In today's world, relevance and added value are important to everyone. Being essential in a world that often must eliminate discretionary expenses is of paramount importance. And, the ability to articulate worth is equally imperative.

Over the last three years, the American Camp Association® (ACA) has focused on five outcomes for children and youth as they relate to our mission to enrich the lives of children, youth, and adults through the camp experience.

  1. Health and Wellness: promoting physical activity, reducing childhood obesity, and encouraging healthy lifestyles.
  2. Environmental Stewardship: equipping young people with the attitudes, knowledge, and skills they need to be stewards of the environment today and green leaders of tomorrow.
  3. Leadership: helping children learn to overcome obstacles and to believe in their own prospects for success.
  4. Workforce Development: helping young people set goals, learn responsibility, develop interpersonal skills, and develop an entrepreneurial spirit.
  5. Academic Enrichment: reducing summer learning loss by preparing children for learning, engaging them experientially, and encouraging them to think critically.

These are relevant outcomes that add value to healthy human development. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 62 percent of children aged nine- to thirteen-years-old did not participate in any physical activity during nonschool hours, and 23 percent engaged in no daily physical activity. It is not surprising that a 2005 – 2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey indicated 33 percent of six- to eleven-year-old youth are overweight or at risk of being overweight. Or, consider that during the summer months, summer learning loss equals up to two months of instruction (as measured by grade level equivalents) on standardized math and reading test scores. On the other hand, learning that occurs through the camp experience supports the development of twenty-first century competencies, such as critical thinking and problem solving, collaboration, adaptability, initiative, and imagination, that help prepare children to learn. The camp experience is a legitimate and viable learning environment offering both relevance and value.

Yet, the camp experience is also a unique learning environment. The camp experience is an accumulation of moments that build a foundation for the future. Moments of wonder and exploration surround a camper. Sensory impact is comprehensive and profound. It may be as simple as standing outside and being able to smell rain before it falls. Campers are given the opportunity to be aware and in the moment, allowing full emersion of the experience. Youth approach life with density and intensity — the camp experience matches that moment by moment.

Speak from a position of strength advocating for the camp experience as an important learning environment. Advocate for the future camper . . . and the accumulation of moments that can make a positive change in the life of a camper.

Originally published in the 2010 July/August issue of Camping Magazine.