Key Components of Outdoor Youth Programs: A Review of Empirical Literature
While numerous previous reviews have examined studies that describe benefits to participants of outdoor camps and programs (i.e. outcome studies), our review focuses on benefits associated with key ingredients of good outdoor programs (i.e. mechanism studies). Prior reviews typically report on evidence arising from studies within the outdoors sector (e.g. benefits described by students taking part in a 3-day canoeing trip). However, there exists a body of literature that lies outside the outdoor adventure and camps domain. This literature describes quality evidence about the benefits of key components of outdoor programs. For example, there is overwhelming research support for links between physical activity and improved emotional wellbeing. Given that most camp programs include components of active physical participation, it is reasonable to assume that these same benefits will be present in such programs. Similar types of evidence exist for other key outdoor program components, including benefits associated with social connectedness, contact with nature, engagement with challenge, and reflective learning. In spite the insights available through this rich literature, to date it remains largely unknown and relatively inaccessible to the outdoors sector. This project aims to address this gap.
The OYPRA Research Team has undertaken a focused review of this literature, seeking to bring together evidence of the effectiveness of key ingredients of outdoor programs in promoting positive youth development. Where available we have sourced quality empirical studies and drawn on meta-analyses, systematic reviews and other existing review papers. The review has involved a process of searching and sourcing possible articles of interest, scanning these for high quality studies, and then reading through this smaller set to locate the best papers we can find. We have followed a rigorous scientific method to yield a collection of high calibre papers.
We are currently in the process of finalising this project. Once completed, we will have processed almost three quarters of a million articles across the five domains of the review. The clear message arising from this work is that the combined evidence presented makes a compelling argument for the value of outdoor youth programs and camps. The review will provide the outdoors sector with quality evidence to strengthen the position of outdoor youth programs as an effective way of promoting youth health and wellbeing. This work will also complement findings from other studies being undertaken by OYRPA.