Happy birthday to camping! Over the past 150 years of organized camping in the United States, we as a field have done a good job of transforming camping into an educational experience in outdoor group living with measurable positive outcomes. Research shows that a well planned youth camp improves self-esteem, environmental awareness, peer relationships, and has other measurable positive outcomes. However, we often leave these outcomes at camp, and fail to build upon it. By thinking of camp as a stand-alone, situational learning experience, we miss an opportunity to capitalize on the gain. How can we make the most of what we work so hard to achieve at camp?
As anyone who has been to summer camp knows, the camp experience can be a rich and memorable one. These can be profound experiences for youth, producing lasting memories. Research shows numerous positive outcomes for youth who participate in organized camping opportunities. Among them are:
- Peer relationships
- Adventure and exploration
- Environmental awareness
- Friendship skills
- Values and decisions
- Social comfort
Positive youth outcomes at camp and how to achieve them are well researched and well documented. For example, in the current issue of New Directions in Youth Development Garst, Brown and Bieleschki write, "Positive outcomes do not just occur because children attend camp; these desired outcomes must be planned, measured, and then incorporated into future program planning efforts."
I think we have not paid enough attention to this last part - incorporating the positive outcomes into future program planning efforts. I believe that we can. In 4-H, we use the experiential learning model to guide our facilitation of learning. However, we often think of the process - experience, share, process, generalize, apply - only in the context of the immediate experience.
Using the experiential learning model, we should intentionally be building in strategies to extend the learning and benefits of these developmental outcomes beyond camp. Are there ways to encourage youth beyond camp to continue reflection, generalizing, and applying? The memories of camp are long-lasting, powerful, and episodic and if we can re-activate and reflect over and over to deepen and enhance the learning years later imagine the influence and strength of these developmental outcomes.
One strategy for intentionally pulling outcomes beyond camp is to involve parents and caring adults in re-learning from the camp experience in the years afterward. To do this, we need to prepare caring adults to know when it is appropriate and beneficial to tap these memories of youth.
-- We must provide these adults with knowledge about the camp experience, especially memorable events, milestones for their youth, important values, traditions, etc.
-- Second, parents and other caring adults need to know how to intentionally facilitate movement through the experiential learning cycle. These may be questions found in "Questions for Guiding Experiential Learning", an Extension field guide.
Do you have other strategies for bringing reflections of camp experience into the future? How do you extend the wonderful benefits of camp?