By Brian McNeill, Extension Educator, 4-H Youth Development
The summer can be a busy time in the life of a young person. They might have a variety of opportunities available to them such as summer rec programs, bible schools, marching bands and family vacations and even summer time jobs. Isn’t the summer to be about rest and relaxation for youth? So why would the 4-H program offer overnight and day camp opportunities for young people?
Youth attend camp for a variety of reasons, and research suggests that camp participation impacts youth in multiple ways by enhancing affective (self-esteem and self-concept); cognitive (knowledge, skills, abilities, and attitudes); behavioral (self-reported behaviors and behavioral intentions); physical; social; and spiritual growth (Shepard & Speelman, 1986; Gillett et al., 1991; Hopkins & Putnam, 1993; Chenery, 1994; Brannan & Fullerton, 1999; Henderson, 2001). What makes a 4-H residential or day camp different than other camps is the University research that is used to create a quality experience.
Youth require more than intellectual growth and physical health to become happy, successful adults. They also need to develop the social skills necessary for positive relationships with others. The importance of quality youthful friendships for well-being both during childhood and later in life has been clearly established, and many camp programs specifically focus on fostering those friendships, along with teaching, modeling, and practicing social skills.
But, 4-H camp is not just for the camper. The 4-H Camp Counselor role provides an opportunity for older youth to learn and lead (with guidance from 4-H Extension staff) a safe and memorable camping experience. These trained 4-H youth learn communication, leadership, and teambuilding skills, that will help them later in life. Making friends is an important part of the camp experience, and with the help of their counselors, children learn and practice their friend-making skills.
The Regional 4-H Camp located in Morris is an example of a high quality camp experience guided by 4-H Camp Counselors. This camp covers a 14 county area. It is also uniquely connected to the University of Minnesota Morris Campus. This partnership allows 4-H campers and counselors to explore and experience life on a U of M campus. This camp is a three day two night experience for your in 3rd-6th grade. Another feature to this camping program provides campers to sign up for a track. This specialized track provides campers a unique educational opportunity and to learn from a specialized content expert.
At 4-H camp, children are socializing with one another from the moment they wake up until the minute they fall asleep. They have time to internalize group social norms and learn appropriate social interactions by emulating counselors and fellow campers. For a child who has grown up in the same neighborhood or gone to the same school their whole life, camp may be the first opportunity to meet such a large number of new friends and interact with a diverse group of people. Campers get practice talking to new people, figuring out appropriate self-disclosure, and asking questions to get to know others. It’s no surprise that campers and parents believe 4-H camp improves social skills. The time spent at camp may, indeed, be life changing. And new friends and improved social skills may be the reason!