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The New American Camp Association

In 1930, a few camp leaders launched a series of institutes discussing camps' role in developing "character education" in youth. These institutes were "groundbreaking" for the field, and camp directors nationwide attended, including representatives from Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, private, social welfare, YMCA, and YWCA camps. A few years later, in 1935, The Camp Directors Association (CDA) became the American Camp Association. The newly developed organization faced challenges with membership changes, World War II, economic conditions, and politics within the membership. As the group moved into WWII and post-war times, the organization wrestled with philosophical and foundational discussion topics such as the "individual versus the group," "skill emphasis versus not skill emphasis," "decentralization versus centralization," "outdoor living versus urban activities programming," and "competitive versus non-competitive." (Eells, 1986) Also, at this time, the National Park Service provided permanent organized camping facilities through the Recreation Demonstrations Areas (RDA) program allowing camping groups that did not have their own facilities an opportunity to lease these spaces. These conversations, particularly those involving types of activities offered at summer camps, impacted the arts and crafts programming included at this time. We can see evidence of this impact in Sargent Porter's Handbook of Summer Camp (1935).


World War II changed summer camps dramatically as many Americans fought to "protect childhood" for children. Summer camps began to shift their focus from teaching domestic preparatory skills to "arts, playtime, and devoted activities that many would not do as adults.” In The Summer Camp Reinforces Education (1936), the author wrote, “It is the summer camp with its variety of activities which affords one of the greatest opportunities for a closer coordination between the work of the school and its purposes,” describing this rich blend of youth development and educational values provided by summer camps. Many camps raised "victory gardens, enrolled refugees from Europe, taught soap making and tin-craft as part of the war effort, and offered first aid classes.” The conceptions of summer camps for handicapable children began in the 1930s and were solidified in 1943 through the ACA Committee on Specialized Camping Services. Under Eleanor Elles' direction, the committee focused on “standards and programs for children with physical handicaps, emphasizing what the child could do safely, rather than on limitations.” This work would expand in the following years for youth with other disabilities, including “heart [diseases], diabetes, blindness, hearing loss, and later, cerebral palsy.” (Eells, 1986) 

The American Camp Association has documented this "golden age" of camping and education. For more information, check out Camp as Educator: Lessons Learned from History.

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