People and Play

It’s not hard to imagine that we’re having a great time at camp. If you’ve been tabbing through the daily photo gallery, and if you watched the recent video, it’s clear. The girls— and I’d add also the staff —are having fun in so many ways. You can tell by the smiles, the laughter, and the excited cheers that erupt throughout the day. You can get a sense of it by seeing the sheer variety of things everyone is doing. In a single day, a camper can ride a horse, shoot an arrow, climb a tower, weave, swim, hike, sing, and many other specific activities. But the campers will also tell you that it’s fun to just be at camp. They value the periods of self-directed free time too, just like the activity time. Mealtime is fun, free swim is fun, and even getting ready for bed and waking up in the morning is fun in way.

How can this be? What’s different about camp that makes even ordinary times fun? I have two thoughts.

The first I mentioned earlier. A big reason life at camp is fun is because of the other people here, the other kids and the staff. You might say that without other friendly people at camp, what we do here wouldn’t measure up at all. We wouldn’t have people wanting to return year after year to shoot another arrow, or put on another costume, or sleep in a rustic cabin. Older campers will put it that way. They’ll tell you they come back to be with their friends. They come back for the people. And I think that’s because no matter what they’re doing, it’ll be great, if they have their camp friends to do it with.

summer camp yoga children laughing

To put that a little differently, it’s the relationships we have with each other that make a difference. The camp culture sets the tone for these by valuing kindness, caring, and respect. The Rockbrook community spirit is built on a philosophy of belonging, encouragement and cooperation —all pointing toward developing deeper more meaningful relationships. At camp, we’re not competing and we’re not judging or undermining anyone. Instead, we’re applauding each other for trying things. We’re supporting everyone around us. There’s a positivity to camp that helps everyone feel safe and valued. This encourages openness and a feeling of freedom to enjoy whatever we’re doing. It all comes from the genuine relationships we have with the kind people around us.

There’s another factor too, another characteristic of camp life that serves up so much fun. It’s Rockbrook’s emphasis on play. On the one hand, our daily schedule provides lots of free, unstructured time for the girls to play. Whether on the hill, or by the creek, or floating in the lake, the campers are playing— being social, being active and creative. They have the freedom for real-world play, for making things up, and open self-expression. Here too, having great friends to join makes it even more likely that kids will spontaneously play together if given the freedom (time, space and encouragement) to do so. It’s wonderful to see these Rockbrook girls relish the opportunities to play at camp.

summer camp girls playing tetherball

Rockbrook also promotes play at camp by injecting a little silliness into most things. We know that wearing a goofy hat to dinner makes it more fun. We know that the zanier the dance move, the more fun it will be. When we’re making things, the more imaginative it is the better. We foster exploration and experimentation, excited no matter what the outcome. We’re silly with the rules of the game— tennis with your non-dominant hand, climbing the tower blindfolded, gagaball with more than one ball —all for just the playful fun spirit of it. And when you’re not keeping score or competing (who cares who wins?), the play itself is intrinsically rewarding. This celebration of the silly helps us approach things playfully at Rockbrook.

I should add that the play we enjoy at camp, and the fun we experience while playing, is not just frivolous. There’s mounting evidence that the sort of play that camp provides is a fundamental aspect of childhood that contributes to social, emotional and even cognitive development. Removing the regular opportunity to play is largely detrimental for kids. There’s more to say about that later. For now, let’s appreciate the fun our kids have playing at camp. It’s a really great, and valuable thing.

summer camp dining hall group

1 Comment

Comment section

Leave your reply on “People and Play”

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Avatar for Carolyn van Arkel
    Carolyn van Arkel
    1 month ago

    Love seeing the smiling faces! Camp has always been something my kiddos look forward to all year long!