The latest on Childhood Development

Insights from Triple C
What we're reading

Experiential Learning at Camp

March 10, 2017

As the school year begins to wind down, we at Triple C wanted to talk a little bit about the type of education we do at camp.  Summer learning loss is a real thing.  Over the summer, up to one month worth of information learned at school can be lost (Cooper et al, 1996) while students are on break.  At Triple C Camp, we combat summer learning loss with intentional programming.  We have many tools at camp to aid us in this battle.  One such tool is our challenge course.  A challenge course is a combination of mental and physical challenges consisting of high and low elements.   Challenge courses have become very popular lately, but have been providing educational experiences for a long time.Water Wheel

In the United States, the first challenge course was built in Boulder, Colorado in 1961.  Early challenge courses followed the Outward Bound philosophy of learning through a direct experience with focused reflection.  Another key aspect of this learning process, credited to Karl Rohnke, is to help participants push themselves out of their comfort zone and into the stretch (learning) zone during a challenge course program.  This model has been successfully used for years to help individuals grow and develop as well as help groups attain outcomes such as better communication, problem solving, and planning skills (Gillis & Speelman, 2008).  Today, the challenge course industry is regulated by the Association for Challenge Course Technology (ACCT) which sets standards and best practices for construction and facilitation of challenge courses.

The scope of the ACCT has grown as the industry has changed.  Today, are more than 7500 challenge courses in the U.S., with 200 to 400 new courses being built every year.   Many of these newer courses are “pay for play” courses. The goal of these courses has moved away from experiential education to a purely recreational goal.  In the past, the educational experience was key.  Many of these new courses are about amusement.  They pump through high numbers of participants and exclude the facilitation aspect of the program that educates and helps participants grow.  These pay for play courses have their purpose, but at Triple C, we use our course as a tool for the development of our participants.

TowerOn our challenge course you can traverse sideways while leaning into a partner, standing two feet off the ground on a cable.  It’s called the Wild Woozey and it promotes planning before proceeding on the element.  The “Nessie” is an element where the team has to work together using ropes to move beams that are 35 feet in the air so a participant can walk across the beams (while harnessed in to a rope and belayer).  It requires clear and concise communication from the team on the ground to help the participant successfully cross the beams.  We have a climbing tower and 500 foot zipline that promotes goal setting.  There are numerous similar elements and activities that help teams work together and help individuals grow on our challenge course.  The physical elements are less important than the social, mental, and emotional experience though.

During our challenge course programs, our counselors structure each activity to elicit teachable moments that help participants learn about themselves and their team.  Throughout the experience, processing occurs where reflection is guided by the counselor.  Methods like active listening are combined with tools such as processing thumb balls to stimulate Nessieconversation and give the group the means to help themselves work through issues.  Processing is structured in a way that begins at a very basic, comfortable level and evolves into more in depth reflection that aids in the growth and development of the group. During summer camp, experiences on our challenge course help to bridge the gap between school months.

We also use our course during the non-summer months.  We offer birthday parties, corporate teambuilding programs and much more on our challenge course.  If you are interested in these educational programs, please contact Shannon Meyers, our Director of Year Round Programs ([email protected]) or visit our Year Round Program website: