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Strengthening families: Exploring the impacts of family camp experiences on family functioning and parenting


Family camps offer multiple benefits for parenting practices, family relationships and interaction with nature

Prior research suggests that participating in a family camp experience (a residential multiday camp designed for children and family) can be beneficial for family functioning. This study sought to: explore the motivations families had for participating in a family camp; understand the benefits participating families attributed to their camp experience; and document the extent, if any, to which families experienced change as a result of participating in a family camp. The American Camp Association’s database of accredited camps was used to select 18 family camp programs in Virginia and West Virginia as study participants. The camp directors were asked to complete a camp profile survey (11 complied) that provided details on the family camp programs that they offered. Camp directors reported that recreation/vacation and education/enrichment. All reported that enhancing family relationships was an aim for their camp. Participating families completed a survey delivered electronically immediately after the camp experience and designed to gather detailed data on the research questions.

Of the 250 families that were engaged in the research, 60 completed the survey, for a 24% response rate. The family survey provided both qualitative and quantitative data, which was analyzed using a mixed methods approach to capture response themes as well as descriptive and exploratory statistics. Reasons for attending family camp included a desire to have a fun and relaxing experience and to enjoy a peaceful, outdoor atmosphere. Spending quality time with family and affordability were also seen as important. The families in this study provided insight into many benefits of participating in a family camp: positive impact of camp staff, opportunity to enjoy activities alone or with family, reinforcement of positive parenting (60%), and reinforcement of good family relationships (85%). The most frequently cited elements of the camp experience that influenced positive family relationships were: “quality family time; the relaxing outdoor environment; spending time away from the stress of day-to-day routines; and teamwork involved in activities or living together.”  The family functioning questions demonstrated a statistically significant positive effect of family camp participation on family cohesion (greatest effect), family expressiveness, and family conflict (small effects). These outcomes were unintended outcomes as they were not reported as motivations for attendance by parents or as part of intended programming by camp directors.



Garst, B. A., Baughman, S., Franz, N. K, Seidel, R. W., (2013). Strengthening families: Exploring the impacts of family camp experiences on family functioning and parenting. Journal of Experiential Education, 36(1), 65-77.


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