Sacred Playgrounds collaborated with other researchers on a new publication about the impacts of summer camp (see the article HERE).
Those of us who have experienced the power of camp and witnessed the impacts on hundreds of campers and staff over the years know that camp is effective. The dawning of a new age of camp research has helped us identify the extent of these impacts and better tell the story of camp’s power to those who have not been to camp or had lousy camp experiences. It has now been well-established, through multiple research projects, that summer camp experiences have remarkably consistent impacts on self-confidence, leadership, social interaction, and much more.
But we also know that camps are incredibly diverse. They might be day-only or overnight, centralized or decentralized, co-ed or single gender, week-long or last all summer. At Sacred Playgrounds, we have focused specifically on Christian camps. We have made the case that, in addition to impacts common among all camps, there are outcomes unique to faith-centered camps. So far, we have been able to make this case indirectly, focusing our research specifically on Christian camps and inferring, based on other research, how these camps are similar to and different from the larger summer camp industry. Exciting new research findings offer a means of direct comparison.
In 2018, camps from the Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and United Methodist traditions partnered with the American Camp Association and a team of researchers at the University of Utah to conduct a special study looking at the unique contributions of various specialty camps. In addition to our Christian faith-based group, there were groups of camps that were all-girls camps, medical specialty camps, and camps serving youth from low-income backgrounds. The findings are published in the Children and Youth Services Review.
The well-documented outcomes of the summer camp experience were evident across all camp types, highlighting how much different camps have in common. However, the study also found that each camp type had unique outcomes based on program priorities and clientele. For example, all-girls camps demonstrated a particularly strong impact on self-confidence, medical specialty camps on appreciation of differences, and camps serving youth from low-income backgrounds on independence.
Christian camps shine in their explicit incorporation of faith into all other aspects of camp. While outcomes like self-confidence, leadership, and relationship skills were equivalent with those from other camp types, the outcomes most frequently attributed to Christian camp experiences had to do with faith development, particularly their personal faith in God. In comparison with other camps involved in the study, Christian camps also showed significantly higher outcomes related to empathy and compassion, the most essential Christian virtue (John 13:34). Even as we recognize empathy and compassion as a strength of Christian camps, it is important to note that they are not uniquely strong in this area. In fact, medical specialty camps showed even higher average outcomes in empathy and compassion than Christian camps.
There are programmatic reasons that each camp type shows specific strengths, and these are directly related to their mission. Christian camps explicitly seek to incorporate Christian faith and values into the camp programs, and the faith-related outcomes are oftentimes even more powerful and lasting than outcomes associated with all camp types. The findings of this project indicate that specialty camps are successful in achieving their desired outcomes. We can celebrate the goals and accomplishments of all four camp types, recognizing that they are each uniquely suited for certain clientele.
The clear message for all summer camps, including faith-based camps, is stick to your mission and live into your strengths. Your priorities matter, and you are uniquely suited to impact certain campers. There are so many great camps out there. If you are a faith-based camp, live into your strengths, and keep faith at the center of all you do.
The message for parents and other camp supporters is that, while all camp types offer life-impacting experiences, camp type matters. If Christian faith and values are important to you, send your child to a Christian camp. If a young girl in your family is struggling with self-confidence and identity, an all-girls camp might be a fantastic place for her to thrive. If you think that your income precludes you from sending your child to camp, think again: there is a camp that is waiting, scholarship in hand, to give your child a wonderful camp experience. If your child has medical issues that make them feel left out or that you think are too complex for anyone outside your home to handle, know that there are camps equipped to serve and care for your child.
Summer camp is back for 2021, and our kids need it more than ever! Have you signed up your child for camp yet?