enhancement found that the effect doubled, from r = .1032 to  r = .2006, indicating a truer measure of the effect that programs focused on enhancing a construct of self can offer. The BESD interpretation of the effect of self enhancing camps translates to a 20 percent increase in the success rate. See Interpreting of the Random Effect, in Chapter 4, for a discussion of the BESD.

Triangulation also identified age as being a moderating factor to a lesser extent. The relationship between the random effect and age is negatively correlated (t = -2.2925, p < .028), implying that there is a greater effect on younger campers. Through the data analyzed in this study, some of the largest effects identified from individual cases (r = .2985, .3836, .4177, & .5822) were on campers aged six to ten, at camps that focused on enhancing a construct of self. The triangulation analysis also identified that there was positive change across all age groups that participated in a camp program with a focus on enhancing self constructs.

All of the negative effects from individual cases (seven studies ranging from  r = -.1454 to -.0004), and many of the non-significant positive ones, were found in camps where the philosophy was on structured learning and the resultant competence development. In the classification of campgoal 3, those camps with a focus on personal enhancement and leisure skills, a positive but non-significant effect was found. One exception of this finding was a campgoal 3 camp with what can be interpreted as a medium sized positive effect (r = .4177). This camp 's philosophy, as presented in the study from which the data was extracted, was very leisure oriented. The description sounded as if the camp could have a philosophy of self fulfillment, but the goal stated in the data was to enjoy camp and have fun.

The findings of the meta-analysis are generally in agreement with the information presented in the literature review. A significant positive effect on the self can be made by programs that are designed with the intent of enhancing self constructs. The self can be impacted more significantly at an earlier age, and a positive change in self is generally occurring through adolescence. The study's findings differ from current psychological theory, discussed in the literature review, that suggests a sustained experience is required to influence self constructs. The difference is that a camp program with some focus on enhancing self constructs produces a positive effect on the self in a relatively short period of from one to eight weeks.

The findings of this study lead to several conclusions. First of all, the organized camping experience has a positive effect on the self constructs of youth. The effect is a function of those camps that focus on making a contribution to self through their programs. Camps that did not have this focus on construct enhancement generally did not make a positive contribution considered to be of any magnitude, r < .05, to a construct of self. Those camps that focus on competence development in a structured environment without a focus on enhancing the self, do not make contributions to constructs of self, and the effect may even be negative. Thus, if enhancement of a construct of self is desired, the camp program must focus attention on that goal in order to have a positive effect. Discussion about focusing a camp's program in order to promote self enhancement is presented in the Implementations section of this chapter.

The findings also reveal that a bigger effect is made upon campers that are younger, although a positive effect was found across campers between ages six and twenty years old. One conclusion from this finding is that camps can benefit from making parents aware of this opportunity for self enhancement so that the parents can provide the experience for the child, if desired. A second conclusion is that while the effect was larger for younger campers, the identification of the effect as applicable to all age ranges provides camping practitioners with the opportunity to promote this effect as a positive outcome that can be experienced by all campers.

Finally, the finding that the effect can be made in a relatively short period of time suggests that the camping experience provides a powerful means of achieving enhancement of self constructs. Therefore, there are opportunities for parents and communities to include camping experiences in the portfolio of methods used to address youth development needs, as they relate to the self. Identifying other outcomes from camping stands to enhance this opportunity to meet youth development needs.

One of the advantages of a meta-analysis, as discussed in the literature review, is that it can identify those factors that contribute to an effect. This identification often provides the advantage of shedding new light on an area of research. In the case of this analysis, the findings shed light on the usefulness of camping in addressing youth development needs through a positive influence on self constructs. Earlier discussion pointed out that the education system is not well equipped to address youth development needs and that the state of youth development in American society today is undesirable. Consequently, communities can use the findings of this study to identify the benefits of including camps as partners in strategies designed to meet youth development needs.

Research discussed in the literature review suggests that a set of socially desirable outcomes results from enhancement of one's self constructs. These outcomes include easier adjustment to new environments, a greater sense of personal satisfaction, and personal habits that lead to a healthy lifestyle. Identifying the camping experience as a means of enhancing self constructs indicates the camp environment as one that parents and communities should include in strategies that are designed to meet youth development needs. The argument for including camps is made stronger through the identification of the positive effect as being applicable across the broad age range of from six to twenty years old. Including camps in these youth development strategies is further strengthened through the power of the camping experience to generate this effect over a relatively short period of time, ranging from one to eight weeks as opposed to several months or longer.

The greater positive effect that younger campers experience suggests that parents should expose children to camping at or near the age of six years old. The identified development needs of children and early-adolescents suggest that a positive self image is desirable. Thus, beginning to establish this positive self image at an earlier age would give an individual a stronger personal foundation. In turn, this foundation would allow the individual to adjust more easily to changes in their personal environment and consequently increase the likelihood of subscribing to healthy living habits through the difficult period of adolescent development.

Camps that offer programs to youth that do not have a focus on enhancing self probably offer beneficial outcomes, although the outcomes have not yet been substantiated through research. These camps can enhance their program outcomes by adopting operational philosophies that address self development. The components of these self development programs are discussed later in the Implementations section of this chapter. Camps which add the focus of self enhancement are then in a better position to participate in community strategies that are designed to address youth development needs.

These findings can be used by camp practitioners where the camp's philosophy focuses on enhancing self constructs. The positive findings of this study can be used by the camping profession to generate support from philanthropic and other funding organizations. Camping practitioners can also use the findings to promote, to parents, the positive effects of camp programs focused on self enhancement. By emphasizing the greater positive effect for younger campers, camping practitioners can encourage parents to introduce children to camping at an age where the child will get the maximum positive effect from the experience. In light of the conditions identified in the literature review, the social desirability of self enhancement and the identified development needs of youth, the findings can be useful to parents that are interested in enhancing a youth's self constructs.

There are common factors that can be identified in the programs of camps that have a focus on enhancing a construct of self. These factors can be adopted by camps that do not have such a focus in their program philosophies. The self enhancing camps provide an environment that is reinforcing to a camper's sense of self. The reinforcement occurs through positive feedback about a given experience and the general attitude that supports the camper's individual identity. This environment of positive interaction is established either by hiring staff with experience or training in development of self constructs, or by developing this sensitivity during the camp's staff training program.

Camps that enhance self also provide an environment in which the camper feels some sense of control over their experience. This control is accomplished by involving campers to some extent in the planning or management of their camp experience. The involvement can be as simple as asking the camper for feedback or input and by responding in a way that demonstrates that the exchange was heeded. To summarize, camps wishing to expand the focus of their program philosophy to include enhancement of self constructs should establish an environment that reinforces the self through positive interactions with others, provides opportunities to achieve success, and an environment that provides for a sense of involvement, or ownership, in the camper's experience.

This meta-analysis covered the research that has been done in the area of organized camping and self constructs. Further research in the area of camping outcomes should continue. Having identified a positive effect on self, more research to explore the moderating variables of this influence needs to be done in order to fully explain the positive effect. Attaining this knowledge will allow practitioners to tune their programs in order to achieve a maximum effect in relation to the desired outcome. In addition, the other outcomes associated with an organized camping experience have yet to be established.

A recommendation is made for future research designed to explore both the other outcomes of organized camping and the moderators influencing the effect on the findings of this study. The basis for this recommendation is twofold. First, through the course of the meta-analysis it became clear that there was not enough data on gender, socio-economic level, or cultural background to identify fully the moderating effects of these variables on the self. Additionally, across studies there was little attention paid to the detail given in describing a camp's philosophy, staffing practices, the relationship between the size of a camp's population, or description of the experience that the camper was undergoing. Greater detail about the components of these moderators should also be included in future research. With regard to the recommendation of other outcomes of camping, there is limited research that explores those areas. The application of the lessons learned during the course of this meta-analysis, about the shortcomings of the data as they relate to identifying moderators to the effect, can be used to assist in the design of research that is focused on other outcomes.

Questions that still need to be explored in greater detail include those that relate to the length of time that the identified positive effect on self will last. This question may be difficult to answer, given the number of variables that are introduced into the equation once a youth leaves the camp environment. The relationship between the length of the camp experience and the size of the positive effect should also be explored more thoroughly. Due to the number of cases in the sample of this study, the relationship between length and effect size could not be explored with any certainty.

Questions about the use of instruments used to measure the effect and the most effective timing for measurements should also be explored. Current theory about the multi-dimensional aspects of self, discussed in the literature review, would suggest that the chosen instrument be designed to investigate the self from a multi-dimensional perspective. Finally, any research on self should be guided by the most current psychological theories on the self. There is a plethora of research into influences on the self, and many of the influences from outside the camp environment may be readily identifiable. Identifying these outside influences would allow for the isolation of the influences that occur within the camping environment, providing a better understanding of the factors that contribute to the positive random effect identified in this study as being a result of an organized camping experience.

The researcher also recommends that the findings of the study be disseminated as widely as is possible, so that camping practitioners can have access to the information for support of there efforts. Dissemination of the results to the public will aid parents in decision making as they gather information in order to select a camp for a specific purpose.

The recommended research task is far from easy, as camps are as individual as the people that operate them. Furthermore, positive effect on the self is only one outcome identified from an organized camping experience. The perception of parents and camping professionals, as identified through the ACA research described in the literature review, suggests that there are many more outcomes to be defined. In a time when enhancement of self constructs is considered culturally desirable and society recognizes that it needs more focus on meeting the development needs of youth, the positive effect on self from camps with a focus on enhancing self suggests that camping may be a useful tool in addressing childhood and adolescent development needs.