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Summer camp evaluation strengthens programs

The Issue

Every year millions of youth spend at least part of their vacation in some camp setting, be it day camp, resident camp or a specialty camp program. Hundreds of children attend California 4-H summer camps each year. Only recently have researchers begun to explore the impact and outcomes of outdoor living experiences on youth and to understand the elements of the camp experience. Are 4-H camps places that nurture children's positive growth? What would make camp programs stronger?

What Has ANR Done?

The California 4-H Camping Task Force completed a two-year statewide study to measure how the camp experience impacts young people, and to develop a better understanding of camp's role in positive youth development. Building on research initiated by the American Camp Association (ACA), the task force examined how youth at camp experienced four important youth development elements: relationships, safety, youth involvement and skill building. The task force shared its first-year findings with the youth-adult management teams from camps that participated in the study, and encouraged them to make a program improvement plan to implement the next year. A second assessment the following summer demonstrated that camps implementing improvement plans made a positive impact on the experience for camp participants. Beyond Evaluation: Findings from the California 4-H Camp Study documents the research project and outlines how camps can improve their programs.

The Payoff

Evaluation leads to stronger, more vibrant camp programs

Camps do promote positive youth development. We learned that California 4-H camps foster exceptionally strong relationships for both campers and staff. Teens in our camp programs also report significantly higher leadership and decision-making opportunities compared to camps in the national ACA study.

Two of the three camps for which we had comparison data significantly improved the quality of their program, as evidenced by increased scores in at least three of the four youth development constructs. These were programs that implemented improvement plans.

Information from the study has been passed to camp providers locally, nationally and internationally. Participants attending research presentations have an increased understanding of critical components of youth development and how these components are part of camp settings. Our research has also provided the foundation for a new counselor training manual soon to be released by ACA. This will ultimately contribute to improved citizenship, leadership and life skills development, as well as greater environmental stewardship, for California's youth.


Supporting Unit: 4-H Youth Development Program

Marianne Bird, (916) 875-6423, mbird@ucdavis.edu