Cultivating Who We Are

Girl camp drawing

Do you know how to draw? What about play tennis? Paddle a kayak? Sing? Tell a joke? Act in a skit? Cook a meal? Do you have the personality, the talent, the physical or intellectual abilities to handle the challenges of these activities? Speaking about yourself, you probably have quick answers to questions like these. You might think, “I’m terrible at drawing, but I know how to play tennis,” for example. Over years of experience, now as an adult you probably think you have a good sense of your inherent traits, your likes and dislikes, your abilities, where you feel “smart” and where you don’t. You’re an old dog who’s learned your tricks… Thank you very much.

But what about your kids? Have they figured all of this out? Gosh, I hope not! We don’t want our children to decide who they are too soon, or conclude, based on their limited experience, that they are not creative, athletic, funny or smart in some way. That would be antithetical to every educational principle we hold. Believing that children are born with an immutable set of traits, a static personality, or inherently finite abilities, is preposterous. After all, we want just the opposite for our kids; we want them to learn, develop and grow.  For this reason, as parents, we do our best to provide all sorts of experiences that might inspire them, and guide them as they grow physically, emotionally and intellectually. We hope that through these experiences our children will gain skills, become more capable, and be happy and successful when they grow up.

Girl kayaking in whitewater

Of course, sending them to camp is a great example of this. The experiences they have here, away from the habits of home and school, are ripe for self-development. Everyday at camp there are physical challenges to meet —paddling boats, pulling back bowstrings, and swimming in the “freezing” cold lake, for example. There are opportunities to grow emotionally, like handling frustration or a twinge of homesickness that might creep in during rest hour. There are daily moments to be creative, to play with options, to dabble and engage new activities and experiences. One moment the girls might get a good closeup look at a spider in the shower, and the next, sample Rick’s tabouli (made with quinoa) along with their turkey sandwich. We want the girls at camp to embrace these challenges and to see them, even if they seem scary or “too hard” at first, as normal, even good. We hope the girls will realize it’s OK to struggle with these new experiences— perhaps to find painting a still life difficult, to completely miss the target in riflery, to feel nervous performing, or to decide that tabouli is weird.

This is an important attitude, and it’s one we emphasize here at Rockbrook. It’s what Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck calls a “growth mindset.” It’s “the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. Although people may differ in every which way — in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments — everyone can change and grow through application and experience.”

camp girls weaving outside

This is a joyful attitude that celebrates new experiences, embraces differences and challenges. It assumes neither the world nor ourselves are fixed, and that we can always learn and grow. When faced with struggle or criticism, a growth mindset holds onto a notion of improvement and future understanding. A growth mindset keeps “not yet” in mind.

So at camp, “I’m a little scared to go on the zipline” means “I haven’t yet had the courage for the zipline.” “I didn’t hit the target in archery” means “I haven’t yet hit the target.” “My drawing isn’t very good” means “I haven’t yet learned to draw better.” None of this means, as a “fixed mindset” assumes, “ziplines aren’t for me,” or “I’m no good at archery”, or “I have no artistic talent.”

With somewhat silly abandon, with “just for the fun of it” energizing everything, camp inspires this approach to life. The Rockbrook community is so encouraging, the friends around us so accepting, the girls here are often eager to try again when they feel there’s more to achieve, like mastering a more complex weaving pattern, clearing a higher jump at riding, or sampling a new kind of tabouli, for example. With this attitude, there’s always more out there and more within each of us.

Living in this community we all realize we are cultivating who we are, not discovering something that’s already set in stone.  We are learning that we can always learn more and be more. For our children, and I’d say for us parents too, that’s a really valuable approach to adopt. And through their time at Rockbrook, they’re getting a great head start.

Camp girls talking on porch

Letting Go

“Letting go” is a phrase that seems particularly apt when you consider life at camp, even more so at an overnight camp like Rockbrook. In so many ways, the campers let go of the familiar while they’re here. Think about it. They find themselves sleeping in rustic, 90-year-old wooden cabins with eight or so other people. When they look up in their bed, they more than likely can spot a spider or two. Instead of the whir of an air-conditioning system as they fall asleep, the sounds of crickets and other nocturnal forest creatures linger in the background. Even what they eat— homemade hummus, grilled barbecue tempeh, corn tamales, and strawberry white chocolate muffins, for example —is foreign to many of the girls. All of their familiar screens— TVs, computers, smart phones, and tablets —gone! And of course, most of the activities at camp offer new experiences, from shooting a real gun, climbing a real rock, and using a vintage floor loom, to diving into the freezing cold water of our lake. With so many new things, it’s impossible to cling to what you already know.

Girls Aiming Archery bow and arrow

There’s more. Camp girls, simply by virtue of being away from home, also let go of their parents in certain ways. Free from the prescriptions, intervention, and inspections of mom and dad, this means making all kinds of decisions on their own. It might mean deciding to adjust certain habits of personal hygiene (brushing hair or taking a shower less often for example) because more important (i.e., more fun) things are happening like a ga-ga ball game before lunch or great conversation before bed. Being at Rockbrook, girls don’t depend on their parents to fill their free time, to dictate what always comes next, or to solve every problem. Of course, there are excellent counselors here, wonderful people to guide this freedom, but camp gives girls the opportunity to experiment with things and gain more confidence after seeing how their decisions turn out… good and bad.

Camp Yoga Kids

Asking the campers themselves about how they feel at camp, I’ve heard the older girls say camp is their “happy place” where they can let go of their worries.  Different from the competitive atmosphere of school and the insecurities it can breed, the Rockbrook community is defined by compassion, kindness and generosity. Camp is a place of encouragement where, instead of being left out, ignored, or put down in some way, girls feel supported, respected, and affirmed. In this kind of community, girls don’t worry about how they look, whether or not they’re “good” at a particular activity, or if they’re “cool” enough to be included. All those worries fade away at camp when the point of things has nothing to do with evaluation and everything to do with simply having fun.

Letting go of worries like this also empowers a girl to let go of her polished persona, that “face” she believes others want her to be. Joining a camp community like Rockbrook, knowing she’s truly a part of it, trusting the people around her and caring for them in the way they care about her, inspires her true personality, spirit and character to shine through. It can be a remarkable transformation for a person. By being so supportive, camp opens up a space for a girls’ authentic self to emerge and grow.

So after letting go of all these things at Rockbrook, what’s left? Simple stuff: Authenticity, Nature, Friendship, Joy, Creativity, and Community… a life that feels really good. That is camp.

Zip Line Camp Kids

A Book of Faces

Camp girls faces buddies

A Middler-aged camper asked me the other day, “Isn’t it hard to get Seniors to come to camp if they can’t have their phones?” I reminded her that all campers, no matter how old they are, and in fact the counselors too (except in the staff lounge), are not allowed to have a cellphone at camp, but I think I know what she meant. She knew, maybe from experience or observing older girls at home, that cellphone use is almost constant, that most of us, once we have a personal smartphone, tend to use it all the time… text messages, social media posts (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat!), telephone calls, and email. Once it’s in our pocket, the buzz of electronic notifications punctuates our daily experience. This perceptive young girl was suggesting that the allure of that buzz might be powerful enough to prevent girls from attending camp.

It’s a great question when you think about it, “Why are teenage girls willing, albeit reluctantly perhaps, to give up their phones for several weeks?” Would you be willing to do that? Think of all the news you would miss, and the people who couldn’t contact you! I suppose there are young girls out there who do not attend summer camp because they feel they simply can’t live without their phones, just as they might believe they can’t do without their mother’s home-cooked meals or an air-conditioned private bedroom, but there are hundreds of girls who do make that sacrifice.

Here’s why. I believe it’s because they, perhaps unconsciously, know being at camp is much better than whatever their cellphones (and other electronic forms of entertainment) provide. The sacrifice is “worth it.” Their community of Rockbrook friends provides a book of faces far superior to Facebook. The daily flood of enthusiasm for creativity, adventure, and outdoor action outshines every Instagram image. The camp songs, the heartfelt conversations, the nightly “Highs, Lows and Funnies” in the cabins, the cheers and support from everyone around you arrive faster than you can type 140-character tweets. A girl could snap, and pin, and “like,” and “share,” all day long and she wouldn’t come close to feeling the authentic joy camp provides. Without flickering intermediaries, camp is real life, fully lived with real people, expressing real emotions. It’s a life too easily forgotten while staring at a screen, but for those girls willing to trust themselves and find the confidence to engage those around them, camp is also a really good life. Some claim it can’t be beat! …completely phone-free.

Whitewater Rafting Camp
Sliding Rock smiling girls

For about a fourth of the camp, today’s adventures included whitewater rafting on the Nantahala River. With our second group of July Mini session girls eager to raft and a few of the full session campers who had not yet gone, we put together two multi-raft trips, one that began the night before with camping at our outpost property located near the river in Swain County, and the other that ran in the afternoon following a picnic lunch at the water’s edge. The morning trip saw a little extra excitement as a passing thunderstorm forced the crew off the river for a few minutes. Fortunately, we had a warm, dry bus (It was trailing the trip on the road paralleling the river.) ready nearby where we could all take shelter during the storm. When the coast was clear, the rafts were off again to finish paddling the river.

Rafting for Rockbrook girls is big fun. It’s a nice combination of high adrenaline adventure (wearing cool gear!), lighthearted silliness with your friends in the raft, and hilarity as each bumpy rapid and splash of the frigid water (53 degrees!) erupts wild screams of delight. It’s even better when someone unexpectedly falls out of the boat and everyone, while laughing of course, scrambles to pull her back in. Rafting is also a chance for the girls to chat and sing with each other as they paddle, posing for photos and greeting everyone passing by in other boats and onshore. You can imagine how this much exuberance gets people’s attention, and since we’re the only girls camp authorized to raft the Nantahala (We’ve had a USFS permit since the early 1980s), it’s not uncommon for us to hear, “That’s the rafting camp.”

When it comes to having a full camp day, our mini session Senior campers know how to do it! For them, following today’s rafting, we ate a quick pizza dinner, and then turned right around for an evening trip to Sliding Rock. It was fantastic. We arrived just after another rainstorm so we had the rock all to ourselves. The girls had a blast sliding down the 60-foot natural water slide to the pool at the bottom, often with hands in the air and screaming all the way down. Everyone slid as many times as they wanted, until as it was getting dark, we loaded up the vans for a short ride to Dolly’s Dairy Bar. A cup or a cone of “Rockbrook Chocolate Illusion” or another flavor was the perfect way to top off the evening. Back at camp about 10pm, the girls took no time heading straight to bed. It’s been another full— definitely great— camp day.

Ice Cream Camp Girls

Birds of a Feather— A Mom’s Perspective

Bentley Parker
Rockbrook Camper, Counselor, Camp Mom

The Parker Girls

It had never crossed my mind that new situations involving unfamiliar people or circumstances could be uncomfortable for some, especially friends I knew well. I thought this was a skill acquired by adulthood, one that came with age. I had obviously taken for granted these social skills that I acquired at camp, where I’ve been coming since I was 7, which required me to meet new people and try new things every summer.

A Break on the Range
Synchronized Floating
Yoga on Tutu Tuesday
Just Hanging Around
Happy Camper

I’ve realized I have been mistaken in assuming situations like this were easy for all, as I have often purposely met other moms outside of school, meetings, and sporting events to prevent them from feeling uncomfortable by walking in alone. I’ve recognized that the inexplicable confidence and laughter still comes naturally for me, as I was the only mom who stuck to the dress up plan and showed up to the premier of Hunger Games with pink hair. I’ve come to better understand that the unfamiliarity of people and situations surpasses the comfort zones of many, making the prospect of walking into a room with strangers and making a friend seem impossible.

I’ve now developed an even better appreciation of how these skills are developed as I’ve gotten the privilege to watch your children cultivate friendships and give birth to these character traits here at RBC. I recognize the confidence they develop when they come to camp not knowing anyone and yet leave with lifelong friends. As a mom of 3 girls, these are skills I can’t teach my children. These are skills that I’m grateful they have had the opportunity to gain here at Rockbrook.

I’ve also come to the realization that some of the tightest bonds I’ve formed have been with friends who were “camp girls,” long after our camper days were over. They were instantaneous friendships, because we immediately knew we were alike in so many ways. We had survived screened cabins, appreciated nature, respected various personalities, experienced new things, desired leadership, and possessed camp silliness.

If you are a parent of a camper reading this, let me assure you that you are providing a lasting legacy for your daughter. This opportunity is equipping her with a skill set that may seem invisible at first but that she will utilize throughout her lifetime. There are no words to adequately describe the bond camp creates or the traits acquired here, but the experience speaks for itself. She will continually reap the benefits of her camper experience throughout her life, and it will shape the person she becomes as a grown woman.

Camp birds are of one type of feather, and the bonds of the flock will always keep them together!

“How did we come to meet pal? What caused our paths to blend? ‘Twas fate we came to Rockbrook, and you became my friend.”

Succeeding at Failure

Kayaking Success

When I was a junior in high school, my drama teacher set my class two challenges, each designed to get us thinking creatively:

  1. Write down as many uses for a brick as you can think of.
  2. Draw three creatures that do not exist, and that are combinations of a bunch of different animals. Use as much detail as you can.
Thinking Creatively

The first challenge was a cinch. I’ve been writing fiction ever since I could hold a pen, and still can switch on daydreams as real as a TV show whenever I get bored. If you ask me to use my imagination to think up impossible things, I’m on solid ground.

Sure, I listed the usual (boring) uses for a brick: house construction, paperweight, impromptu dumb-bell, etc. But then came the fun ones: a piece of a giant’s Lego set, an impenetrable fortress for ant-armies, Twinkie-holder, napkin ring at a brick-layers’ convention, etc.

All this is to say, if you’re looking for something to do with that pile of bricks you have lying around your house for some reason, I’m your girl.

But then came challenge number two. Sure I could think of imaginary animals—how about a zebra-striped cow, with the head of a horse, the legs of a mini-elephant, and the horns of a water buffalo? Oh, and it can talk like a parrot! Oh, and maybe it can jump like a kangaroo! Oh yeah, the ideas were coming fast.

There was just one problem. I can’t draw. Not at all. Even stick figures are a struggle for me. I stared at that blank piece of paper, listening to the excited pencil-scratching coming from my neighbors’ desks, and my cheeks began to burn. I was the only one not drawing.

Venturing Out

I just sat there, with my head down, until the activity was over. I couldn’t even let myself try. I couldn’t even permit a doodle. I couldn’t take the risk that the beautiful image I had in my head might not translate onto paper. Better to be scolded by my teacher for failing to complete the activity, than for it to be known that I might be less than excellent at something. So I just sat there, almost in tears, until the papers were collected.

I’ve thought about that moment a lot since then. Why hadn’t I even tried? Why had I assumed the result would be that horrible, without taking the simple step of just beginning? Why had I decided by the end of elementary school that I Am Not An Artist? End of story, no question about it, no need to try.

So many times, both in camp and out of camp, I see young girls give up on things before they’ve even begun.

“No, I can’t take pottery, I’m not artsy.”

“No way am I going to try out for basketball, I’m not athletic at all.”

“I can’t take the swim test. I’ve never been much of a swimmer.”

Taking the Leap

Somehow, it has become part of our mindset that our talents, our levels of intelligence and understanding, and our potential for achievement are set in stone from the very beginning. The thoughts that were racing through my mind that day in drama class consisted entirely of, I was bad at drawing in elementary school. Therefore, I am bad at drawing now. Therefore, I will always be bad at drawing, no matter how hard I try. Therefore, I should not try.

I know I’m not the only one that thinks this way. We have become so afraid of failure, because we think that that failure defines us even more than the successes that come afterwards. Sure, we know that da Vinci didn’t paint the Mona Lisa the first time he ever touched a paintbrush, and yet somehow we still think that if we fail the first time, then we will inevitably fail every time, with no shot at improvement.

But this is wrong. This is so wrong! Why should I, at 23 years old, have already decided which categories I belong in (Good Writer, Good Reader, Not-Good Drawer, Not-Good Dancer), and given up on changing any of them? Why should a 10 year old camper stand frozen at the edge of the dock on swim demo day, just because somebody told her one time that she wasn’t a very fast swimmer? Why should we throw away the chance to surprise ourselves with new, enjoyable experiences, in an attempt to save our pride from the sting of failure?

Dancing Queens

So here’s the challenge (you knew this was coming): allow yourself to be bad at something once a day. It can be a brand new experience, or an old one that you gave up on long ago. If you’re a bad dancer, then dance like a crazy person with your friends, and laugh when they tell you you’re not so good. If you gave up on piano after one lesson, sit down and bang out “Chopsticks” on the keys, and laugh when you hit a bad note. If you have always wanted to be a poet, then write down that poem that you have bouncing around in your head, and then laugh when you realize it sounds more like a Hallmark Card than Emily Dickinson.

That’s right: laugh. Train yourself to find the joy in failure. When that sinking feeling comes along that tells you to run away from the challenge before it becomes too much, then laugh it away, and try again. And again. And again. And again. Sure, maybe you’ll never be dancing at center stage in Radio City Music Hall, or tickling the ivories like Stevie Wonder, or becoming the next US Poet Laureate—but hey, maybe you will. You’ll never know unless you embrace the possibility that you might just fail, and then go for it anyway.

As for me, I’m still not a great drawer. But I hope that Mr. McFarland will accept this late addition to the creativity project. May I present, the Zebreleffow:

The Zebreleffow

Heartfelt Euphoria

Counselor and Camper happy together
Girls happy at summer camp

Lately, it’s been tour season at Rockbrook, with families, often 2 or 3 at a time, visiting to learn more about camp. Over the last week, I’d say we’ve had more days than not with tours scheduled. This is great because we are always pleased to show off a little of what makes Rockbrook special, and to hear what prospective families find remarkable. For example, tour groups are often surprised that “everyone is so friendly around here.” It’s true, walking around camp creates a chorus of greetings, waves and smiling faces, no matter what time of day. Also though, a parent today commented that everyone at Rockbrook seems so “genuinely happy” and this got me thinking again about why this is the case. Everyone knows that camp is a happy, fun-filled place where girls can spend their days enjoying activities, being with friends, and playing outside in a beautiful setting. But I don’t think happiness at camp can be traced simply to these kinds of outward characteristics, to the activities, the camp facility, the quality of the food, or even the experience of the directors, though certainly all of these are important ingredients. Also, the kind of happiness we’re talking about here, the kind that brings out the best in kids, can be elusive elsewhere. Outside the haven of Rockbrook, even when every material need is met (and sometimes luxuriously met), the pure joy we find at camp can be missing. And that’s what stands out; there’s a heartfelt delight (even euphoria!) at camp very different from the mere pleasures and comforts of ordinary life.

Waterfall Camp Kids

So what’s the secret?  What is it that happens at camp that might be implemented or encouraged at home and school to make our kids more “genuinely happy?”  While not the whole story, I think Rockbrook succeeds in this way because it is foremost a community of caring people who appreciate and respect one another. The girls here know that they belong. They know that wherever they go in camp— to their cabin, to an activity area, to a picnic or an assembly on the hill —and no matter who is there joining them (an old friend or a new face, camper or staff member), they will be enthusiastically welcomed, sincerely encouraged, and fully supported. The deep happiness felt at camp blossoms from the positive relationships formed among everyone who is a member of our community. Free from competition and criticism, the way we interact here is uplifting and in important ways liberating. We talk about the power of community a lot, and this is yet another of its rewards.

Rock Climbing camp kid

Much like you and me, children need to feel liked. They need to feel that they are appreciated and that they are essentially good. This makes them keenly aware of how others, other children (their peers) and adults (parents, teachers, and camp counselors, for example) respond to them. It’s when these responses are affirmative and approving, as opposed to grumpy, demeaning or even just spiritless, that the magic happens. Put most simply, a child will begin to find genuine happiness when she feels those around her are likewise genuinely happy to see her, to be with her, and to love who she really is. Perhaps surprisingly, this kind of happiness derives not from what we do or what we have, but from who we’re with. If they are caring and kind, “sweet” and reassuring, enthusiastic and encouraging, we will find happiness. This kind of collective spirit, so beautifully embodied by Rockbrook, is a powerful force.

And it’s something that builds upon itself in a community.  Beginning with our staff and then with our campers, caring inspires care, kindness calls forth further kindness, and happiness leads to the happiness of others. We can already see that the girls this session are helping each other in this way. As they grow closer, support and encourage each other, as they become more comfortable with each other, and as they feel genuinely appreciated, the fun of camp intensifies. It’s no wonder that the girls love it here.

How do you show you’re happy when your kids are around?

An Appetite for Adventure

Crew of girls ready for the camp zip line

The girls at Rockbrook have it— a true appetite for adventure. They first of all have plenty of opportunity to step out and challenge themselves with high ropes and rock climbing, whitewater kayaking and rafting, canoeing, zip lining, and water slide rides at our lake. There are both in-camp activities and optional out-of-camp trips available each day for the girls to choose from. Depending on their mood, and often on what their friends are doing— there is often a herd mentality to activity selection around here, but that’s one reason why it’s so important to be free to choose for yourself —the girls can climb high, be splashed and wet, or race down from a great height. They can face a real challenge, one where adrenaline gets your heart really pumping.

Zip Bridge Canopy Tour Element

Why, though, are these girls so enthusiastic about it? Why do your girls love the feeling of outdoor adventure experiences? Beyond their enthusiasm for just about everything here (yes, even the dining hall and cabin chores, believe it or not), what can explain all this climbing, paddling, zipping, hiking, and sliding? If you ask them, the girls say these activities are simply “fun” or “awesome.” That’s certainly true. In addition, part of the answer could be the adrenaline thrill that accompanies being up so high, moving so fast, and crashing so fiercely through a whitewater wave. It’s simply exhilarating to do these adventurous things. Yes, they are extreme, and that alone is quite exciting to experience.

Girl Camp Rock Climber

Beyond the thrill of outdoor adventure activities, there’s something more that leads girls to seek adventure at camp, and in the long run, it’s something that can stick with a young person and serve her well later in life. It’s the feeling of confidence that is strengthened, proven real, when a girl summons the courage to engage an adventure activity.  Because adventure activities appear risky and frightening, they require courage, courage to be upside down in a kayak, to trust your foot balanced high above the camp on Castle Rock, or even to sleep in a tent far away from civilization, for example. Being courageous like this, facing the challenge rather than shrinking away from it in fear, requires you to trust your own abilities and be confident that you’ll be OK. At camp, of course, we have expert instruction, top-notch safety equipment, consistent encouragement, and excellent role models to help our girls meet these adventure challenges, so things always turn out fine. Successful adventure activities help develop that confident sense of “I can do this.”  They provide an experiential lesson connecting courage and results, and thereby build greater self-confidence. And that feels really good. It’s a positive feeling that keeps girls coming back, building an appetite, for more… One more route up the Alpine Tower or ride down the water slide.

Learning to roll a whitewater kayak

Years from now when first learning to drive a car, or starting her first real job, this confidence to trust her abilities is bound to prove valuable. With all of the fun, the cheering and laughing that punctuate each day at camp, it might be hard to see these deep lessons your girls are learning. But they are there. When your kayakers, rock climbers and zip liners return home, they’ll have great tales of thrilling adventures, but keep an eye out for something more important— a greater sense of confidence.

More Reasons Kids Need Camp

Excited Camp Kid

Around here at Rockbrook, we’re big fans of discussing why summer camp is so great for kids. There’s no doubt that spending time at camp is super fun and kids love it, but it’s also important for their personal, physical and social development. In so many ways, camp is something our modern kids need more than ever because it provides relief from unhealthy habits. It serves, as we’ve said before, as a “haven” for children.

Over on the Web site What’s Up for Kids, Kathy Alessandra just posted an article entitled, “Five Reasons Your Child Needs Camp.” Reporting information from the American Camp Association and several well-respected studies, the article is a nice reminder of some very significant ways kids benefit from camp.

Here are the 5 reasons listed.

  1. Campers gain positive life skills like “making friends” and “trying new things.”
  2. Campers stay in motion, enjoying physical exercise.
  3. Campers have experiences that help them back at school.
  4. Campers reconnect with nature.
  5. Campers engage in creative free play.

Of course, there’s a lot to each of these, but perhaps most importantly, this article is another reminder of how rare and valuable a summer camp experience is for our kids. Definitely a great thing!

Raising Happiness

camp girl smiling on a horse

Christine Carter, author of Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents, recently spoke at a summer camp conference about cultivating an environment of happiness at camp. Camp plays a key role in teaching girls how to live a happy, fulfilled life. During her presentation, Carter illustrated three main ways camp grants girls the skills to embrace a life of happiness.

How to Raise More Joyful Kids

  1. Camp celebrates the role that failure plays in success.

    If a camper doesn’t quite make it to the top of our climbing tower or has trouble folding like a pretzel in yoga class (who doesn’t?) she learns that it’s ok. In fact, it’s better than ok- it’s great! Because camp operates under the mindset that girls grow and learn from mistakes and risk-taking, these so-called “failures” are praised at camp. They are marked as part of the learning process for our campers. So rather than a fixed mindset such as, “I can’t climb” or “I’m bad a Yoga”, our campers think “I’m so glad I didn’t give up!” while the look down at camp after making it all the way to the top.

  2. Camp creates a culture of gratitude.

    Gratitude is a social emotion, acknowledging something that is outside of oneself. Often times we focus so much on the cloudy skies that we never even notice that the sun is trying to peek out. For example, before camp, it’s easy to think something like, “Wow, my trunk is so heavy! What an annoyance!” Then suddenly, at camp, it’s “I am so glad I have a trunk, this is a great place to store things!” In an instant, a girl sees the value of the things in her life, and, more importantly, the people in her life. Camps helps girls realize, understand, and reflect on all the things they have to be thankful for.

  3. Camp models kindness.

    Camp broadens a girl’s “giving vocabulary.” Not only do girls reflect on what others did for them throughout the day, but they consider what they did for someone else. Girls leave camp with an understanding that kindness does not have to be a grand, over-the-top event every time it occurs. There are lots of little things we can do for one another every hour of every day.

So give three cheers, a thumbs up, and a high five for camp because it’s a great place to be! And the perfect place to help raise more joyful kids.

Camp Teaches Resilience

Everyone experiences setbacks now and then, the occasional failed effort or unexpected misfortune. But what happens when you kids trip up or get knocked down? Do they stay down? Sink lower, and let that moment of failure defeat them? Or, do they bounce back, maybe learn from the experience, and gain a new dimension of confidence to face the next challenge? Put differently, how resilient are your kids?

Girls Resilience at Summer Camp

Dr. Michael Ungar, a Social Worker, Family Therapist, and University Research Professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada has thought about this question a lot. He is a co-director of the Resilience Research Centre, an organization coordinating experts from around the world in sociology, psychiatry, education and medicine in a broad project to understand the cross-cultural similarities and differences in how resilience is understood, and to explore ways we can help children and young people be more resilient.

Several times before we’ve discussed how summer camp helps kids grow and how becoming more resilient is one of the clear benefits of camp. Now Dr. Ungar weighs in with a nice Psychology Today article entitled, “Summer Camps Make Kids Resilient.”

I encourage you to go read the article, but I wanted to summarize his main points here as well. Perhaps most importantly, Ungar identifies summer camp as a place where kids learn to do things for themselves without the kind of careful orchestration parents ordinarily provide. It’s a place where, instead, they can try challenging activities and take manageable risks, all while being provided encouragement and positive role models to help them learn to cope with disappointments.

Speaking from his research on resilience, Ungar pinpoints 7 important components of the summer camp experience children need to develop these coping strategies. These are seven things camp provides that help kids when they experience setbacks later in their lives.

  1. New friendly relationships
  2. Regular moments of pride and self-confidence
  3. Experiences of competency and self-efficacy
  4. Relief from unfair social treatment
  5. Healthy physical activity and nutrition habits
  6. Belonging to a meaningful community
  7. Opportunities to reflect on cultural values

There’s so much more to each of these, and I suspect interesting mechanisms that make them effective. What’s important to realize is that all of them are core ingredients of the camp experience here at Rockbrook. The program activities, staff training, and overall camp philosophy here work together to insure that our campers enjoy these beneficial experiences. Of course, we’re having a really great time together as well, just as we strengthen our powers of resilience.