The Growth Zone

You may be familiar with the idea that kids should be encouraged to go outside of their “comfort zone.” And that at camp, there are many chances to do that. It’s almost inevitable, in fact. New activities, new people, new food, new weather— life at camp is very different from the “comforts of home.” For most children, all that newness is bound to be challenging in some very unexpected ways, especially when it occurs without one of the main sources of comfort in a child’s life: her parents. But after all, that’s exactly the point. Because it’s so different, camp is not supposed to be entirely “comfortable.” It’s supposed to be (appropriately!) challenging. Some of the magic of camp comes from that fact, and when combined with a supportive, encouraging community, it’s a powerful force… even transformative.

camp counselor with children

My hunch is that most parents who send their kids to camp already get this. They don’t want their kids to sit back and coast through life always choosing what’s the easiest. They don’t want their children to develop a habit of complacency, to always need a road map of conformity to feel safe. They don’t want their children to be afraid to explore, or be tethered too tightly to what’s familiar and predictable. They don’t want their kid’s world to be that narrow and fragile, that strict and ultimately stale. Even though it might feel good at first, the “Comfort Zone” is ultimately unfulfilling. The irony is that it’s us parents who effectively build this trap for our kids just as we care for their needs. We are the ones who supply the comfort zone, making it extra plush, and some us are darn good at it!

Of course, the opposite should be avoided too. We don’t want our children to be in danger, to be faced with extreme consequences, or to risk permanent suffering. There are situations where attention to safety warrants taking specific, careful action to protect our children from harm. Certainly, we do our best to help our kids avoid being in the “Danger Zone.” We don’t want the challenges our children face to be so extreme they become discouraged. We don’t want them to take on so much risk that there is no way to recover. We don’t want for them to explore so much that they become lost.

There’s a sweet spot, however, between comfort and danger. There’s what’s been called the “Growth Zone.” And it’s where we try to dwell at Rockbrook. There are plenty of challenges to be found here, for sure. There are bound to be moments when your daughter will struggle, experience some kind of minor setback, or feel frustrated by something not going exactly like what she’s used to. There are challenges built into the activities too: hitting the target in archery, reaching the top of the climb, threading a needle, centering your clay on the wheel, and so on. And there are even challenges to just living at camp and being part of this community: doing cabin chores, working through personal disagreements, handling the crickets that find their way into the cabins, and trekking up and down all the hills, to name few.

Waterslide child at summer camp

I hope you can see how all of these challenges are appropriate, ones where the girls here can successfully develop the skills, confidence, and perseverance to overcome them and grow. That’s where the the camp community is crucial. All around us at camp there are helpful friends. There is encouragement and support. There’s coaching and plenty of good role models to demonstrate how attitude and effort can make a big difference in moments of discomfort. And when so much of camp life is also incredibly fun, there’s a unique power inspiring girls to carry on and accept the challenges that come. The result is recognizable personal growth in self confidence and resilience. Over time, adapting to challenging situations becomes normal, expected. In this special environment, camp girls develop a sense of who they are— capable and strong. They begin to understand that what’s new and different is potentially an opportunity. They realize that stepping out of their comfort zone, but not so far to be in danger, is a recipe for growth. They learn that growing, not comfort, is what makes life fun.

Will your girls describe their camp experience like this? Certainly not in so many words, but I’m sure they are absorbing this idea. They’re living in the growth zone everyday while they’re here at camp. I love the idea that amidst all the action and silly fun you see at camp, there’s something lasting and beneficial happening too. Such good stuff!

girl learning archery at camp

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