Have you ever wondered why girls love camp… tried to explain their smiling contentment, bright-eyed enthusiasm, and deep connection to their experience at Rockbrook? I certainly have tried. It’s just so odd… how great it is at camp, how meaningful, how truly extraordinary it is for kids. And yet, how most everywhere else, that seems less so.
My best theories to explain this revolve around identifying how life at camp differs so dramatically from the rest of the year, and how those differences make a difference to the girls. For example, we can identify certain pressures girls experience in the outside world that are for the most part absent here at camp. Think, for example, of social media messaging and the distorted values it can wield (no instagram here!), academic expectations of excellence (no grades here!), and all manner of competition where ones self worth seems on the line (nobody cares who’s “best” at camp). Camp can reduce these pressures on your girls, and hence allow them to feel really good. “What a relief!” Similarly, though from the opposite point of view, there are positive things that camp provides that are difficult for schools to accomplish, things like experiences of high adventure, full-time immersion in Nature, or the freedom/responsibility of making daily decisions without ones parents shaping the outcome. “I needed that!” Whether we’re adding something lacking— responding to a deficit in their lives —or removing a negative force impacting them, camp is different and therefore satisfying in important ways.
An example of this came to mind as I wandered about after dinner today, during that time we call “twilight.” This is free time for the girls where they can do what they like. There are no scheduled activities, but we do always offer an optional game or event. That might be a tetherball “queen of the court” tournament, letter writing on the hill, gaga ball down at the gym, an 80s-themed “jazzercise” class on the archery field, a trip to the garden, or even a shaving cream fight for an entire age group. Most girls, though, use this time to hang out with their friends, to read their book sitting in their crazy creek chair, to soak their feet in the creek, to work on a friendship bracelet, or just to take a shower. Tonight there were at least a dozen small groups out on the hill, groups of friends enjoying a relaxed conversation, watching the light change on the distant mountains. Given the non-stop action of our day, as is usually the case, it was nice to see everyone enjoying a different pace.
That’s a difference worth noting. My hunch is that life at home has a more hectic pace as girls juggle time commitments at school, for sports and other after-school activities. There’s a tendency these days for our kids to be over-scheduled, even hyper-scheduled with very little time left over for more self-directed or relaxed activities. It’s rare for them to have blocks of truly free time where they— not parents, teachers or coaches —can decide what they’d like to do. There are probably small moments like that, but my hunch is that those get consumed by scrolling passively through some “feed,” or are criticized as “boring.” But not here! Instead, we have regular blocks of time dedicated to slowing down, allowing us to connect more deeply with people, and to soak in more thoroughly the beauty around us. At camp there’s time for girls to play freely, to lounge on the grass staring at the sunset, or simply to sit with friends letting their minds wander as they may.
It’s not the only reason, but I think girls love camp because it regularly provides these opportunities for free time. Oddly, there’s still plenty to do, but nothing that has to be done. And at camp, there are always friends to do it with, no matter what you end up doing. You may not have expected your girls to be just “hanging out” at camp, but trust me, when they do (amid their otherwise action-packed day), it’s pretty special.
Our 16-year old “Hi-Ups” had their “cabin day” today. These are the girls who manage the tables at our meals. They set the tables before each meal (plates, cups, napkins, flatware, and serving utensils), deliver serving bowls of food to the tables, and afterwords clear all the dirty dishes, prepping them for the dishwashing in the kitchen. This summer, since we have spread out our dining areas to the “Tree Tops” hillside lodge porch, and the dining hall porch, the Hi-Ups are having to work even harder to get each meal set and cleaned up. Fortunately, we have a large group of these girls this session, and they have been great dividing up the chores and tackling them cheerfully.
This outing was a chance to take break from that, explore a bit, and enjoy each other’s company outdoors in this part of North Carolina. We decided to go hiking through some of the high country near the Shining Rock Wilderness area. Our route was an amazing loop that included scrambling over rocks, crossing a creek, hiking up a steep slope and down a slick trail to the bottom of a waterfall. A highlight was coming upon an ancient tree with long snaking roots exposed. It rained a bit on us, and it was sunny part of the time. We felt chilly, and later sweaty. When we made it back to the buses, we had a few scratches and smears of mud on our legs, and we were all a little wet, but it felt good and satisfying to be out there together. We knew this was an experience we would never repeat, certainly not with these same great friends. I guess that’s what camp is everyday… extraordinary moments of satisfaction with friends. Yes. I like it!