Youth development and the camp experience

New Dir Youth Dev. Summer 2011;2011(130):73-87. doi: 10.1002/yd.398.


The organized camp experience has been an important part of the lives of children, youth, and adults for over 150 years. The camp experience is a way for young people to explore and search for an authenticity often missing in other parts of their lives that contributes to their healthy transition into adulthood. Over the past decade, tremendous growth in the volume and rigor of camp-related research has occurred, facilitated by a targeted research agenda conducted by the American Camp Association. This agenda was founded on three national research projects conducted between 2003 and 2007: a study to identify the developmental outcomes of the camp experience, a benchmarking study of the youth development supports and opportunities provided through camp experiences, and a program improvement project directed toward enhancing supports and opportunities provided by camps. The findings from these research projects suggest that camp experiences promote developmental outcomes in both campers and staff and that camps provide the supports and opportunities needed for positive youth development. This article explores the developmental outcomes of the camp experience and the characteristics of the supports and opportunities afforded by camp experiences, including settings, structures, and programs and activities, as a way to provide a clearer understanding of camp as a positive youth development setting. Innovations and opportunities in research related to the provision of quality camp experiences are also considered.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior / psychology*
  • Age Factors
  • Attitude
  • Camping / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Recreation / psychology
  • Social Support
  • Staff Development / methods*