Understanding the Role of Summer Camps in the Learning Landscape: An Exploratory Sequential Study


  • Dan Richmond University of Utah
  • Jim Sibthorp University of Utah
  • Cait Wilson University of Utah




summer camp, learning settings, long-term outcomes


Summer camp is an important setting within the learning landscape of youth—a landscape that also includes school, sports, arts and music, religious settings, home, and eventually, work. While research on camp outcomes is abundant, practitioners and policymakers have little empirical evidence that summer camp participation offers long-term impact and value. The purpose of this study was to build on existing camp research to identify learning outcomes that are highly attributable to camp participation and to determine whether these outcomes are considered important in everyday life. A second purpose was to identify other settings that may contribute to learning outcomes often associated with camp participation. This study used mixed methods design and involved a national sample of 352 individuals (18-25 years old) who had attended camp for at least 3 weeks in their youth and had not worked at a camp. Alumni reported that the development of independence, perseverance, responsibility, appreciation for differences, and appreciation for being present were camp-related outcomes that were highly attributable to their camp experiences and that these outcomes were also of high importance in daily life. Among all outcomes that were highly attributable to camp, study participants noted that camp was a primary setting for developing affinity for nature, how to live with peers, leisure skills, a willingness to try new things, independence, being present, and empathy and compassion. School and home were primary learning settings for other outcomes. Findings from this study help identify where camp is particularly effective in promoting lasting outcomes and areas where camps may need more intentionality and resources.


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