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Extension > Youth Development Insight > I don’t love camping but I love 4-H camp

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

I don’t love camping but I love 4-H camp

By Karyn Santl

I’m not an outdoors person. I don’t like bugs. I don’t like the heat. I’m not really into outdoors stuff. But I LOVE 4-H camp and the magic that happens when teens use their leadership skills to deliver the camp program!

For more than 20 years, I have been coordinating an overnight 4-H camp for grades 3-6, as well as day camps. My goal for the campers is that they are safe, have fun, make new friends and want to come back the following year. What motivates me to coordinate camps? It’s the magic that happens when teenagers become camp counselors!

The magic happens when youth development principles and practices are applied in settings in which young people spend time, in my case, camp. Hamilton, Hamilton and Pittman define the features of a positive youth development setting as including:
  • physical and psychological safety
  • appropriate structure
  • supportive relationships
  • opportunities to belong
  • positive social norms
  • support for efficacy and mattering
  • opportunities for skill building 
  • integration of family, school and community efforts

I strive to apply these principles within the training for camp counselors and then guide the teenagers  to create this environment for younger campers.

4-H camp is an authentic opportunity for camp counselors to use their skills in real time. They learn skills and then apply them in the planning, implementation and evaluation of an actual camp. In Van Linden and Fertman’s book, “Youth Leadership: A Guide to Understanding Leadership Development in Adolescents”, they describe three stages of leadership development – awareness, interaction and mastery – which are sequential but fluid.

Awareness is when a young person realizes they have leadership skills and is capable of being a leader.

Interaction is about action. It’s testing possibilities, reaching limits, resting and reflecting.

Mastery involves having the energy, resources and guidance to pursue a personal vision.

When a young person comes to my camp counselor program, they are at the interaction stage. They believe they have the skills to be a camp counselor and are ready to interact and master. I model the youth development principles with the camp counselors as they learn, develop and implement a camp for younger members. They master these skills when they return the next year as camp counselors and take on more responsibility for different aspects of camp.

I may not like bugs and the outdoors, but I do love the mastery that teenage youth gain as 4-H camp counselors!

-- Karyn SantlExtension educator

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