Youth Development

Journal for Youth Development

One phrase camp professionals often use to describe their work is “Youth Development.” Beginning, most likely, with the American Camp Association (ACA), most camp directors are quick to point out the beneficial outcomes children gain from the summer camp experience, the power camp has in developing young people’s character, confidence, and other important life-skills. In this way, summer camps are “youth development organizations.” Just about everyone who knows about camp, and Rockbrook is no exception, will agree.

Did you know that “Youth Development” also refers to a multidisciplinary academic discipline (drawing on psychology, education, sociology, family science, and public health, among others) dedicated to studying the development of school-aged children? Well, it’s true and there’s a peer-reviewed journal published to prove it! The Journal of Youth Development reports original research and focused studies with applied consequences that can make a difference in youth development professional’s work.

One article particularly relevant for camp professionals was published in the Journal back in 2007— “Components of Camp Experiences for Positive Youth Development.” Working with survey data gathered by the ACA from its member camps, the article tries to identify those aspects of camp life that have the greatest positive effect on youth development. Most significantly, the researchers conclude it is the supportive relationships children have with camp staff that are most important, followed by “program structure, elements of accountability, assessment of outcomes, and opportunities for skill building.” The take away lesson here, of course, is the importance of great people working as a camp’s counselors. We certainly know this at Rockbrook. A great staff of caring, attentive, supportive role models really benefits the campers and brings the whole camp together throughout the summer. Our campers make all kinds of strides as a result. We’ve all seen it, but with this research, there’s academic credibility backing it up!

A Teacher in Everything

For quite some time now, we’ve talked about summer camp providing children valuable lessons, unique opportunities to learn that can’t be recreated in traditional educational contexts. If you mention this claim to just about anyone associated with a summer camp, you’ll find full agreement. Summer camps are “Youth Development” organizations. Camps are heaps of fun, but are also something kids need to foster their growing up.

Kids Learning Camp

The American Camp Association has articulated these educational benefits of camp most extensively. Following broad research initiatives and years of collecting data from summer camps across the country, the ACA continually makes a strong case for what children gain from a camp experience. The list of these “outcomes” and “competencies” is now well-known: self-identity, self-worth, self-esteem, leadership, self-respect, compassion, contribution, commitment, caring, honesty, generosity, sharing, resilience, resourcefulness, ethical awareness, responsibility, and communication skills. We have discussed many of these benefits on this blog, here and here for example.

The next question to ask, however, is not “what gains do children make at camp,” but “how does camp provide these benefits?” There is a lot to this, of course, but let me point out one crucial reason summer camp has this unique educational power, and again, power above and beyond what traditional classroom educational settings offer.

Residential summer camps are uniquely educational because they are first and foremost communities dedicated, through first-hand experiences, to broad personal, social and physical well being. Camps are experiential learning communities. Led by admirable, caring adult role models, summer camp communities are tightly-knit groups of people who not only live (eat, play, make) together, but also grow personally by virtue of experiencing so much together. So many of the “outcomes” and “competencies” above, those personal qualities we all recognize as valuable— honesty, compassion, responsibility, generosity, etc., can be traced to what individuals gain from fully participating in a vibrant positive community. Summer camp communities are dedicated to, thrive upon, and thus foster, these kinds of personal traits.

Equally important is the full-time nature of the summer camp community experience. These aren’t lessons taught sitting at a desk in idealized abstract language. This is learning that’s lived. At camp, the “teachable moments” actually happen, involve real people, and carry real personal consequences. Just about every moment at camp is this kind of “teachable moment,” an opportunity to learn from the interaction with others and the natural world. At summer camp, there is a teacher in everything!

Being at summer camp is almost non-stop fun, but it also brings out the best in kids by asking them to pay attention to the people around them, and to build positive relationships of all kinds. It’s this kind of direct experiential community learning that gives camp the power to shape young people so profoundly.

Is Camp a Threatened Tradition?

For quite a while, we’ve been writing on this blog about the benefits of summer camp for children. For more than 100 years now in the United States, sleepaway camps have been organized and generations of children have grown stronger, more confident, become leaders, forged close friendships, and acquired all kinds of physical, personal and social skills as a result. There really is little doubt that the sleep away camp experience of “getting away” for a few weeks is valuable for children in long-lasting and profound ways.

cabin mates girls friendships at summer camp

Even while recognizing all of this, however, there is a growing awareness that certain modern forces are threatening this great American tradition. Today, much more than a generation ago, there is competition making claims on our kid’s summer time. A recent article by Mary Beth McCauley in the Christian Science Monitor entitled “Sunset for Summer Camp?” claims as much. Quite correctly, the author observes that demand for shorter camp sessions is increasing, as opposed to longer “all summer” camps. A number of factors are contributing to this trend. School systems are shortening summer vacations. Competitive school sports teams and their coaches driven to win are requiring summer workouts (e.g., soccer “camp”) and scheduled practice days before school opens. Parents are reserving parts of the summer for family travel and vacations. Students are taking summer classes “to get ahead” (SAT prep, for example), and local, short-term day camps abound. With so many options, each claiming to be most important, it’s easy to understand why some parents find it difficult to place longer camp sessions at the top of the heap.

Fortunately, understanding the camp experience, seeing the dramatic positive effects it provides all year round, there are those, and so many Rockbrook parents are among them, who know camp is one of the most important things you can do for your child.  For these parents, camp isn’t just a summertime diversion, some kind of extended amusement park; it’s a core part of their child’s personal development.  It’s a place for kids to grow and discover who they are.  Sure it’s fun, but it’s the kind of fun that means something long afterwords.

We hear it all the time from our parents; camp means the world to their daughters, and they are committed to providing a camp experience for them.  This helps explain why, despite economic pressures and competing summer demands, Rockbrook enjoys strong enrollment, with sessions filling and waiting lists forming each summer.  Camp is important to our families, and to the girls who attend and make Rockbrook their own.  Around here, camp is stronger than all of the forces that may be threatening the traditions we’ve all come to appreciate.

Shared Enthusiasm for Camp

Camp Kids Fun

We wanted to pass along just a sample of the feedback we have been receiving through the end-of-camp survey recently sent out to parents. So many wonderful comments, happy campers and thrilled parents, it’s enough to make all of us at camp blush! But also, it means a lot to know that the deep feelings we have for Rockbrook are shared with so many of our camp families. We can hear the appreciation and enthusiasm in your voices! Here’s one parent’s comments.

I would sacrifice just about anything to allow Emma to attend Rockbrook every year, and RBC is not an insignificant expense for us. I love so many things about Rockbrook: the activities that are only available to my daughter at camp, the confidence that she is developing over the years as she participates in different activities that push her comfort level, and the camp friendships that she is building from year to year. I truly believe that Rockbrook Camp is helping shape my daughter into a stronger, more confident person. I am so glad that we found it!

Wow, thanks so much!

Camp as Community

Girls Camp Community Togetherness

Spending time at Rockbrook, it becomes clear just how strong the sense of community is for the girls at camp. It’s remarkable really how quickly and easily girls from so many different home towns and different schools can grow so close and care about each other in personal and meaningful ways. After this most recent long session, and probably because these girls have spent 4 weeks together, it was even more apparent that camp is a community in the best sense of the word.

It begins with a group of well-trained, caring adult role models who exhibit the kind of personal character that fosters community. From the directors to the cabin counselors and staff members, we know the importance of compassion, generosity, contribution and patient understanding. Quite naturally, but also intentionally, we set the tone at camp so everyone can feel loved, capable and included. Through encouragement and enthusiasm, the leaders at camp nurture positive relationships.

And the results? Well, the benefits of camp are clear. Kids feel good about themselves (improved self-esteem, self-worth, and self-confidence), are better communicators (both expressing themselves and listening to others), and are more aware and responsible. Becoming a member of this kind of community is the secret here. It has a powerful, wonderful effect on the girls at Rockbrook. Sure, the activities, special events, the food, and the sheer fun of it all go into it, but a girl knowing wholeheartedly she is a member of the camp community, knowing Rockbrook is “my camp,” helps explain why she loves it so much.  Pretty cool.

Staying Cool, Focused and Relaxed

First I have to tell you about today’s muffins.  They were amazing!  Liz created yet another one-of-a-kind masterpiece flavor: peanut butter and jelly.  I’m pretty sure they didn’t teach this recipe at the Ballymaloe Cookery School in Cork Ireland where Liz was trained, so she deserves all the credit.  A classic camp flavor turned into a fresh baked muffin.  YUM!

Girls camp waterpark climbing

As most everyone on the east coast is experiencing record-breaking temperatures this week, we have found plenty of ways to stay cool at Rockbrook. First of all, temps are still falling into the 60s at night, and stay cool most of the morning as it takes a few hours for the sun to come up over the hill.  In addition, the lake has been a very popular spot in the afternoons. Even if the campers don’t have swimming as one of their regularly scheduled activities, everyone can go for a dip during one of the two open “free swim” periods each day. That’s also when we open the “Toy,” “Aqua Ropes Course,” or “Water Challenge Course.” As you can see, it’s quite the obstacle. Campers first try to climb up the outside edge, grabbing the ropes, and stand on the top rails.  From there they grab the dangling rings and go hand-to-hand from one ring to the next.  There are five in all.  It’s really tough to reach all five rings (see how it’s sloping uphill?), so we reward anyone who can with a special treat, usually a trip to Dolly’s.  Missing means just a big splash!

Kids learn photography tips at summer camp

In the photography activity, former camper and now star counselor Jane, who is majoring in Fine Art Photography at The Corcoran College of Art & Design in Washington, DC, is helping the girls learn how to take better pictures. To make this more fun, she’s planned several games that send the campers scurrying around camp looking for certain color pallets, shapes (e.g., letters), or textures. She’s challenged the girls to take 20 photos of a single small object making sure each is different. She’s also helped them learn a bit about stop motion photography, and make short motion clips using play-doh. We’re planning to show these short movies to the whole camp on Sunday night before the movie.  Several are quite good!

camp girls taking yoga class at Rockbrook

Jessi’s yoga classes are very popular with the senior girls. She offers them as special extra activities once or twice each week.  With yoga mats and towels in hand, they meet in the upper Hillside Lodge to spread out across the wood floor. Jessi plays nice, relaxing music as she leads the girls through a serious of stretching exercises and yoga poses. The class lasts only about an hour, but that’s plenty for the girls to have a workout. Everyone feels great afterwords… a little more relaxed, limber, and calm. Staying so very busy and active at camp, practicing a little bit of yoga like this is really nice.

All in one day, the RBC girls can stay cool swimming in the lake, focused in photography class, and relaxed doing yoga! 🙂

Camp Life and Soulcraft

Making ceramics by hand at summer camp

I just finished reading Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew B. Crawford, and it struck me that he would probably be a big fan of camp. The book is an argument for working with your hands, for engaging the material world as opposed to the more abstract constructions of modern life (think TV, all forms of digital entertainment, even the work of most “white collar” jobs). The ordinary lives of most Americans, including our kids, are too often divorced from the joys of working with real things and with real people, and as a result our relationships suffer and we find ourselves dissatisfied. Crawford suggests working with our hands, enhancing our “manual competence,” can serve as an effective antidote to this modern affliction.

You’ve probably heard of “Nature Deficit Disorder,” a concept fashioned by Richard Louv describing the negative consequences of children spending too little time in the outdoors. Here we have a similar notion linking negative effects to living a life abstracted from the sensuous, physical nature of the real world. And just as it’s a response to Nature Deficit Disorder, summer camp provides children a wide range of opportunities to work with their hands, to make things and explore the real world (including the people around them!). Every day of life at camp challenges kids to do things with their hands, to actively engage the material world, whether it be building a clay mug, learning a flip off the diving board, or dressing up like an old lady to play bingo with your friends and laughing your head off.

Crawford doesn’t talk much in his book about children, and not at all about summer camp, but if you know anything about camp life, you can easily see how it also serves children well in their development of “manual competence.” Kids love camp, and they’ll tell you that it’s because it’s simply “a lot of fun,” but maybe a large part of that can also be traced to their need to connect to the physical world. After all, camp is exactly that.

Camp Milk and Cookies

Summer Camp Treats Cookies

More Cookies!

At camp, there are cookies every night! It’s a long standing tradition at Rockbrook for all the campers (and counselors 🙂 ) to have a cookie and small cup of milk at the end of the day. Everyday the kitchen crew makes a batch of homemade cookies— chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, cinnamon nut, peanut butter, or maybe sugar cookies. Which kind is a daily surprise. When the evening program is finished, a couple of staff members from each line grabs their bag of cookies and jug of milk from the kitchen and sets it all out for the girls.

It may seem a little strange to have cookies right before bed, but it makes a nice little snack to get you through the night. Don’t forget to brush your teeth before hitting the hay. Maybe read a little in bed, and the next thing you know you’ll be waking up to the morning bell. Ahhh camp..

The Scent of Wood Smoke

Here is a poem we sometimes read at Spirit Fire. It was written by Canadian, Mary Susanne Edgar. Like Nancy Carrier, she founded a girls camp and was its long-time director.  That camp was Camp Bernard, located in Ontario. This poem does such a beautiful job conveying many of the sentiments of camp life and why it means so much for the girls who experience it.  We love it!

girls camp campfire

To An Old Camper
by Mary S. Edgar

You may think, my dear, when you grow quite old
You have left camp days behind,
But I know the scent of wood smoke
Will always call to mind
Little fires at twilight
And trails you used to find.

You may think someday you have quite grown up,
And feel so worldly wise
But suddenly from out of the past
A vision will arise
Of merry folk with brown bare knees
And laughter in their eyes.

You may live in a house built to your taste
In the nicest part of town
But someday for your old camp togs
You’d change your latest gown
And trade it for a balsam bed
Where stars all night look down.

You may find yourself grown wealthy
Have all that gold can buy.
But you’d toss aside a fortune
For days ‘neath an open sky
With sunlight and blue water
And white clouds sailing by.

For once you have been a camper
Then something has come to stay
Deep in your heart forever
Which nothing can take away,
And heaven can only be heaven
With a camp in which to play.

More Benefits of Youth Camp

Camp Benefits Girls

I spotted an article discussing how parents can understand why residential summer camps are worth their cost. It’s true; sleepaway camps are usually expensive and can cost between $1000 and $2000 per week. And while it’s also true every summer activity (e.g., other educational opportunities, extracurricular activities, family vacations, trips, and entertainment) costs something significant, what are the unique benefits of an overnight camp experience that can justify its price?

First of all, the American Camp Association has a lot to say about the benefits for youth of attending summer camp. We have written about it before here and here (and especially here!), but you should visit the ACA Web site to see what they say.

One clear, obvious benefit to camp is the fun and concrete skills kids gain from the wide range of camp activities available.  By trying everything at camp, girls learn how to be an archer, a swimmer, a knitter, a tennis player, an actor, and a horseback rider, to name just a few.  They learn to do things, exciting new things that can easily turn into life-long pursuits.

Perhaps more importantly, a quality camp experience provides kids intangible benefits as well. Here’s how one camp director in the article put it.

“Besides all the exciting activities and friendships made, the immense value in camp comes in the development of key lifetime skills and attributes such as confidence, cooperation, communication, new skills and decision-making, to name a few. Camp goes beyond a summer session. It’s unique in that it really is about each camper developing their best self for life… In that regard it is priceless.”

More than other summer activities, a sleep away summer camp experience endows children with valuable life skills, provides positive adult role models, supports them with consistent encouragement, and all within the kind of well-rounded wholesome environment all too rarely found these days. These are lasting benefits that can really make a difference in a child’s life as she becomes an adult.  It’s pretty clear; with that kind of benefit, camp is definitely worth it.