Richard Bogren | 2/8/2017 5:19:45 PM
Many Louisiana 4-H’ers look forward to camping with their friends, both old and new, every summer. It’s an experience that is meant to be fun, but attending a 4-H camp provides countless other benefits.
“We’re trying to build independence and get kids to do things on their own while they’re away from home,” said Mark Tassin, LSU AgCenter associate vice president and program leader for 4-H. “We’re also trying to build a sense of belonging, like they belong to a bigger group than just their 4-H Club at school. And we are exposing them to a diverse population because not the same parishes camp together. Kids from all over the state mingle during camp week.”
Every summer, about 5,000 children in fourth to sixth grades go to Camp Grant Walker in Pollock. Nine weeklong camps, which are open to 4-H’ers as well as non-members, are held annually.
The camp facilities have expanded over the years, and so have program offerings, Tassin said. 4-H summer camp once emphasized outdoor activities, but because that doesn’t appeal to all children, several other educational tracks have been added to meet a variety of interests.
All camp programming is based on research and designed to be hands-on, Tassin said. Campers get to choose which track they want to participate in, giving them a chance to make their own decisions and pursue subjects they’re interested in.
The seven tracks are water safety; food and fitness; science, engineering and technology (SET); outdoor adventures; Louisiana’s wetlands; arts; and hunting safety. In addition to educational sessions tied to their track, campers have time for a range of recreational activities, including swimming, canoeing, sand volleyball, talent shows, dances and presentations from guest speakers.
An added bonus of going to camp is the level of physical activity it demands, Tassin said. Walking the campgrounds and taking part in different camp events takes effort but gives children – especially those who live in cities – an opportunity to appreciate the outdoors.
“They may never get a chance to go out to the woods or a creek or a pond,” Tassin said.
Another key part of the 4-H camp experience is simply being away from home for a week, which offers a chance to develop life skills and learn to make good choices by themselves. At the same time, the campers – who aren’t allowed to have cellphones – learn the importance of communicating, building relationships and appreciating diversity, Tassin said.
Children from different parishes camp together, and many of them end up becoming lifelong friends. 4-H’ers who are in high school can serve as camp counselors, which gives them an opportunity to learn about leadership while setting an example for younger campers look up to.
Louisiana 4-H also offers specialized camps, such as the Louisiana Outdoor Science and Technology (LOST) Camp for seventh- and eighth-graders, and Marsh Maneuvers, a high-intensity camp for small groups of high school students that focuses on coastal biology in Cameron Parish.
Camp offers an ideal environment for teaching science, Tassin said, because of the many opportunities for experiential learning. The hands-on, fun nature of camps helps spark an interest in science for many children, which is important because of growing workforce demand for trained scientists, he said.
Each of the five AgCenter administrative regions holds Challenge Camps that teach middle school-aged 4-H’ers about teamwork. Several parishes host their own camps, too. And the themes depend on the interests of the students.
One thing all the camps have in common, Tassin said, is that they further the 4-H mission to help children grow into responsible, caring adults.
AgCenter surveys have shown that 4-H camps make several positive impacts on children and their families. While kids reported that camp helped them gain self-confidence, make friends and learn new skills, parents said their children had also become more respectful of others and more responsible.
“At camp, you’re exposed to all the different things in 4-H that you can’t get in a club meeting, and you get exposed to all of these different kids from all over the state,” Tassin said. “It expands your world.”
Olivia McClure is an assistant communications specialist with LSU AgCenter Communication.
Photos by Christine Bergeron, Camp Director, and Ashley L. Powell, Associate Program Coordinator.