Head on over to the Chicago Tribune web site and read a fantastic article by Josh Noel entitled: Making a case for camp: This summer institution is old-fashioned — and as relevant as ever.
Describing a camp in Michigan, the article reminds us of why camp is so important to kids. As we’ve mentioned before, the benefits are so crucial given how most children these days find themselves at school and at home.
Anyone who has been to summer camp knows that the relationships are like few others. Friendships form quickly, intensely and with open minds. Even if camp friends don’t keep in touch long-term, what has been shared is long remembered. For many, it provides best moments of your life.
Camp is an open and friendly place. It’s where you can put aside your reputation from school, avoid a lot of the drama, and just relax into who you really are. That’s a big part of why you make your best friends at camp; you’re not trying to impress or be someone else. It’s just you, and you soon see, that’s just fine.
Once you experience it, you understand it, and you too will be coming back to camp for the friendships it provides.
If you’ve ever spent time at Rockbrook, you know that it offers amazing sunsets. The camp is tucked on the eastern slope of a hill so as the sun sets, you just have to look up and you’ll see a real treat. Former counselor Kit, who recently returned for our alumni reunion, just posted on her blog a great collection of photos showing a sunset from that weekend. She also writes a little about her first experience of Rockbrook and why she loved it so much.
If you could reform the common education of teenagers, change something about how teenagers today learn, or what they learn, what would you do? Looking around, what do you think teenagers need to understand? How do they need to change if they are to become happy, well-grounded, satisfied adults? Is there a skill, a personal value, some rule of thumb that you wish all teenagers today would adopt? Is there one crucial thing that today’s teens are missing, and as a result has placed them on a path toward trouble later in life?
You get the picture; the assumption here is that our young people are already having trouble, and aren’t measuring up to the ideal outcomes our education system, culture, and families define. It might be declining test scores, weak academic competencies (compared with children in other countries), unhealthy eating and exercise habits, poor social skills (e.g., difficulty making friends, disrespecting others), decreased creativity, or a general failure to overcome unexpected challenges. Any of these, or several, might be identified as the core problem facing our teenagers these days.
So what can we do to help? If your teen is slipping in any of these ways, how can you improve the situation, make a difference in some way? One proposal suggested, and increasingly so it seems, is to lengthen the school year. It’s claimed that organized classroom education provides the best chance to “reach” the youth and “make a difference in their lives.” As we’ve mentioned before, this is a weak, incomplete solution at best, one that fails to understand the complexities of youth development and the many dimensions it demands. It might be easy to understand and simple to measure, but extending the school calendar is not going to help our teenagers navigate their lives better. If your teen can’t make choices for herself, extra math homework isn’t going to help.
Again, what is there to do? How can we complement our current education system, augment what we already do in the classroom with learning that addresses the complete human being? What experiential gaps should we fill, opportunities should we create, models should we provide? What setting would best support these ordinarily neglected aspects of growing up?
One answer, we, and so many other youth development professionals, advocate is the benefits provided by summer camps. Camps are organized settings that encourage young people to reach beyond what they know, interact with others positively, take responsibility for their own decisions, physically engage the natural world, build self-esteem, and experience meaningful success. Summer camps are incredibly effective educational institutions, that camp parents will tell you, make a huge difference in the health and well-being of their children. Summer camps are just very good at helping children grow in these very important ways.
Yes, we should extend the education of our teenagers and children, not by lengthening the school year, but by providing greater experiential opportunities like those found at summer camps. Send your teenager to camp. That’s what you can do.
Tally Singer, long-time Rockbrook girl and assistant director this past summer, lives and works in LA during the off-season. She’s worked on movies like The DaVinci Code, and other Ron Howard productions. Recently, she saw Daniel Radcliffe and friends. Here’s the poster they signed for all us girls at Rockbrook!
One of the tag lines we often use to evoke Rockbrook is “Play outside this summer.” You can see it all over our website, on a lot of our printed materials, and even on a t-shirt or two. We really like how it’s a great summary of what camp involves— spending a lot of time outside and a lot of time playing.
It’s particularly neat to realize that by fostering both outdoor experience and group play, camp makes both of these better. Compared to being inside, it’s just more fun to play outside, and being outside encourages imagination and physical activity, two powerful stimulants to play. Outside you get to run around, be free of all those indoor limitations (having to avoid noise, messiness, walls), and become whoever the game requires. Outdoor play is also usually a group activity. It certainly is at camp. You and your friends make it happen. You build important relationships when playing together. These are real human connections that tend to run much deeper than those found in-doors or in school. Perhaps this begins to explain why girls say their camp friends are their absolute best friends; they are friends formed while playing outside. The things that make outdoor play better are the forces that make camp friends so strong.
With Halloween approaching, everyone’s thinking about what costume to wear and camp is a place with a highly-concentrated amount of costume ideas! It’s typical to change clothes more than once a day to dress up for things like Granny Bingo, ’80’s Dance Party, Harry Potter-themed Birthday Night, twin day, and lots of other happenings. Here are some stellar costumes from this year:
One of the most common questions we hear is “What’s the food like,” which translates into, “How often do you eat tater tots and chicken fingers?” The answer is, not very often! The kitchen strives to find that balance between kid-pleasing-comfort-food while at the same time being health conscious. There is always a deluxe salad bar at lunch and dinner and a vegetarian option at all meals.
Rick Hastings was our Head Chef this year. He has a background in vegetarian cooking and has also worked at a camp before. He and his fabulous kitchen crew welcomed campers into the kitchen to help prepare the day’s meals and snacks – including muffins for the daily mid-morning muffin break!
Here is what the Senior linehead counselor, Sarah Thompson, said about the food and kitchen staff this year:
“I cannot praise the kitchen staff highly enough. A happy camp is a well-fed camp and they feed us exceedingly well! The magic started during staff orientation (Capers? Fresh Basil? Is this really camp food?) and did not let up as the summer weared on. The food is healthy, innovative and delicious.
What impresses me the most, though, is the staff’s attitude. They are unfailingly helpful and upbeat, even when faced with hordes of hungry and demanding people. More importantly, they realize that the kitchen affords valuable opportunities for the camper. The kitchen staff has opened its doors to several campers this summer, allowing girls to assist. Often, they are girls who are somehow most in need of the opportunity. There are some places at camp – the climbing tower, for instance – where girls are clearly going to gain confidence and other skills. This year’s kitchen staff has turned the kitchen into such a place for campers. The knowledge, independence and self-confidence they have instilled in the girls is nothing short of amazing.”
“Cooks you made a wonderful dinner! You know we’ll never get any thinner!” – From the Cook Song
What do Emma Roberts, Lisa Loeb, Blair Underwood, Frank Sesno, Ashlan Gorse, and Lisa Raye have in common? They all believe who they are today is, at least partly, because of camp. Take a look.
It’s hard to predict how children will benefit from the experience of summer camp, but there is overwhelming evidence that they do. The American Camp Association has studied this, and written about it, and now produced this great video illustrating what real people feel about camp. It’s heartwarming to see that a quality camp experience can be such a powerful force in the lives of adults, and exciting to know today’s children have the same opportunity.
We bumped into an article the other day by Anne O’Connor entitled, Is Summer Camp Good for Her? It’s a great discussion of why traditional overnight summer camps offer so much, and how many “specialty” camps (e.g., computer camp, soccer camp, etc.) often lose track of important social benefits. The article quotes Dr. Chris Thurber. He says camps are not about “the equipment or specific attractions— it’s the friends.” He claims, “it’s much more valuable to have social skills and a friendship base than to be an expert soccer player.”
What caught our eye was the quote in the article from a Rockbrook dad describing the value of the camp friendships his daughter made over the years. He also describes the skills she developed as well. “When they have to be independent, when they have the responsibility for planning their days, their self-esteem goes through the roof,” he said.
Going away to camp, particularly to an overnight or sleepaway camp, is a big step for kid. Being separated from parents, meeting loads of new people, and trying lots of new challenging activities— all these can be a little scary. Imagining it all, it’s easy to worry and find yourself asking “What if…?” kinds of questions. In fact, it’s just as common for parents to be scared and worried too. They also can suffer from a certain amount of “separation anxiety.”
There are a couple of things that can help both parents and kids feel better about this. First, realize that this is perfectly normal and all parents feel nervous about being away from their children for extended periods of time. Likewise, all children see their parents as their basic source of comfort and can at first be reluctant to go without it. Being away from each other requires both parents and children to develop a new sense of trust. Parents must trust the camp (its directors and staff, in particular) to take good care of their children, and each child must learn to trust themselves and their abilities away from home.
Fortunately, summer camps are ideal places for this kind of growth. They offer safe, structured environments where each girl finds plenty of fun things to do, but more importantly, caring adults trained to encourage her to make her own decisions, and to be more independent and self-confident. Camps have a lot of experience in this. They know it can take time, but have seen thousands of children succeed at camp and be better prepared for challenges later in life.
If you are considering summer camp for the first time, it can help to practice the kind of healthy separation camps represent. For example, it’s a good idea to schedule sleepovers at friends’ houses or other long weekends away from home. Even with something this simple, kids learn they can do things on their own.
Camp is a wonderful experience for everyone. For both parents and kids, it’s a chance to grow up a little.