One of my favorite things to do during camp is to wander into an activity area and hang out with the girls. As they busily shape their clay, twist and tie white t-shirts prepping them for dyes, or struggle to find the next climbing hold on the tower, they are funny and chatty with each other. Laughter punctuates their conversations. Support and encouragement flow between them. Their instincts are so positive, so cheerful, their friendships so relaxed and natural. It’s a special experience just to witness it. Even better, I’ve found it rejuvenating to join in, if not to do the activity, then to join the conversation.
For example, today I hung out with a couple of 8th graders while they worked on their embroidery projects. It was right before dinner during the 2nd block of “free swim” free time. While I didn’t grab a needle and thread myself, we had a great conversation about how camp was going. I asked them what they thought made camp so special. For them, what do they like about life at Rockbrook (one of my favorite things to think about and ask campers about)? These two girls have been coming to camp for about 5 years each, and were here for the main 4-week session, so they would have a solid perspective to offer. I was expecting them to say how they loved the variety of activities (they did), and enjoyed the food (they did, enthusiastically!), and appreciated their counselors (“easily the best counselors I’ve ever had. I love them so much,” they told me). These clearly are important components of what makes camp life great. But after thinking about it a bit more, one of them said something extraordinarily insightful.
She said, “Being at camp makes me more mindful of things.” By “more,” she meant compared to being at home interacting with her school friends. “When I’m here I pay attention to more things, and appreciate more things,” she explained. When I asked her why that was the case, what it was about life at camp that made her more mindful, she said, “It probably has to do with not having my phone, but I think it’s also that there’s more time to slow down and notice things.”
Wow! That is so true! I think this insightful young person put her finger on one of the most important aspects of camp life— that it provides an environment that encourages us, campers and staff alike, to be more mindful. It inspires us to pay attention to the world around us, to the people, to nature, and to who we really are. So many of the important benefits of camp, I suspect, can be traced to this.
The core experience of making friends at camp, of forging a strong mutual relationship with someone who really knows you and really cares about you, grows from being mindful of each other. The success girls feel when making decisions independently, dozens of decisions each day, builds from paying attention to the details of the environment. Developing social skills depends on an awareness of others, their feelings, expectations, and needs. Tapping into the wonders and beauty of nature requires our mindful attention. To have fun, in some ways, means being attentive to the activity itself, unaware of how your skills compare, or the final score of the game.
I think she is right, also, that the slower pace of camp, along with it being “screen-free,” are important conditions that make us more mindful at camp. Instead of charging full speed ahead, striving to “get ahead,” in the outside world, camp provides free time to “notice and appreciate” more of what’s right next to us. Moving too fast always means skimming over things, as being hectic is the enemy of being mindful. Life at camp is a welcome relief from all that. With less urgency in the mix, camp provides this kind of special permission to notice.
And yes, having instant, easy access to a smartphone is obviously a distraction. The lure of passive entertainment and the thrill of social media trends dull our sensitivity to the nuances around us. That’s surely a recipe for diminished relationships of all kinds. When campers can’t default to their devices whenever things slow down, or become “awkward” for some reason, they are more inclined to pay attention to, and engage with, what’s around them. Ditching their smartphones makes their lives more rich.
Could this be the reason everything seems better at camp— the friendships deeper, the food more delicious, our sense of self more confident, our feelings of gratitude and love more genuine and widespread? Maybe so. Maybe taking a break from the frantic pace of ordinarily life, with all its demands and distractions, is what makes camp life feel so good. Camp is a haven from all that, a safe place to pay attention, enrich your experience, and make connections that might not otherwise form. I think that’s what this needle crafting young person meant. Girls love Rockbrook for all sorts of reasons, but I think its ability to inspire mindfulness is an important part of that positive feeling.
Isn’t that amazing?! Thank goodness for camp! It’s giving your girls firsthand experience of this approach to life. It’s showing them that paying attention is both important and rewarding. It’s demonstrating how to enrich their relationships with just about everything, people and activities alike. Camp is allowing them live these insights and perhaps later at home, to be a little more mindful.