Being a Camp Leader

Leadership for Summer Camp Kids

One important mark of leadership for the staff at Rockbrook is their ability to model personal character for the girls at camp. We strive to hire cabin counselors and activity staff members who exemplify good character and thereby can serve as role models for the campers. It means a lot to children to see others they admire make good decisions. It’s just a crucial part of building character— having positive relationships with others who embody exemplary habits and attitudes. When we talk about “leadership” at camp, this is what we mean: being that sort of exemplary person.

But what is exemplary character, how do you recognize it, and how do you encourage its development? We’ve found the approach taken by the Josephson Institute to be extremely articulate and practical. It’s “Six Pillars of Character” is a well thought out resource. Essentially, the “pillars” are fundamental principles and values that serve as a core for ethical decision making. They are:

  • Trustworthiness
  • Respect
  • Responsibility
  • Fairness
  • Caring
  • Citizenship. 

Without appealing to religion, politics or ideology, we strive to realize these six values in our camp community.

There’s a lot of good stuff in all of this, so go learn more about character.

Nature at Camp

Nature Girl Camper

As a parent, have you ever felt you were driving around in circles, literally driving your kids from home to school, to sports or dance practice, to other lessons or weekly events? Would you say that your kids are scheduled and busy most of the time? Do they spend most of their time inside, and when they do have free time, how do they spend it? Watching TV, on the Internet, text messaging?

All of this is valuable, of course, with each activity exposing children to new ideas, information and challenges, but there’s a growing awareness that if overemphasized it can create problems as well. It’s becoming clear that children need time with nature too. They need the opportunity to explore the outdoors, to play outside without the time constraints of school, to feel the elements and reconnect with the wonders of the natural world.

The Children and Nature Network is an non-profit organization dedicated to researching this issue and providing resources for encouraging children’s health through outdoor activity and experience.  It’s a great place to learn about the importance for children of direct experience of nature.

Summer camps, thankfully, are still ways for children to recover from the “nature deficit” they endure throughout the school year.  Nature and camp just go together. Particularly at an overnight camp like Rockbrook, nature is a constant companion— the earthy smell, the feel of the weather, the surprising creatures, the plant life that’s everywhere you look.  Sure camp offers crafts, adventure, sports and lots of silly fun, but every minute is also a chance to be with nature.  It’s the greatest feeling, and is also, incredibly good for you.

Anxious about camp?

Happy Summer Kid Swimming

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.

Camp is a Refuge

Cute Little Camp Girls

We hear this a lot, actually: that camp is a refuge.  It’s a place where girls can escape the busy, sometimes overwhelming pace of their regular lives.  For many young kids, each day is a bombardment of stimuli, new information and entertainment.  There are school responsibilities, social demands, and activities at home all demanding attention.  Increasingly, parents have noticed that the intensity of their children’s lives is making them more anxious, fearful, and worried.  There’s so much going on, it’s difficult for kids to really connect with the people (family and friends) around them, adding even more to the burden of handling everything on their own.  Everything around them seems to be shouting, and sometimes it’s just too much!

Thank goodness for camp.  It really can be a refuge, a huge relief from all of this.  Simply being outside, unplugged from rapid-fire electronic stimulation, is a powerful antidote.  Having daily opportunities to engage creative talents, physical challenges, and deep social/personal relationships is so welcome, kids just blossom in a camp setting.  It’s the greatest gift to simply have time to relax, to play in the creek, dress a little silly, or chat with a friend in the porch rocking chairs. The environment of a kids camp is a powerful healthy response to the extreme busyness of ordinary life. It always has been, and these days, it seems like it’s needed more than ever.

Camp From the Past!

Youth Camp Photo Collage

Here’s a great early photo collage of Rockbrook girls from the 1926 camp catalog. Kells Hogan brought it over to us after finding it among his mother’s artifacts. She attended camp in her youth.  We love how the photos show the real spirit of adventure the girls had back then.  It looks like there was plenty of dressing up going on too!

Recognize those waterfalls?

A Quick Quote on Camp

Camp Kid Reading

We ran into this quote the other day and thought we should share it. It’s from Charles William Eliot, who at 35 was the youngest president of Harvard University.

“I have a conviction that a few weeks spent in a well-organized summer camp may be of more value educationally than a whole year of formal school work.”

It’s nice to see the value of camp being endorsed by highly educated people. We agree. Camp is educational in the broadest, but also most fundamental, sense of the word. Through personal experience, it offers opportunities to forge connections and nurture children far beyond what school can provide. There’s really nothing quite like camp!

Top 5 Summer Summer Camp Directories

When searching for summer camps, it’s always good to look at several to compare them and learn about which might best fit your child. You can spend a lot of time searching the Internet and reading different camps’ individual websites, but you can also visit one of the many summer camp directories out there. These are special sites designed to help sift through all the options. You can narrow the complete list of camps by region, by activity specialty, by gender, by type (sleepaway vs. day, e.g.), even by religion. As you enter your preferences, you’ll be presented with a more manageable list of camps to research in more detail, for example by requesting their catalogs and promotional DVDs.

Summer Camp Directories

Ah, but there are lots of summer camp directories out there too!  So here are what we consider the top 5 camp directories to visit.  Each is organized a little differently and will therefore yield somewhat different search results.  Looking for a residential girls camp in the southeast?  In addition to Rockbrook, each of these directories will reveal a range of options.  After spending some time on these sites, you’ll have an excellent idea about which summer camp will be right for your child.

aca logo
mysummercamps Summer Camps Directory
camppage camps directory
summercamps camp directory
kidscamp summer camps
Camp girl aiming arrow

Kids’ Freedom to Play

Kids Summer Free Time

“I’m so glad you build into each day plenty of free time.”

Yes, our daily camp schedule includes three different blocks of time when kids can do what they want— right before lunch, right before dinner and right after dinner.  Before lunch and dinner we open the lake for a “free swim,” a time when anyone in camp can come down for a dip.  Otherwise, kids can hang out in their cabin with friends, play games on the hill, explore the creek by “Curosty,” write letters home, chat with their counselor, prepare a skit for evening program, or just read a book.  There are so many options.

This kind of free time is such a welcome relief from the overly scheduled, competitive, pressured life so many kids deal with at home and at school.  Grades! Sports! Music Lessons! Home Chores!  Since their childhood is almost “job-like” with its extensive commitments and expectations, kids really need a place that allows for their own pace, their own interests, and their own sense of fun to flourish.  At Rockbrook, we all enjoy this, every day.

After all, you gotta have free time to really play.

Children Learning at Camp

summer camping children

Cory Doctorow wrote a nice post reminding us of the classic book about children and learning by John Holt, “How Children Learn” (originally published in 1967).  The book, which has been revised and reprinted, can still be found on many education course reading lists because it makes a very important point teachers and parents easily and often forget.  His basic claim is that children are natural learners, and that instead of always forcing them to adhere to a generalized curriculum, they should be encouraged to follow their curiosity, engage what they are passionate about, expand their perception and awareness, and experiment with the world around them.  For adults, this means being less of a tyrant (“You have to…”) and more of a partner along for the adventure of growing up.  Holt has observed this kind of adult coercion in the realm of learning to be often more counterproductive than not.  Of course, parents and teachers need to provide some guidance at times and encourage or facilitate certain educational activities (or social behaviors!), but any habit of rigidly adhering to particular learning styles, contexts, or subjects may shape children to the detriment of their strengths and talents.

What does this have to do with camp?  If most of the year is comprised of adults telling children what to do, what to study, what to learn —and you have to agree it is— then having a break from that in the summer is incredibly important and valuable.  After all, that’s what camp provides.  Campers arrive at camp and decide for themselves (without mom, dad, or teacher) which activities to take and how they will spend their time at camp.  With some guidance from the counselors, they make their own experience, explore their own interests, build their own understandings.  The great feelings that come with this freedom is certainly one reason girls love their camp experience.

Camp is so meaningful for them because they are active participants in making it meaningful.

Weisstronauts: Live at Rockbrook !!

Weisstronauts CD Instro-tainment

We’ve been meaning to post something about this all summer, but only just now sat down to do it.  Back in June we had the awesome instrumental rock band The Weisstronauts play a show at camp.  Pete Weiss, who fronts the band, and who knew Jeff from his Chicago days (the early 1990s!), had an open tour date, and everything worked out for the Rockbrook girls to have a rockin’ dance party.  Dance contests, limbo competitions, conga lines — it was non-stop action!

The band’s music is a little hard to describe, but you take 3 electric guitars, bass, drums and the occasional “accent” instrument and roll out surf, country, spy, psychedelia and rock styles.  Very danceable, very up-tempo, tight playing, and fun through and through.

Head on over to the Weisstronauts’ Site and you can hear the leading track, “Fisticuffs,” from their new CD Instro-tainment.  You’ll enjoy it.  Promise.

And here’s one more treat.  During the show at Rockbrook, the band recorded some video, and now Pete has put together a music video that uses some of that footage.  Take a look and you’ll see RBC!  The song is “Seven-X’s,” also from the new CD, and the old-looking footage in the video is from the 1939 World’s Fair in New York.  Very Cool.