Beyond learning how to canoe and make s'mores, what value is summer camp to kids in Canada?
Individuals who have been fortunate enough to attend, work at, or send their children to camp are well aware of the considerable benefits of the summer camp experience. When prompted, they can provide compelling tales of their experiences and speak enthusiastically about the influence these experiences have had on themselves and their children.
Unfortunately, the value of the summer camp experience is not evident to everyone. Many newcomers to Canada, members of ethnic communities, and parents who have never attended camp have little or no appreciation for summer camp and its value as a positive experience for youth. This lack of understanding is a challenge to the camping industry in Canada at a time when there are so many competing programming alternatives for youth during the summer months. Why should kids attend camp? What do they get out of the experience besides fun and games?
Troy Glover, Steven Mock, and Roger Mannell, professors at the University of Waterloo, undertook a the first-ever nationwide study to assess the value of the summer camp experience in Canada. They did so in three project phases: first, sixty-five camp directors were interviewed about the changes or outcomes they observed in campers over the course of their careers in the Canadian camping industry; second, camp counsellors across Canada observed and recorded 1,288 campers to assess their behaviours and attitudes at the beginning and end of a camp session during a Canadian summer camp season; and third, data were collected from 1,405 parents or guardians who reflected on the changes they witnessed in their children's behaviour and attitudes upon returning home from a Canadian summer camp experience.
Phase one of the study identified five personal growth areas in which camp directors expected campers to experience positive outcomes:
- Social integration and citizenship
- Attitudes toward physical activity
- Self-confidence and personal development
- Environmental awareness, and
- Emotional intelligence
Phase two revealed positive development observed in campers in all five personal growth areas over the course of a camp session. On average, all groups experienced significant positive growth in all five areas, though female campers, older campers and returning campers tended to score higher on the observation instrument, indicating greater development in the areas examined. Female and older campers also tended to experience more growth in most of the observed areas over the course of the camp session. Perhaps one of the most significant overall findings of this study was that the higher average rates for returning campers in all areas seems to indicate that changes experienced at camp persist beyond that individual session.
In phase three, findings revealed the positive development experienced at camp transferred to the campers' home environments as parents and guardians observed changes in all five personal growth areas. Of note, the study revealed that:
- older children tended to experience the greatest changes in attitude and behaviour,
- children who stayed at camp longer experienced greater positive change in developmental outcomes,
- female campers tended to experience significantly greater levels of social integration and citizenship than boys, and
- returning campers tended to experience greater positive change than first time campers.
Overall, the research spoke to the overwhelming positive development fostered by Canadian summer camp experiences.
Reports of the study's findings are available for download from the Canadian Camping Association (CCA):
- Report 1: Examining the outcomes of the Canadian summer camp experience (PDF)
- Report 2: Parent perception of changes in children after returning home from camp (PDF)
This project was funded by the Canadian Camping Association (CCA), the University of Waterloo/Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada seed grant program, and the University of Waterloo Robert Harding Humanities and Social Science Endowment Fund.