Doing good work with and for youth has been a hallmark of the camp experience since its inception. Very quickly, there was recognition that the place and space of camp was also "good" for the staff leading and supporting the experience. As we celebrate the past and look toward the future, it is important to reflect on the educational partners and integral influences on the camp profession. This article reminds us of some forerunners in recreation and outdoor education, showcases reciprocal connections, and explores ways to raise the bar in future educational offerings.

Forerunners in Recreation Education

The perspective of camp director and staff training has it roots in principles drawn from teacher training, recreation, and physical education curriculums. John Dewey and the progressive education movement in the 1890s, the playground movement in the 1900s, and the industrial revolution set the scene for the camp movement. New ideas that school was to reflect life and children needed a place of respite from the cities represented a change in how children were viewed. In the Victorian era, children were seen but not heard. The progressive education and playground movements began to view children as qualitatively different from adults. In the 1860s, school camps and nature study programs began and general attention to the welfare of children increased. In 1887, Dr. Luther Gulick of Springfield College (Massachusetts) hosted the first training course for gymnastic instructors, leading to extensive collaborations between colleges and youth programming for the YMCA. George Williams College (Wisconsin) offered a degree in physical education in the 1920s and one in recreation in 1934, while Smith, Vassar, Wellesley, and Mills (California) Colleges took leadership roles for the education of women.
As Girls Scouts, Boy Scouts, YMCA/YWCAs, Campfire programs, and religious youth organizations spread quickly across the country and the world, the need to provide professional development for staff emerged. Colleges and universities began to offer formal curriculum in education, physical education, recreation, and youth programming for both private and nonprofit organizations to train a cadre of volunteers and professional staff to effectively carry out their ideals and implement programs for camp.
Faculty from many disciplines served in leadership roles in developing and implementing these training programs. L.B. Sharp at Columbia Teachers College created National Life Camps as an experiment in working with disadvantaged youth and training college students. Anna Comstock developed Nature Study programs at Cornell University and trained nature leaders for camp. Captain Bill Vinal created challenging environmental science training courses for students at Trenton State Teacher's College and utilized summer camp as a learning laboratory.
As America turned to the camp setting for a natural summer experience for their children, more colleges and universities joined the movement by adding courses to their curriculum, collaborating with camps or running camps themselves. Hedley S. Dimock, dean of George Williams College, created and directed Summer Camp Institutes from 1930–1948 with various speakers at the Lake Geneva campus. Portia Mansfield created the modern dance camp, The Perry-Mansfield Camp, in Colorado and collaborated with Smith College in Columbia, Missouri. Rosland Cassidy taught camp counseling at Mills College; Marjorie Camp at the University of Iowa taught courses in camp counseling and canoeing with Barbara Ellen Joy at Joy Camps.
Reynold E. Carlson and Thomas Rillo at Indiana University developed innovative curriculum and programs in camp administration and outdoor education. They were also instrumental in helping the American Camp Association (ACA) locate to Bradford Woods and in the development of Camp Riley. Don Hammerman and the faculty at Lorado Taft Field Campus of Northern Illinois University developed countless professionals in organized camp as did Phyllis Ford at the University of Oregon, Betty van der Smissen at Penn State University, George Fuge and Marica Carlson at the State University of New York at Cortland, Mickie Little at Texas A&M University, and Edie Klein at the University of Georgia.

Reciprocal Connections

Programs in higher education have served as incubators for ideas and generated student opportunities for practical preparation. Faculties interested in testing pedagogical ideas in the classroom (and beyond) have a "captive" audience of students eager to build connections between theory and "real life." Camp professionals want better prepared staff, so conversations and interactions between faculty and camp professionals often lead to a reciprocal style of learning, improving performance from many angles. Camp professionals provide challenges that are fodder for discussion, while the faculty can experiment with ideas and test out proposed solutions.
While there are many outstanding programs that are more traditionally classroom-based, here are some exemplars that are actively engaging higher education students with the "outdoor classroom":
  • Bradford Woods (established in 1941) is an innovator in experiential education and therapeutic outdoor programming and recreational therapy. (
  • Georgia College & State University is an innovator in the preparation of outdoor leaders in wilderness settings. (www.gcsu .edu/outdoor/recreationeducation.htm)
  • Prescott College infuses a "learn by doing" philosophy design into the entire undergraduate program. (www.prescott .edu/academics/rdp/index.html)
  • University of Georgia has designed an experiential "Unified Core" that is based on a community-centered approach with its undergraduate recreation degree program. (www.coe
Explore their Web sites to learn about their current initiatives.

Raising the Bar in Future Educational Offerings

As we engage in a complex world, the need for collaboration is greater. ACA provides numerous opportunities for professionals and academics to learn and share together. The ideas of learning faster and adapting to change are important. The skill of thinking critically about the information we receive and seek can be supported as we explore new ways to prepare professionals. ACA has developed the Professional Development Center (PDC) to emphasize a core competency model and provide a virtual learning community and enhanced professional opportunities (see sidebar on page 53). Today, the new era of professional development builds on what people know — emphasizing the skill sets needed to use knowledge in ways to support positive development of campers and staff. In addition, there are growing numbers of available research tools to gain insight on program effectiveness. These multiple perspectives allow for deeper understanding and challenges to our perception of the benefits that campers and staff gain from the camp experience. Find more about ACA's current research efforts at
Currently, ACA has numerous educational alliances with universities, association, nonprofits, and businesses, to document the base of knowledge, create new resources, and connect academics and professionals. A complete list of current partnerships can be found on the ACA Web site at, but examples include: collaborative tools to improve decision-making in youth (Penn State), investigation to improve active lifestyles with children (North Carolina State), youth development outcomes research tools (University of Utah), technology support for the e-Institute distance-learning network (Texas A&M), and online professional development modules (University of Georgia).
As we engage with ideas and program formats that expand our notion of what is possible, we can learn from examples around the world. The International Camping Fellowship (www.campingfellowship. org) connects camp professionals from around the world and showcases programs to inspire collaboration and innovation. For example, as the education reform movement continues in the United States, there are examples from Australia, New Zealand, Ukraine, and Russia in which teacher education is integrated within models of school-camp partnerships that connect year-round school and outdoor education. As global citizens, reacting to and learning from other models will increase the diversity of our thinking and help us move beyond our own boundaries.

Heroes, Innovators, and Exemplars

As camp professionals, we can be proud of a rich history full of heroes, innovators, and exemplars. As we face current challenges, we need to be brave enough to ask ourselves tough questions. As we learn more, we need to be willing to partner with new voices to gain new perspectives and think as global citizens. As we express the value of the camp experience, we need to articulate the specific role that camp plays in education and learn with the pedagogical leaders about how to increase our effectiveness. As the future unfolds, we (individually and collectively) can be the change-makers for the future.
Authors' note: In writing any "look back," there is always the risk that important milestones and contributors will be missed. This article is written in a spirit of celebrating moments of the past, rather than as a definitive history, so please forgive any inadvertent omissions to this story and contact ACA with additions to help complete the story.
Additional Resources:
  • About us. (n.d.) School of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation: Indiana University. Retrieved from
  • Dimock, H.S. (n.d.) Summer camp institutes: 1936–1940. Association College and The American Camp Association.
  • Eells, E. (1986). History of organized camping: The first hundred years. Martinsville, IN: The American Camp Association.
  • Hammerman, W. (1980). Fifty years of resident outdoor education. The American Camp Association.
  • Hays, J. D., & Young K. (n.d.) A recreational link with the past and the future. Illinois periodicals online at Northern Illinois University. Retrieved from
  • Mansfield, J. (n.d.) Therapeutic recreation history by categories. Therapeutic recreation resources for recreation therapy, recreational therapy, and activity directors. Retrieved from
  • Alumnae. (n.d.) Mills College. Retrieved from
  • Miranda, W. & Yerkes, R. (1996). The history of camping women in the professionalization of experiential education. In K. Warren (Ed.) Women’s voices in experiential education. Association of Experiential Education.
  • Van der Smissen, B. (2005). Recreation and parks: The profession. Human Kinetics: Champaign, IL.
Dr. Gwynn Powell ( is an associate professor in the Recreation and Leisure Studies Program of the Department of Counseling and Human Development Services at the University of Georgia. Dr. Joy James ( is an assistant professor in the Health, Leisure and Exercise Department at Appalachian State University. Together, Dr. Powell and Dr. James bring experience from the nonprofit and independent for-profit sectors of the camp community and lead Camp Counselors Russia Study Abroad programs in collaboration with CCUSA where students serve as international staff teaching English language and American games to children in Russian summer youth camps.
Rita Yerkes, Ed.D., is president of Yerkes Consulting LLC, which assists camps with board development, strategic planning, outcomes assessment, and staff training. Contact the author at