Data Debrief: The Value of Summer Camp

by Steph Bundy Post 04.13.18

Data Debriefs concentrate on the findings from our summer 2017 research-practice partnership with Challenge Success. If this is your first visit to our blog, we recommend that you start here for an overview of why we’re talking about research at camp.

Data not really your thing? Check out our Beyond The Data posts (like this one) for real stories about learning and growing at camp!

Welcome back and buckle up – it’s time for another data debrief! Today, we want to talk about what we found when looking at some of the qualitative data – the answers that Camp Kinneret campers and parents gave to the open-ended questions on their surveys. Specifically, we’ll be sharing the findings we gleaned about the value of summer camp to campers and their families.

Reminder: Research Questions and Framework

In our first data debrief, we introduced you to the research questions and framework that guided Challenge Success‘s study. A quick refresher – the study is informed by the framework of social and emotional learning (SEL). The research questions focusing the study were:

  1. In what ways does the summer camp environment support camper engagement and well-being?
  2. In what ways does summer camp provide campers with opportunities to practice and develop social and emotional learning (SEL) skills?

The Value of Camp – According To Campers

4th – 9th grade campers answered the following question on their surveys: In your opinion, what is the value of summer camp? This question was entirely open-ended, and campers could write whatever they wanted in their answers.

The question received 121 responses, which were grouped into 10 themes. These themes are ordered here by how commonly they appeared in campers’ answers:

In your opinion, what is the value of summer camp? A counselor imitating a totem pole with campers

  1. Fun!
  2. Making new friends and socializing
  3. Learning new skills
  4. Community
  5. A break from life/stress/parents
  6. Everything!
  7. Change and growth
  8. Something to do
  9. Independence/freedom/responsibility
  10. Getting away from technology.

Let’s take a quick look at the two themes that came up in over 50% of campers’ responses:

  • Making new friends and socializing: Campers felt that camp was a place where they could meet new people, spend time with peers, and use their social skills. We know this because campers wrote about forming friendships that spanned multiple summers, enjoying activities and sharing experiences as a group, and having the chance to expand their social circle beyond school and beyond their own grade-level.
  • Fun!: What’s summer without some fun? Survey answers indicated that fun meant different things to different campers. Some wrote about waking up excited for a day at camp; some wrote about exciting camp activities or hilarious group adventures; others wrote about enjoying their time away from school; and still others wrote about making memories for years to come.

Before we move on to parent surveys, we’ll leave you with one more thought – the third theme that appeared most frequently in campers’ survey responses was learning new skills. More than one camper commented that camp has value for them because they learn things they don’t learn in school, or that teachers can’t teach them. We mention this because it reinforces our long-held belief that camp is a unique learning environment, a special place that offers new and different lessons than those children encounter elsewhere.

The Value of Camp – According to Parents

Parents of campers entering 1st – 9th grade had the opportunity to complete online surveys after camp ended. One of those questions asked: In what ways do you think your child benefited from his or her time at camp?

Just like the camper responses, the 123 parent responses were grouped into themes. Parents generated a wider range of themes than campers did, with 12 main themes emerging. Listed in order by how commonly they appeared, those 12 themes are:

In what ways do you think your child benefited from his or her time at camp? Two campers and a counselor smiling with their tongues out

  1. Practiced building new friendships or connections with others
  2. Explored or tried new things
  3. Built self-confidence
  4. Got exercise and participated in activities
  5. Had fun
  6. Connected with nature and the outdoors
  7. Built independence
  8. Had the opportunity to be a part of a larger community
  9. Got a break from technology
  10. Developed a sense of responsibility
  11. Got a break from the daily routine of life
  12. Found a safe place to reinvent self/express self/develop sense of self

One theme came up in 67% of parents’ answers:

  • Practice building new friendships or connections with others: Like campers, parents felt that camp offered significant social benefits. Parents were more able than campers to write about gains in specific social skills, like compromising with peers, working as part of a team, and respecting others. Parents also tied improved social skills to growth in camper’s levels of confidence and comfort in group settings and new environments.

The Value of Camp – According to Us

We were thrilled to see how many different ways campers and parents described the value of camp. We love that camp means many things to many people. We also do our best to shape camp so that every camper has the chance to learn, grow, and play in ways that fit who they are and who they are becoming. We offer small groups, one-on-one relationships, and engaged support because we know that when it comes to kids, one-size-fits-all rarely works. For us, the value of camp lies in its ability to help each camper grow. Some campers may grow a little; others may grow a lot. But we believe that they are growing, and the research is beginning to help us prove it.

Thanks for checking in for another data debrief! We’ll be back soon with more posts, so stay tuned!

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