It’s been over a decade since ACA conducted its first national study to identify what kids learn from camp experiences. ACA and its camp community used those findings to design programs, train staff, and advocate to parents and funders the value in sending a child to camp. But we need to know more.
In 2016, ACA set out to explore the lasting impacts of camp and the ways camp experiences prepare young people for college, their careers, and their lives beyond camp. The study had three major components: one that focused on youth, one that focused on staff, and one that explored leadership development through CIT programs and other staff recruitment strategies.
The 5-Year Camp Impact Study was conducted by an external research team under the direction of an all-volunteer Research Advisory Committee. Nearly 80 ACA-accredited camps participated in this study by assisting the research team in distributing surveys to campers, parents, and staff. This research would not be possible without our camp supporters and camp organizations that contributed financially.
In the fall of 2022, the University of Utah research team completed the final round of data collection with campers, parents, and staff and issued their final report of findings. Review a list of peer-reviewed publications resulting from this study, and see below for a summary of the results. In the fall of 2022, the University of Utah research team completed the final round of data collection with campers, parents, and staff and issued their final report of findings. Review a list of peer-reviewed publictions resulting from this study, and see below for a summary of the results.
Youth Impact Study
This study explored if and how camp prepares youth participants for college, a career, and life outside of camp. Under the direction of an all-volunteer Research Advisory Committee and in partnership with researchers at the University of Utah, the Youth Impact Study sought to document, over the course of five years, the distinct and transferable outcomes of camp, as well as family processes related to camp.
The results of the study shed light on:
- the importance of quality camp experiences to social-emotional outcomes,
- how camp complements other settings in youth’s lives, and
- how families decide about sending youth to camp.
More specifically, high quality camp experiences generally included: high levels of engaging and interest-driven activities, feelings of belonging, supportive youth-staff relationships, and opportunities for experiential learning. Continuing, high quality camp experiences can have a lasting impact on youth’s social-emotional development and support their learning in other settings, like school.
Additionally, most parents want their kids to have fun, build social skills, and develop independence and other intrapersonal skills at camp. What’s more, as their children age, parents shift away from being the primary decision-maker. This shift often includes using their children’s interests to drive decision-making about summertime activities, like camp.
Leadership Development Study
This unique study was funded by the Spencer Foundation as a part of an initiative to better connect research with professional practice. With this award, the Spencer Foundation recognized the long-standing research-to-practice partnership between the American Camp Association and University of Utah, and provided funds to pursue an important and practical research project. The focus of this project was two-fold: to explore the characteristics and outcomes of teen leadership programs (such as CIT or LIT programs) among ACA accredited camps, and to identify effective practices related to recruiting and retaining new camp staff.
- ACA Begins Important Work to Achieve Access and Inclusion at Camp through Counselor-in-Training Programs
- Leadership Development Study Phase 1 Report
Staff Impact Study
Camps today face numerous challenges recruiting and retaining qualified camp staff. This is why ACA, New York & New Jersey agreed to fund a 5-year exploration of camp staff, what they gain from working at camp, and how working at camp prepares emerging adults for college, a career, and beyond. Overseen by the Research Advisory Committee and in partnership with the University of Utah, this study paralleled the Youth Impact Study.
The results of this study suggested that:
- working at camp can be a rich developmental setting,
- camp employment was often more meaningful than other workplaces,
- staff have opportunities at camp to try new things, make a difference, and be challenged,
- working at camp can provide staff opportunities to think about who they are and who they want to become,
- staff learned about what they value in work and the characteristics of jobs they may want in the future, and
- staff who have qualitatively better employment experiences and find the work more meaningful are more likely to return for a second summer.
We would like to thank the following ACA partners and affiliates for their financial support of the Camp Impact Study: