Summer camp is about more than s’mores and sing-alongs. Just ask Troy Glover; one of the recreation and leisure studies professors behind the multi-phase Canadian Summer Camp Research Project.
A camp counselor in his youth, Glover always suspected that camp changes youth for the better— but now he has the data to prove it.
Camp linked to lasting changes
We found that summer camp allows for either improvement or reinforcement of positive attitudes and behaviours, and these changes are maintained long after camp has ended,” said Glover.
The project’s most recent findings, which were presented to the Canadian Camping Association in June, were based on the perceptions of 1,405 parents of campers between the ages of 4 and 18.
The study, led by Glover and recreation and leisure studies colleagues Steven Mock and Roger Mannell, looked specifically at whether parents noticed changes in their children’s social integration and citizenship, environmental awareness, attitudes towards physical activity, emotional intelligence, and self-confidence after returning from camp. Across the board, the answer was a resounding, yes!
“Parents’ perceived positive development in all five areas. Regardless of age, gender or camp experience, all campers experienced some degree of positive outcomes and growth,” said Glover.
Measuring positive development
Interestingly, some variables were linked to greater positive development.
Older children tended to experience the greatest changes in attitudes and behaviors, while girl campers experienced greater levels of social integration and citizenship than boys.
Children to who stayed at camp longer exhibited greater changes in the five areas studied, with returning campers experiencing greater positive changes than new campers.
But overall, “camp was rarely an aversive experience for youth, nor was it associated with negative changes,” noted Glover.
To camp, and beyond
For Glover, the findings of the Canadian Summer Camp Research project support the call to develop national camp programs that focus on fostering positive outcomes in youth, rather than on programs that narrowly focus on decreasing unhealthy risk in children.
“In short, the camp experience transfers into everyday life, in the best way possible. Parents need to leverage this and help children develop and maintain the skills and values that will allow them to be successful adults.”