I just learned about the Effective Camp Research project through a colleague in Indiana. You can learn more here: https://www.vibrantfaith.org/project/ecrp/ or read the executive summary here: https://www.vibrantfaith.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/ECRP1-Executive-Summary-1.pdf, but I thought I’d share some of the stuff I found interesting.
The Effective Camp Research Project set out to answer: What is the impact of the one-week summer camp experience on the lives of the primary participants and their supporting networks? The project used the methodology of grounded theory. Data were gathered from 11-14 year-old camp participants, their parents, summer staff members, camp directors, church professionals who were visiting camp, and direct observation during site visits.
The Christian summer camp experience has positive and lasting impact that extend well beyond the temporary high of a week at camp, affecting family devotional practices, church participation, personal well-being, and faith commitment. These impacts are clear and recognizable in camps that are intentionally Christ-centered, relational, participatory, safe, and different from home.
This finding was clear across all data sources and all three camps. Participants experienced real and identifiable changes that were interpreted in overwhelmingly positive terms. Parents were generally content if their children had fun and were kept safe at camp, though many expressed surprise and joy at camp’s positive impacts. There is evidence that these changes continued after the camp experience.
The positive impacts varied in degree and type among the participants, indicating that camp does not have a single determinative outcome but rather a set of potential impacts. It is misleading and erroneous to say that the camp experience causes change. Camp is not a magic formula. The data show, rather, that the camp model, when faithfully practiced, opens the possibility for change in individuals and their supporting networks.
5 Fundamental Characteristics of Camp
The data suggest that the positive impacts of camp result from a dynamic interplay of five characteristics that can be considered fundamental to the camp model of these three camps. It is notable that a breakdown in one of the five characteristics seems to constitute a breakdown in the model itself, leading to interpretation of the experience as negative or even harmful. These five characteristics have no set order, and they manifest differently in various contexts.
- Camp is Relational
The entire camp experience is framed in an intensely relational environment that includes living together, meeting new people, practicing reconciliation, and encountering the other in face-to-face interaction. The potential impacts of this characteristic include improved social competency, increased self-confidence, and more positive attitudes toward Christian communities.
- Camp is Participatory
The camp environment emphasizes experience and agency. Participants learn and grow through active, kinesthetic activities. These experiences are multi-sensory and often include new or novel experiences (especially in the outdoors) that participants characterize as fun. Participants even characterized the absence of technological devices as a positive aspect of camp that facilitated participatory encounter. The potential impacts of this characteristic include willingness to try new things, increased creativity, and more positive attitudes toward life.
- Camp is Different Than Home
Camp exists in a set apart location that provides physical and emotional distance from environments that participants consider normal. The differences highlight the special nature of the camp environment and provide perspective on the places participants left behind and to which they will return. The potential impacts of this characteristic include increased independence and differentiation from parents.
- Camp is a Safe Place
The strong sense of safety at camp includes physical safety, but there is a special emphasis on emotional safety. Participants described camp as a place where they could be themselves without fear of judgment or ridicule. The potential impacts of this characteristic that manifest themselves in the data include more positive self-understanding, increased self-esteem, and a desire to seek out safe places and relationships.
- Camp is Faith-Centered
Faith teachings and practices are not peripheral or intermittent aspects of the camp experience but rather are experienced as intertwined in all other characteristics. The potential impacts of this characteristic include increased frequency of faith practices in the home, stronger identification with faith traditions, and ability to interpret life through the lens of faith.
While I think we already do a pretty good job of implementing these 5 characteristics, we’ll be training our adults about this model during staff training in order to provide the best possible experience for our campers!
Learn more at www.effectivecamp.com.