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Camp Spirit by Dan King

It’s known as “camp magic” or “camp spirit,” and embraced by campers and staff alike who feel that special energy alive at camp.

I won’t deny there’s magic here— but that feeling of acceptance and enthusiasm is a bit more than magic: it’s something carefully cultivated into the camp experience to bring out the very best in all who walk the trails, the rows of dining hall tables, and the sometimes-frightening flashlight-lit path back to cabins at night.  Camp Ondessonk, along with thousands of other American Camp Association-accredited camps, commits to crafting quality camp programs that challenge young people to try new things, learn new skills, and get caught up in the excitement of living outdoors in a safe and welcoming environment.  We— and ACA– believe the unique camp experience inspires growth and development in ways unlike any other childhood experience.

The ACA is a community of dedicated professionals— the only organization that provides accreditation for camps in the U.S.— who adhere to nearly 300 written program, health and safety standards in the process of earning accreditation, and reaching nearly 3,000,000 children through ACA-accredited camps.

Several years ago, the ACA set into motion pioneering research aimed at finding out just what kids were taking away from their time at summer camp.  The results quantified something I see demonstrated each and every day at Camp Ondessonk: Outdoor experiences– and specifically youth camp experiences— are uniquely important instruments in youth development.

In 2003 through 2005, the American Camp Association and Philiber Research Associates conducted a landmark research study of camper outcomes, the largest ever carried out in the United States. Directions, a project designed to measure the outcomes of camp experiences from campers and their parents, reached out to families through 80 different ACA-accredited camps, and received feedback from more than 5,000 families.  The results of this national research confirmed what many of us have known at heart many years: that camp is a powerful developmental experience for young people.

Children between the ages of 8 and 14 and their parents completed surveys before, after, and six months following a stay at camp.  Camp counselors also completed an assessment at the start and end of a camp session.  Parents, camp staff, and children reported significant growth in self-esteem, peer relationships, independence, adventure and exploration, leadership, environmental awarenes, friendship skills, values and decisions, social comfort, and spirituality.  Parents, camp counselors, and campers reported statistically significant growth in all four domains examined in the study: Positive Identity, Social Skills, Physical & Thinking Skills, and Positive Values & Spirituality.

This expansive study provided scientific evidence that camp is a positive force in youth development– and proof that the things kids learn at camp don’t just stay at camp: they make a positive impact on the lives kids lead at home and at school, too.  The overall results of the Directions study found that kids who participated in summer camp:

–  become more confident and experience increased self-esteem

–  develop more social skills that help them make new friends;

–  grow more independent and show more leadership qualities;

–  become more adventurous and willing to try new things; and

–  realize spiritual growth, particularly at camps that emphasize spirituality.

Here are just a few comments campers wrote in the written-response section of their post-camp surveys:

“I feel that I am better at interacting with friends and family. The people skills learned at camp affected me dramatically when I went home.” -Luke, age 14

“When I’m at camp, I am totally at ease because of the constant fun, activities, and the emphasis on self-discovery. I feel totally comfortable.” -Sophia, age 14

“My experience helped me look at challenging situations differently. Instead of giving up, I find a way around them.” -Sarah, age 14

“I learned how to be patient and help out in every way I can (for me it was mostly at home). I had to deal with my anger.” -Sandy, age 12

“I learned leadership, organization, water-skiing, make my bed, keep my stuff clean, to keep in touch with my friends, respect, and how to handle pressure.” -Isabel, age 13

Knowing what kids take away (along with their muddy sneakers and smelly laundry) when they confidently walk back over the covered bridge at the end of a week at camp helps us further strengthen the program at Ondessonk… building on the magic to most effectively teach what matters most.

To read the full results of the Directions study, click here: http://www.acacamps.org/sites/default/files/images/research/directions.pdf

 

Dan King

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