Summer camp – way more than just fun

Summer camps make long lasting differences in the lives of youth by getting them unplugged from electronics and connecting them to the outdoors.

Summer camp evokes images of fun and fond memories, but does it make a difference in the lives of kids? Many scholars would give a resounding “yes!” This is especially true if the camp teaches children about the outdoors. Several research studies have noted the value of ecology-based residential camp programs in the development of youth environmental stewardship. Children today know little about their own local ecosystems. They are disconnected from the world outside their doors, relying mainly on superficial connects through electronic media. According to experts like Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-DeficitDdisorder, outdoor learning is essential for developing youth environmental stewardship.

Childhood experiences in the outdoors, intense contact with mentors and solitude in pristine environments are dominant influences in creating lifelong concern for and active involvement in environmental stewardship. From ecology-based summer camp research, we know that there’s a proven connection between stewardship, citizenship, caring about habitats and conservation, and management of natural resources. Longer programs (a week or more) tend to have more positive attitude changes than shorter programs (1 to 3 days). To get the most positive outcomes from ecology-based camp programs, camps must include:

  • Time for campers to familiarize themselves with their new surroundings and instill a sense of wonder. This is especially important for youth from urban areas.
  • Inquiry-based (“what if?”) learning to develop problem-solving and critical thinking skills, along with opportunities to apply those skills.
  • Lessons that help youth understand how they can make a difference and allow them time to discuss and share their ideas.

Our nation needs diverse young people to become involved in preventing and resolving critical natural resource management issues. Michigan, surrounded by the Great Lakes with 21 percent of the Earth’s fresh water, especially needs youth to become aware of natural resource-related career opportunities related to the Great Lakes and marine environments.

Addressing this need of helping youth learn about and appreciate Michigan’s plentiful natural resources is a goal of Michigan State University Extension. MSU Extension strives to broaden, inspire and instill a sense of thoughtful environmental stewardship through programs offered by Michigan Sea Grant and Michigan 4-H Youth Development such as 4-H Great Lakes and Natural Resources Camp and the Michigan 4-H Youth Conservation Council.

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