Research in Outdoor Education


Social skill development is emerging as an important issue for educators and practitioners in their work with adolescent youth. Within the summer camp industry, youth development researchers are beginning to focus more intentionally on the ability of summer camp programming to develop social skill capacity among its participants (Thurber, Scanlin, Scheuler, & Henderson, 2007). While research in camp settings has been occurring for several decades, much of the inquiry has been descriptive in nature (Henderson, Thurber, Scanlin, & Bialeschki, 2007) or focused on individual psychological traits such as self-esteem and self-concept.(Gillis & Speelman, 2007). More recently, however, social skill development has received more focused attention in both in and out-of-school settings, namely from researchers investigating the emerging theory of social and emotional learning (SEL), with the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) foremost in this process (Durlak & Weissberg, 2007; Rimm-Kauffman & Chiu, 2007; Rimm-Kauffman, Fan, Chiu, & You, 2007; Zins, Bloodworth, Weissberg, & Walberg, . 2004 ). Encouraged by this trend, researchers within the camping industry have called for a more intentional focus on promoting social skill development in their respective programming (Jordan, 1994; Nicholson, Collins, & Holmer, 2004).

In the youth development literature social skills are critical to the educational process of adolescent students and have been shown to be a fundamental asset for healthy psychosocial development and (Moote Jr & Wodarski, 1997; Scales, Benson, Leffert, & Blyth, 2000). Additionally, social skills serve as a preventative tool for future issues such as misbehavior in school, criminal conduct, dropping out of school, unhealthy stress, and violent behavior (Mahoney, Stattin, & Magnusson, 2001; Marsh & Kleitman, 2002). While acting as a deterrent to these problems, social skill development has also been shown to be a significant factor in current and future academic functioning and achievement (Eccles, Barber, Stone, & Hunt, 2003; Malecki & Elliot, 2002).

Within the camping and outdoor education literature, research findings are mixed regarding the impact of adventure-based programming on social skill development. A small number of studies have found no significant change in the social skill development of participants in adventure­-based programs (Dickey, 1996; Michalski, Mishna, Worthington, & Cummings, 2003). However, other studies have shown positive gains in social development through such programming (Boyle, 2002; Guettal & Potter, 2000; Reefe, 2005), with more recent studies utilizing considerably larger sample sizes to enhance the significance of their findings (Henderson, et al., 2007; Thurber, et al., 2007). Given the increased focus on the relationship between camp programming and social skill development, this study aims to provide additional insight into this topic.