For many youth in grades 3-6, summer camp is often their first educational experience away from home. It may also be the first time they experience a supportive relationship with an older teen serving as their counselor.
Teen counselors play an important role in the 4-H camping program. In a recent American Camping Association newsletter a camp director stated, "Counselors have a great impact on campers because they are listened to as an established peer, not as a parent laying down the rules."
Results of a research study done by University of Missouri Extension Service and published in the American Camp Association Magazine cited the benefits that teens can gain from the experience of serving as a camp counselor. "Camp counselors described accomplishments in the areas of leadership, public speaking, role modeling, teaching, helping campers have a positive experience, and making a connection with their campers."
Camp is the ideal environment for younger youth to build self-confidence, increase cooperation, strengthen social skills, explore new activities, appreciate nature, and interact with positive teen and adult role models.
Research done by the American Camping Association has indicated that "Camps, more than some other youth programs, provide positive developmental environments for youth, especially in providing supportive relationships with adults and peers, and in skill building."
In a 2012 article, "Summer Camp: Great for Kids, Even Better for Parents" published in TIME Magazine, author Bonnie Rochman highlights her interview with Psychologist Michael Thompson in which she learns summer camp is “where most kids first battle homesickness only to emerge triumphantly independent.”
Extension Staff from Adams, Allen, DeKalb, Huntington, Noble, Steuben, Wabash, Wells, and Whitley counties collaborated to plan, organize, and conduct 4-H Camp for youth in grades 3 – 6. Participating counties made efforts to promote 4-H camp and recruit campers.
Teen counselors completed an application process and were selected by the planning committee to serve as counselors. Extension staff planned and conducted four training sessions totaling 10 hours of instruction for the counselors.
Training covered a wide variety of subject matter that included safety, personality styles, ages and stages of youth development, recreation, mentoring, troubleshooting, and leadership skills.
152 campers youth spent 3 days and 2 nights camping under the supervision of 4-H camp counselors, Extension staff and volunteers. While at camp, the youth attended educational sessions taught by staff, counselors, and Educators. These included: crafts, geospatial science, engineering science, biotechnology, animal science, recreation, boating, swimming, fishing, citizenship, and outdoor sports. One event was a special feature in 2017 where guest speaker Gary Henderson of Big Dawg spoke to the youth about drug prevention by way of a canine.
A total of 157 4-H Universal Common Measures surveys were provided to the campers at 4-H camp. 152 youth campers responded, yielding a response rate of 97%. A total of 39 4-H Teen Leadership Common Measures surveys were provided to the teen counselors at 4-H Camp. 39 teen counselors responded, yielding a response rate of 100%. Notices were provided to the parents of 4-H campers, requesting they complete an online Qualtrics survey upon their return home from picking up their child at 4-H Camp. Of the families who received the notice, 32 parents responded to the online survey.
Results of the surveys indicate the following:
When asked what their child liked best about 4-H Camp, one parent said, “This space is not big enough to write. My youngest child knows ALL the songs and games because they have been repeated so much at home. They LOVED it. My oldest is upset that she cannot attend next year as she ages out.” Parents were asked to report which life skills they felt 4-H Camp helped their child learn, and 78% said it helped them make new friends. 59% indicated 4-H Camp helped their child become more independent and take care of himself/herself, and 53% reported it helped their child see the world beyond their hometown.
When asked if the parents planned to send their child to 4-H Camp again next year (if eligible), 89% agreed to send them again. When asked why they sent their child to 4-H Camp, parents responded by saying, “It was affordable.” Another said, “It is a good experience for him—a chance to meet more kids and builds responsibility.”
4-H campers who responded to the 4-H Common Measures survey indicated that while at 4-H Camp, 97% work well with other youth and can work things out when others do not agree with them. 83% reported they are comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings with others. 94% felt connected to adults who are not their parents.
Although an unintended outcome, Educators found that SkyHigh, a giant two-seater swing activity, helped youth experience bravery and courage. One camper stated, “The swing was my favorite and helped me face my fear of heights.” Another said, “A boy helped me get over my fear by going all the way to the top with me.” When asked what campers enjoyed most about 4-H Camp, one camper reported, “I love the high swing, making friends that are funny, and being able to have a few days away from the regular basis at home.”
4-H camp counselors responding the 4-H Teen Leadership Common Measures survey indicated that while at 4-H Camp, 97% felt they had talents they could offer to others, and had the confidence to speak in front of groups as a result of 4-H Camp. In regards to having a plan for reaching goals, 97% agreed with the statement and also stated they could make alternative plans if something did not work out. 95% felt they knew how to deal with stress in positive ways.
When asked what they liked best about 4-H Camp, the counselor respondents answered, “I like that the other counselors helped us out when we needed help. I also liked they that we used teamwork.” Another stated, “That I was able to teach a class and help kids learn.” “I liked how much trust I could gain from both kids and counselors by being responsible and confident,” said another counselor.