Meaning, Emotion and Beauty

It’s been a long standing practice here at Rockbrook to ask parents for feedback after their daughters attend a session of camp. It helps us understand what went well, areas where we can improve, and aspects of camp they particularly appreciate and value. We’ve learned a lot over the years and made improvements based on this feedback.

Camp dancersA recent parent comment caught my eye because it was a little unusual. One mother said she believes Rockbrook’s size, it’s intimate feeling, was important to her child’s success at camp. When this mom was “camp shopping,” she explained she wanted the best small girls’ camp, a camp where her daughter would feel cared for, not just be taken care of “like by a babysitter.”  It’s true we have intentionally kept Rockbrook the same size for years, even when we could be adding cabins and accepting more girls. We know there is something special about joining a small community like this where you know most of the people you see, and have regular opportunities to deepen your relationships with them.  Too small would limit what we do and who we can meet, but too big would be worse, likewise limiting the quality of our relationships and reducing camp to mere supervision and entertainment (again like what a babysitter provides).

This mom put her finger on one of the things we value most at Rockbrook— getting to know each other and caring for everyone through kindness and generosity. She attributed it to our size, and while that’s important, we also strive to hire and train our staff accordingly, and to set that overall tone throughout each session of camp. Like an essential current flowing through the camp community, the deep relationships, the quality of the friendships, we have with everyone makes camp life meaningful, emotional, and beautiful. We’re so pleased it’s a powerful component of every Rockbrook experience.

Print Making kidsThis afternoon, a van of girls had the chance to visit the working studio of Ann Dergara for a print making workshop. Ann is a professional sculptor, painter and print maker who lives here in Brevard, and today she was teaching the girls about “monoprints.” Using a clean plate of plexiglass, she demonstrated how to apply different layers of colorful ink, add subtle textures and then imprint the design to a sheet of paper using a large rolling press. After the demonstration, the girls eagerly jumped into making their own monoprint.  Since only one print can be made from each inked plate, the results are unique pieces of art. When each piece emerged from the press, the girls clapped and cheered to see their work come alive. We saw proud artists today!

Here’s one last thing I’d like to share. It’s a large poster of paper we saved from one of our weekly staff meetings. Ordinarily held on Sunday evenings, these meetings gather all the cabin counselors for discussions of how things are going, further training, and an opportunity to enjoy time together. You can see (click the image for a larger version), this sheet asked the counselors why they love their campers. Here are some of the responses:

Counselors Love Campers

  • They are silly, enthusiastic and super sweet.
  • They LOVE camp.
  • They’re nice to each other.
  • They are inclusive.
  • They have such amazing passion and inspire me everyday.
  • They are confident.
  • They are always looking out for each other.
  • They get along so well and are the coolest gals around.
  • They are learning.
  • They are so funny, kind, and thankful.
  • They make me laugh.
  • They are proactive sorting out their interpersonal problems.
  • They challenge me and help me grow.
  • They aren’t afraid to be goofy.

It’s so great hearing how much the counselors admire their campers, how the girls here give the staff’s experience more meaning, emotion and beauty. It’s amazing how proud the counselors are of the campers, how impressed they are by them, and how thankful they are to be their friends at camp. For the staff too, one of the richest rewards of camp is the quality of the relationships formed here.  So clear and so cool!

beautiful camp girl wearing Rockbrook bucket hat

Embracing the Weird

A parent asked me recently what it is about Rockbrook that makes it so special–what it is that has their daughter coming home year after year happier, more confident, and more comfortable with herself and her quirks.

So Excited!I rambled a bit in response, and gave some rote answer about the strength of our community, and our encouraging of independence, and the surprising bits of spontaneity in our schedule that keep the campers on their toes.

The parent nodded along as though satisfied with my answer, but as I thought about the conversation more and more over the next few days, I became more and more dissatisfied with it. It’s not that all those things I mentioned aren’t true–they are, and they are wonderful facets of camp life. But they are not the heart of what makes Rockbrook special. I’ve been thinking for days now, trying to distill all of the magic and wonder of camp down into one phrase that sums it all up. One phrase that explains why everything about camp means so much to so many people.

I don’t know if such a phrase even exists, but I think I’ve come up with a contender: here at Rockbrook, we embrace the weird.

GotchaIt isn’t so much that we make people weirder exactly; it’s that we provide a place where kids can let their inner-weirdness shine. They spend so much time at school, struggling to be thought of as normal, and learning from their peers that their differences and quirks aren’t something to be celebrated, but rather something to be suppressed. Often it seems that, despite the efforts of all the people who see and love their beautiful eccentricities, children (and especially teenagers) teach themselves to imitate “normalcy.” The logic seems to be that if they look and act like everyone else, their uniformity might earn them acceptance.

The beauty of camp, I think, is that we not only appreciate each other’s differences, we downright celebrate them. The girls that earn the biggest cheers in the Dining Hall aren’t the ones with their hair done up in the latest style, and their makeup done just right: they’re the girls wearing giant banana costumes for no particular reason, and singing a rousing rendition of “Banana Phone” into the microphone during announcements. The girls who begin the fashion trends at camp aren’t the ones sporting RayBans or the coolest swimsuits–they’re the ones that discover that tie-dyed knee socks and duct-tape headbands are without a doubt the most fabulous things since sliced bread.

Makeshift MaskMost importantly, the ringleaders in the cabin are not the girls who think they have to be catty to impress people–it’s the class clowns, the includers, and the girls who can make even the most boring day fun and interesting who steal the show.

If a girl doesn’t want to be weird, though–if she doesn’t feel comfortable being the only person in the room wearing a chocolate-chip cookie costume–that’s just fine. No one will think she’s boring or, well, weird for not being weird. She can be the person whom she feels most comfortable being, while still learning to love the weirdness of others. Learning to appreciate the eccentricities of others is just as important as learning to express your own, and that’s a skill that is honed here every day.

I don’t know if this phrase is the winner. Maybe it isn’t our love of weirdness that makes Rockbrook what it is–I’m sure the truth of the matter is something much more indefinable. But I know that it’s the quality that has meant the most to me in my time here. It was here that I first learned that it was okay to be a tomboy, okay to have a laugh that is louder than everybody else’s, and okay to spend most of my free time daydreaming about getting my letter to Hogwarts.

No, camp taught me that these qualities were more than just “okay.” They were the parts of myself that I should be proudest of.

What's That?

 

Parent, Raleigh, NC

“I have tears in my eyes about how lucky my daughter has been to get to go to this amazing camp. I grew up going to summer camp and also have been a summer camp counselor in Maine. This is an amazing experience and it has shaped her into a wonderful girl. She will always remember these years!”

More Reasons Kids Need Camp

Excited Camp Kid

Around here at Rockbrook, we’re big fans of discussing why summer camp is so great for kids. There’s no doubt that spending time at camp is super fun and kids love it, but it’s also important for their personal, physical and social development. In so many ways, camp is something our modern kids need more than ever because it provides relief from unhealthy habits. It serves, as we’ve said before, as a “haven” for children.

Over on the Web site What’s Up for Kids, Kathy Alessandra just posted an article entitled, “Five Reasons Your Child Needs Camp.” Reporting information from the American Camp Association and several well-respected studies, the article is a nice reminder of some very significant ways kids benefit from camp.

Here are the 5 reasons listed.

  1. Campers gain positive life skills like “making friends” and “trying new things.”
  2. Campers stay in motion, enjoying physical exercise.
  3. Campers have experiences that help them back at school.
  4. Campers reconnect with nature.
  5. Campers engage in creative free play.

Of course, there’s a lot to each of these, but perhaps most importantly, this article is another reminder of how rare and valuable a summer camp experience is for our kids. Definitely a great thing!

Researching the Benefits of Camp

Sending kids to camp allows children to grow and learn good citizenship, social integration, personal development and social development, exploring his or her capabilities and being in a safe environment where they can grow, gain independence and take risks.”—Troy Glover, the director of the University of Waterloo’s Healthy Communities Research Network

Summer Camp Lodge Porch Girls
It’s pretty easy for those who have attended camp to speak enthusiastically about how much it’s meant to them. Campers themselves are full of glowing stories about their summer camp experiences, but even adult camp alumni, many years later, can trace aspects of their personal success back to their time at camp.

For others, though, how camp provides these important benefits, and what types of benefits to expect from a summer camp experience, are not apparent. It was this fact —the general public’s unawareness of what makes camp great for children— that prompted a team of Canadian researchers to study and evaluate the impact of a camp experience.

Working with camp directors, staff, campers and camp alumni, the researchers conducted surveys and compiled observations focused on what a summer camp provides and how that affects children over their time at camp.

Camp helps children learn to take appropriate risks
Confident Risk Taking

The research aimed to demonstrate and understand the initial, intermediate, and long-term value of the summer camp experience, and found several significant outcomes. Most importantly, the study was able to pinpoint what “children first learn at camp, what they do with that learned material and what impact it then has on who they become.” The researchers were able to identify 5 main areas of this growth.

  1. Social Capital
  2. Risk Taking
  3. Environmental Attitudes
  4. Physical Activity
  5. Cultural Capital

There is, of course, quite a bit to explain about each of these areas, so I encourage you to read more about the study’s findings on their site.

This is exciting stuff! We’ve often discussed the benefits of camp for children, so it’s nice to see this kind of organized, methodical verification. Now spread the word! Let’s help others understand how uniquely “camp is a place for kids to grow.”

Teens Seeking Sensations

Girls Camp for Teens Thrive on Sensation

If you spend time around teenagers, it’s easy to see them exhibit “sensation seeking” behaviors. They thrive on new experiences and stimuli of all kinds, and tend to take surprising risks. In fact it’s widely accepted within psychology that this personality trait is a dominant force in the lives of teen girls and boys. This sensation seeking is thought to be an evolutionary skill, something that helps teens learn new things, become more independent from their parents and to increase their social competence. Overall, it’s a good thing.

On the other hand, chasing novelty like this, even if they’re unaware of it, can sometimes get teenagers into trouble. As a young teen girl or boy is bombarded by urges to experience new things and to be included in their peer group, they may lack the cognitive development to temper risky behaviors, or blindly hold the perceived benefits of that behavior supremely important over everything else. For example, a girl may experiment with drugs at the urging of her friends, effectively ignoring the personal, legal and health consequences of that decision, because she values the approval of her peer group more. Put differently, it’s thought that risky teenage behavior can be understood as “sensation seeking” run amok.

It’s a dilemma; we want our teenagers to experience new things and meet new people, and thereby to learn and grow from that novelty, but we also want them to choose less risky behaviors and seek out positive experiences and peer influences. How to land on the right side of that equation?

Summer camp is well suited to provide this kind of positive sensation seeking for teens. Everyday at sleepaway camp, girls can enjoy new experiences, whether they be climbing a rock, the excitement of shooting a gun, or just making friends with new and different people.

Camp is a pool of positive peer pressure. Chock full of excellent role models, it promises to help teens channel their urge for novelty and their desire to connect with friends. Camp is also a place where teens can take acceptable risks, challenging themselves in exciting new ways, even as parents can be assured their children are kept safe, encouraged and supported. It’s just an ideal environment for teens seeking sensations. It’s no wonder they love it so much!

Parent, Alexandria, VA

“You folks do this beautifully. We’ve tried two other camps, and THIS was what we’d been looking for the whole time. The people + the tradition + the philosophy = spectacular experience.”

Parent, Black Mountain, NC

RBC has got to be the most fun and rewarding summer experience a girl could have! Thanks to all the staff for their energy and talents, and willingness to work so hard to make Rockbrook such a wonderful place. We could write a book describing the positive aspects of RBC!