Almost all children experience some degree of learning loss in the summer. Research spanning 100 years shows that students typically score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer vacation than they do on the same tests at the beginning of the summer (Council of Chief State School Officers 2006, Key State Education Policies on K-12 Education).
“Summer learning loss” is a major concern to educators and national policymakers. However, research shows that learning loss can be diminished when children participate in camp experiences.
“After all, camp provides almost endless activities and social interaction opportunities, offering educational opportunities in nature’s classroom,” said Sharon Kosch of the American Camp Association (ACA) Northern California. “Camp teaches life lessons through art, music, sports, and a host of other activities. In fact, today’s camp is comprised almost entirely of teachable moments when children are actively engaged and using creativity and cognitive skills,” she continued.
Increasingly research is documenting the important role summer camp plays in education. According to the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA) and research conducted by Johns Hopkins sociology professor Karl Alexander, intentional summer programs—like camp—help stem summer learning loss, providing experiences that challenge children, develop talents, keep them engaged, and expand their horizons.
The ACA agrees, reminding families that camp fosters year-round education through:
Developmental growth—such as independence, self-sufficiency, and learning to overcome adversity—is the foundation for academic achievement. Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic: Camp was founded by educators. Today camps continue the practice of using things like environmental studies, map reading, and habitat restoration to teach problem-solving, math, and biology. Camps also promote reading and writing, whether through quiet time in a bunk, or scheduled time for journal and letter writing. Camps specializing in math, language arts, and the sciences have grown steadily over recent years. Other camps have subtly comingled academically centered skill-building activities with more traditional camp activities.
Partnerships with Schools: Camps and schools often partner to create exceptional learning opportunities, even when school is not in session. According to the ACA’s recent survey on camp-school partnerships:
Fifty-eight percent of responding camps said they partner with schools either directly or indirectly.
About 43 percent of responding camps said that they partnered with schools primarily to keep children engaged throughout the year.
Targeted programs include teamwork, social skills, and problem solving. The results are promising:
75 percent of campers report learning something new at camp (Directions – Youth Development Outcomes of the Camp Experience. American Camp Association. 2005).
Studies showed a statistically significant growth in thinking skills in children attending camp (Directions – Youth Development Outcomes of the Camp Experience. American Camp Association. 2005).
Summer camps can motivate students to plan and prepare to enter postsecondary education upon graduation from high school (Beer, Le Blanc, & Miller, 2008).
Summertime educational programs have shown increases in literacy (Borman, Goetz, & Dowling, 2009), reading comprehension (Schacter & Jo, 2005), and language learning (Feuer, 2009).
Camp as an extension of a traditional education is not a new concept. Early camp pioneers were mainly educators who recognized a need to continue learning throughout the summer in an environment that also allowed children to be children. In a 1928 Red Book Magazine editorial, camp advocate Frederick Guggenheimer stated that: “The school and the camp are complementary to each other — the one begins where the other leaves off.”
Why is camp so effective as an educational tool? Camp allows children to relax and just be kids. They can run, play, and get dirty. They develop friendships, have adventures, and sit on the grass and look at the stars. At the same time, they are learning hands-on lessons in math, writing, problem-solving, teamwork, and independence.
For those reasons, camps do an excellent job of extending a traditional education. Camps often fill in the blanks left by declining school budgets, providing art and music programming. Or camp is an opportunity to learn new skills, such as languages, sports or computers. Because of the hands-on nature of camp, even children who struggle in traditional educational settings often excel.
“To succeed in school and life, children and young adults need ongoing opportunities to learn and practice essential skills. This is especially true during the summer months,” said Kosch. “Summer camp can help stem summer learning loss and assure that children have productive things to do.”
About the American Camp Association:
The American Camp Association® (ACA) works to preserve, promote, and enhance the camp experience for children and adults. ACA-Accredited® camp programs ensure that children are provided with a diversity of educational and developmentally challenging learning opportunities. There are over 2,400 ACA-accredited camps that meet up to 300 health and safety standards. For more information, visit www.ACAcamps.org.