They Need Summer Camp

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.

Summer Camp Teenagers

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.

climbing teenagers

Time in Nature Makes Children More Caring

Time with Nature

New research from psychologists Netta Weinstein, Andrew Przybylski, and Richard Ryan at the University of Rochester suggests that when exposed to nature people are more inclined to be caring.  They are more willing to share and do good in the world.  The mechanism behind this effect is not entirely clear, but there’s simply something special to being outside, to having personal experiences of natural beauty and wonder.  When you think about it, we all are drawn toward nature and it does improve our mood, calm us down, and generally restore us as human beings.  Study after study supports this.

Here again, we’re finding that every child benefits from time outdoors and in contact with the natural world, and of course, camp is probably the best way to get a good solid dose of it.  So for us, we’d say time at camp helps children be more caring as well.

Learn more by watching this video interview of Richard Ryan discussing the research.

The Best Girls Summer Camp

best-girls-camp

What makes the best girls summer camp? It’s funny, but you see that claim now and then. “We’re the best girls camp ever!” or “Welcome to the best girls camp in North Carolina.” Most of this can be considered akin to team spirit, the folks from a camp expressing how much they love their particular camp, how proud they are of it, and how they know their camp really is excellent.

Of course, in reality, you can’t say objectively which girls camp is the best. Here in western North Carolina, there are so many great girls camps, each with dedicated and experienced directors, outstanding counselors, beautiful facilities and diverse fun activities. These camps also have very strong supporters, families who have found the camp perfect for their children. You will certainly find happy enthusiastic campers at all of these camps.

So is there really a best girls camp? Only to the extent that a camp is right for you. The subtle differences between camps, their particular strengths or emphases, will probably make you feel more at home at one girls camp or another. To put it differently, there are of course differences between camps but they do not distinguish which camp is “best.” That is something that follows from how much you love your camp, and that’s what makes it best.

So yes, for many reasons, generations of girls believe Rockbrook is the best girls summer camp. They believe it because they’ve experienced it and love it as their own.

Camp Lets You Really Rock!

Girl Rock Camp

For many of the girls at Rockbrook, especially the older “seniors” (teens thirteen to fifteen years old), rock climbing is one of their favorite adventure activities. For these girls, RBC can be a girls rock camp. That’s because there are so many opportunities to climb. Not even counting the climbing wall in the gym (which has 6 different very cool routes on it: four face routes, a sweet corner for stemming, and a hand crack route) and the Alpine Tower (which easily has more than 100 different rock climbing challenges), the girls have plenty of rock right on the camp property.

Castle Rock is the huge granite rock towering above camp where girls have six different rock climbing routes to work on.  It’s so nice to just hike up the hill behind the dining hall to our very own private rock climbing spot (no driving!).  And the rock is excellent! There are nice deep hand cracks, a finger crack, delicate face routes with some serious exposure, and of course plenty of chances to work on your friction climbing. The rock provides a variety of climbing challenges that beginners and more experienced girls will find just right.

With all of this climbing right at Rockbrook, and then with the great rock nearby in the Pisgah National Forest, camp has the kind of adventure where girls can really rock!

Kids Grow Better Outside

Kids Grow Better Outside

Spotted this bumper sticker the other day in Asheville, NC. Isn’t it awesome!? It’s put out by the Buncombe county partnership of the Smart Start Program, an “early childhood initiative designed to ensure that young children enter school healthy and ready to succeed.” The sticker shows that, like we have claimed many times before, playing outside is really good for kids.  Here are some of the benefits Buncombe County recognizes.

  • Kids are better able to play with other kids and work problems out with them.
  • Kids benefit from physical activity by experiencing healthier weights.
  • Kids have fewer problems with hyperactivity and are better able to pay attention.
  • Kids experience less stress than other kids their age.
  • Kids score higher on standardized tests.

It’s not too hard to see how “children will be smarter, better able to get along with others, healthier and happier when they have regular opportunities for free and unstructured play in the out of doors?”  And it’s a simple step to realize how important summer vacation from school, and summer camps like Rockbrook, are for kids.  All children really benefit from time outside, away from school, and certainly at camp.

Are your kids getting outside?

“Old Counselors Never Die…”

Several attendees at our Alumnae Reunion this summer requested to go on a hike with the legendary counselor, Phyllis S. She worked at camp from ’59 to ’67.

Campers (that could keep up with her) still remember her spunkiness, funny stories – including one about the “rattlecat” – and her zest for the woods.

She’s an example of how much of an impact counselors can have on their campers. Counselors get to be that person who show campers new worlds and horizons – and if you’re lucky, the campers just might remember your name!

Today, Phyllis is a retired English professor. She loves William Wordsworth’s work, her cat and exploring every peak to be had.

—————

p.s. The title of this blog comes from the song sung when it’s a counselor’s birthday:

“Old counselors never die, never die,
Old counselors never die, they just look that way!”

The Importance of Play

Did you know that play is about more than just “fun and games?” You might have heard that “play is children’s work,” and maybe you’ve realized that play often boils down to having spontaneous fun, but what makes play beneficial? What about the long term benefits of play?

Girls Play

It turns out there is a ton of research indicating that play is very important for human beings, even essential for our well being throughout our lives, from childhood through adulthood. One leader of this research and an advocate of what we might call “play for all,” is Dr. Stuart Brown, MD. He is the founder of the National Institute for Play, an organization

“committed to bringing the unrealized knowledge, practices and benefits of play into public life. [The Institute] is gathering research from diverse play scientists and practitioners, initiating projects to expand the clinical scientific knowledge of human play and translating this emerging body of knowledge into programs and resources which deliver the transformative power of play to all segments of society.”

One general conclusion Dr. Brown’s research has shown is a strong correlation between adult success and play. Language skills, thinking skills, and of course, social skills all benefit from unstructured play. And since these are crucial areas for adults as well, it’s important to develop a habit of playing throughout our lives. We can improve these adult level skills by continuing to play.

Here’s a great video of Stuart Brown giving a lecture about the importance of play. He argues that “play in childhood makes for happy, smart adults — and keeping it up can make us smarter at any age.”

We like this a lot.  It verifies something we’ve been talking about for years; play, and in particular outdoor play, is really important.  More than just entertainment, it’s a powerful benefit for children’s health and happiness.  This research helps us understand how these benefits extend far into adulthood as well.  Naturally, camp is the perfect place to experience all of this.  Free from the over-structured, over-scheduled nature of school, and free from boredom-inducing electronic media, camp provides daily opportunities for play.  Children are so much better for it.

Hey, don’t forget to play!

Play Outside this Summer!

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.

Girl Friends Outdoors

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.

What do you think?

Summer’s for Getting Outdoors!

Kids Outdoor Activity

In the recent debate over how many days kids should stay in school, it’s often claimed that they could learn more by shortening the summer vacation. More days studying math, science, arts and reading would make our kids more educated, it’s claimed. Certainly this is true; the more you study something, the better your competency in that subject. However, what is lost by taking time from summer and devoting it to further study? If we choose more school time, what are we neglecting as a result?

One thing that would clearly suffer, and something that summer camps are known to enhance, is time outside, sustained outdoor activity for kids. It’s during the summer that kids have the time and the permission to play outside. They can return to nature, explore all the amazing details of the environment, and really feel what so many of their ancestors felt outdoors. Being inside at school most of day, and for most of the days each year, there are very few opportunities for kids to enjoy outdoor activity. They suffer from what Richard Louv has now famously dubbed “Nature Deficit Disorder.” The psychological, personal and intellectual consequences of our kids losing touch of nature are now well understood, and are widely condemned. Extending our kid’s school year, and thereby further limiting their time outside in Nature deserves that same condemnation.

This is also an environmental protection issue. If we reduce the ability of our kids to experience and know the outdoors, we make it much less likely they will value and love it. If their Nature Deficit Disorder is made worse by reducing their time outside of school, they won’t feel strongly about the wonders Nature provides, and consequently they will feel less concern for protecting the environment. Not knowing and loving nature from their personal experience, they’ll be less apt to protect it. Here again, time outside (and away from school) makes kids more human. It provides another, equally important, form of education. Denying them opportunities to learn outside, even when in service of traditional academic learning, is a perilous position for us all.

Because of Camp…

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.

camp makes friends