Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Professional Studies


Special Education


Christine Ashby

Subject Categories

Disability Studies | Social and Behavioral Sciences


Summer camps span the United States, with approximately 26 million children attending overnight or “stay away” summer camps when not in school (ACA as cited in Gay, 2022). Twenty-six million children attending summer camps is approximately half the number of children attending public school during the school year, which was approximately 49.4 million in 2021 (NCES, 2023). Arguably, summer camp should be for all kids (Gay, 2022), but these numbers represent that not all kids have access to summer camp. Camp is not school, but that does not mean the knowledge located and curated outside of schools is not beneficial to the larger educational system–politically, culturally, and socially. Kids learn at camp; they just do not “go to school” to learn. At school, kids are schooled. Kids at camp do not learn algebraic expressions or write essays demonstrating their reading comprehension skills. Even though kids are away from home, living in nature, belonging to a community, and filling their day with activities in nature, they still learn. These are the very reasons kids learn at camp. Drawing upon the foundations of educational and qualitative research, I merge ethnography and phenomenology to analyze informal learning in nature through the experiences of disabled, genderqueer youth. Through merging methods, I detail how I used critical ethnography and feminist phenomenology to inform the research design, process, and aspects of collection and analysis. From a macro-level analysis, I deductively coded data holistically to derive the meaning behind the phenomenon of learning at an inclusive summer camp. Findings include examinations of disability discourses, disabled, genderqueer youth learning in brave spaces, and a network of community created to support learning. Informal learning in nature occurs in relation to the more-than-human world and, more importantly, within community, can be transformative through experiences of healing for disabled, genderqueer youth.


Open Access

Available for download on Sunday, June 14, 2026