March 19, 2010

Summer Camp & Summer Learning...

Camp is fun…campfires, friends, songs, skits, The Dance, the games…it’s pretty much a fact. What’s not talked about as much is camp’s role in developing life-long learners. Good camps give their campers opportunities to be curious, creative, explore, and develop new skills. Good camps increase campers’ exposure to the world, get them outside, introduce them to new people, and encourage them to try new ways of doing things. Simply put, good camps are fun AND help people learn.

On October 22, I attended a speech by Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan and asked him a question, "What are your ideas or possible plans for partnering with summer camps…?"

"I am all for camping," he said. "I am a city kid, and I think anything that promotes getting out and increasing exposure to the world is important" (Transcript 10/22/2009). Secretary Duncan's support for camps and other out-of-school time learning programs aligns with the recent wave of support from the White House. And just this past summer, The Johns Hopkins University National Center for Summer Learning announced the President's proclamation declaring July 9, 2009, as "National Summer Learning Day" (Ozier, 2010).

But don’t kids learn enough in school? Aren’t they pushed hard enough already? Don’t they deserve…need…a break? Isn’t that what the summer is for…to chill?

I’m not advocating for year-round school, but as a youth development professional I have to acknowledge a well-documented phenomenon known as “summer learning loss.” Children routinely lose over half a year of learning, especially in math and science, when they are not challenged over the summer (Cooper, H., Nye, B., Charlton, K., Lindsay, J., and Greathouse, S. 1996). In suburban schools, literacy is also lost, but not to the degree math skills are, mostly thanks to required summer reading lists. Camp, family vacations, summer programs…they have all been linked to hindering summer learning loss (Rothstein, 2005). FYI-Peconic Dunes opened a camp library in 2007...all campers are encouraged to grab a book at rest hour and free times.

Peconic Dunes 4-H Camp offers an environmental science program that incorporates math, science, and literacy. It’s called ECO (pronounced ii-coh). ECO will be sponsored by the NYS DEC from 2010-2016. Every year will be a little different because our campers will be conducting actual research. In Years 1 & 2 they will collect data to obtain a baseline. In Year 3 they will develop a conservation plan that will require approval from the DEC. In Years 4-6 they will implement the plan and continue collecting data to observe and document the intended and unintended outcomes.

ECO campers focus on our campus' 4 distinct ecosystems: LI Sound, Great Pond, woodlands, and dunes. They’ll measure our pond’s pH, temperature, dissolved oxygen, and use GPS and GIS. They’ll take trisects of our woodlands and dunes, identifying species, photographing them, and testing the soil. In the LI Sound campers will snorkel and seine, identify species, measure wind speed, and erosion. The data our campers collect will be real and valuable.

And ECO has all the fun our Basic program has, plus a whole lot more. ECO campers are also in small groups, no bigger than 10 campers, and everyone is 12-15 years old. And to give you fair warning, ECO instructors are a little goofy, love what they do, and make it their mission to ensure their program is better than everyone elses.

Click to learn more about ECO

-Christopher Colahan, Managing Director


Cooper, H., Nye, B., Charlton, K., Lindsay, J., and Greathouse, S. (1996). The effects of summer vacation on achievement test scores: A narrative and meta-analytic review. Review of Educational Research, 66, 227-268.

Duncan, Arne (October 22, 2009). Transcript of Major Policy Address. Columbia University Teachers College.

Ozier, Lance (2010). Camping Magazine. Volume 83 Number 2. March/April.

Rothstein, Richard. (2005).


Peconic Dunes 4-H Camp, Long Island, North Fork, Cornell Cooperative Extension, Suffolk County, summer learning, youth development, outcomes, research, conservation, environmental science, biology, chemistry, ecology, peace education, community, children, kids, nature, outdoors, art, fishing, professional development, lifeguard

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