May 1984 // Volume 22 // Number 3 // Ideas at Work // 3IAW1

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4-H Wilderness Leadership Training Camp


Emily B. Kling
Assistant Professor
Extension Specialist
4-H Department

Margery A. Neely
College of Education
Kansas State University-Manhattan

The cooperative effort demanded by wilderness camping was the basis for an innovative teen leadershiptraining program in 1982 in Kansas. Wilderness camping on a hilly, woo ed. primitive lake site has been available for 10 years, ever since Lake Perry 4-H Center was opened by the Kansas Department of 4-H and Youth and the Kansas 4-H Foundation.

The foundation provides scholarships for 5 days camping to 4-H teen leaders. Specially trained paid counselors divide the 18 teens into 2 living groups, like a family cooperative unit where all members contributeto the well-being of the group.

Each morning the small living groups have an hour of leadership training with the strategies then used during the day's survival, learning, and recreational activities. Training includes:

  • Use of nonverbal messages.
  • Poems, chants, and brain-storming exercises to encourage speaking.
  • Group discussion. decision making. and consensus tactics.
  • Work among smaller units within the larger group.
  • Individual tasks.
  • Active listening.
  • Cooperative activities
  • Teachinq,
  • Giving feedback.
  • Taking another person's perspective.

Leadership strategies are shown in the development of the unified group effort needed to get anxious members through an obstacle course. The group meets its members' physical and emotional needs as individuals walk swinging beams, hop from pole to pole. climb through tires. and walk over a ravine on a two-rope bridge. Following the experience, members reveal they learned two essential leadership lessons -- how to give support and how to accept support.

Evaluation of the leadership camp training shows differences in self ratings before and after camp. Participants increasetheir positive ratings of self and of two leadership styles. Preferred leadership styles were those that used social influence methods either of reward or capitalizing on the influence due to a designated leader

Follow-up later in the fall shows no changes in these self-ratings. Moreover, follow-up interviews with half the teen leadersindicates thoughtful and universal support for the program and widespread use of the strategies for encouraging participatory experiences among the local club members.