We Swim, Dress Up and Slide

It’s hard to say which flavor of muffin is most popular at camp. With Liz, our baker, creating so many new varieties from scratch— not to mention the traditional kinds— there are too many to choose from. There’s blueberry, but also key lime muffins, cranberry walnut, but also chocolate chip, and sprinkles, and white chocolate almond! Liz arrives at 6:30am each morning and gets to work right away to have the muffins baked and cooled by the mid-morning muffin break. Since there are more than 300 people (campers and staff members), that’s a lot of muffin trays, papers and individual dollops of batter to prepare! The muffins are always so good the girls literally run to the dining hall when they hear the bell announcing “Muffin Break.” For everyone at camp, Liz is a hero!

In fact, the entire kitchen crew are heroes at camp. Rick and his crew are really working hard to create great balanced meals for us, and this isn’t “camp food,” pre-processed, frozen, nuggets of whatnot fried and served with ketchup. Nope. All the main dishes are homemade, from the pizza dough, to the pancakes, to the chicken and dumplings. Rick puts together every meal’s menu, so for dinner yesterday we had baked tilapia, wild rice and a spinach salad. Each tilapia fillet was spiced individually, and the salad included a homemade sesame salad dressing. It’s also amazing how Rick takes time to make special vegetarian options. So for example, he made vegetarian dumplings combining green tomatoes, goat cheese and a light sauce with the dumpling dough. It was a pleasantly surprising combination, and with a big green salad, made a great meal. Sorry to talk so much about the food at camp, but after being away for a couple of nights camping, it’s hard not to!

Junior camp girls play dress up game Middler camps go to sliding rock trip camps senior girls go on swimming trip

Wednesday we took cabin photos before lunch and during rest hour. Gathering everyone in each cabin, dressed in their camp uniforms, and taking their photograph is a long tradition at Rockbrook. Part of the fun is that each cabin gets to select where it would like the photo taken and how to arrange each person. There are so many different places at camp to pose— on one of the many huge rocks, down by the lake, standing in a creek, or on a porch or set of steps. It’s fun for campers to keep their copy of their cabin photo and to collect them over the years in a scrapbook or camp photo album.

For Wednesday afternoon’s cabin day activities, the three lines split up. A few junior cabins went on short hikes to Castle Rock and Rockbrook Falls, but one stayed to put on a dress up fashion show in the Junior Lodge. Silly, silly stuff. Meanwhile, several cabins of seniors took a quick trip into the Pisgah Forest to take a dip in a swimming hole. The water was pretty chilly (like all the creeks and streams in these mountains), so it took a while for most of the girls to get wet. After dinner, all of the mini session Middlers took a trip up to Sliding Rock. Many of the girls had never been to Sliding Rock before, so it was particularly fun to see them zip down the rock and funny to hear them scream when they plunged into the cold water below. There are lots of photos of this in the RBC gallery. Naturally, on the way home, we had to stop at Dolly’s for a cone, a yummy sweet treat of some kind. Being all things chocolate, the Rockbrook camp flavor is still one of the most popular. It was a little bit of a late night for these Middlers by the time we got back to camp settled down, but we all enjoyed ourselves in true RBC fashion.

More Benefits of Youth Camp

Camp Benefits GirlsI spotted an article discussing how parents can understand why residential summer camps are worth their cost. It’s true; sleepaway camps are usually expensive and can cost between $1000 and $2000 per week. And while it’s also true every summer activity (e.g., other educational opportunities, extracurricular activities, family vacations, trips, and entertainment) costs something significant, what are the unique benefits of an overnight camp experience that can justify its price?

First of all, the American Camp Association has a lot to say about the benefits for youth of attending summer camp. We have written about it before here and here (and especially here!), but you should visit the ACA Web site to see what they say.

One clear, obvious benefit to camp is the fun and concrete skills kids gain from the wide range of camp activities available.  By trying everything at camp, girls learn how to be an archer, a swimmer, a knitter, a tennis player, an actor, and a horseback rider, to name just a few.  They learn to do things, exciting new things that can easily turn into life-long pursuits.

Perhaps more importantly, a quality camp experience provides kids intangible benefits as well. Here’s how one camp director in the article put it.

“Besides all the exciting activities and friendships made, the immense value in camp comes in the development of key lifetime skills and attributes such as confidence, cooperation, communication, new skills and decision-making, to name a few. Camp goes beyond a summer session. It’s unique in that it really is about each camper developing their best self for life… In that regard it is priceless.”

More than other summer activities, a sleep away summer camp experience endows children with valuable life skills, provides positive adult role models, supports them with consistent encouragement, and all within the kind of well-rounded wholesome environment all too rarely found these days. These are lasting benefits that can really make a difference in a child’s life as she becomes an adult.  It’s pretty clear; with that kind of benefit, camp is definitely worth it.

Let’s Go for a Swim!

Swim Summer Camps GirlsNo matter what set of activities you sign up for at camp, there are two times each day when the lake is open for “free swim.” These are right before lunch and right before dinner. It’s up to you how you spend this free time, but it feels really great to jump in the lake for a swim after you’ve spent the day at other activities around camp. You might have been playing basketball in the gym, or climbing the alpine tower, or just walking back from horseback riding, but chances are you’ll be at least little hot and sweaty. It’s summer after all! So head down to the lake, and you can meet up with some of your cabin mates and find out how they’ve been spending their day. The Rockbrook swimming lake is fed by a mountain stream, so as anyone will tell you, it’s guaranteed to cool you off.

Let’s go for a summer swim!

The History of Summer Camps

1861 First Summer Camp

The American Camp Association, the national accrediting organization for summer camps (including RBC!) and camp professionals is celebrating its 100 year anniversary. It was back in 1910 that it was founded under the original name of the “Camp Directors Association of America.”

As part of their celebration, the ACA has published a nice collection of historical photos, documents and interviews. It traces the history of organized camping to a particular event in 1861. Here’s how the timeline starts:

The Gunnery Camp is considered the first organized American camp. Frederick W. Gunn and his wife Abigail operated a home school for boys in Washington, Connecticut. In 1861, they took the whole school on a two-week trip. The class hiked to their destination and then set up camp. The students spent their time boating, fishing, and trapping. The trip was so successful, the Gunns continued the tradition for twelve years.

It’s nice to see summer camps so well represented, and interesting to think that Rockbrook’s founding in 1921 came so soon after the ACA. By the way, if you want to learn more about the history of summer camps, there are some great resources out there.

A Case for Summer Camp

Kids Camp FriendsHead on over to the Chicago Tribune web site and read a fantastic article by Josh Noel entitled: Making a case for camp: This summer institution is old-fashioned — and as relevant as ever.

Describing a camp in Michigan, the article reminds us of why camp is so important to kids. As we’ve mentioned before, the benefits are so crucial given how most children these days find themselves at school and at home.

Anyone who has been to summer camp knows that the relationships are like few others. Friendships form quickly, intensely and with open minds. Even if camp friends don’t keep in touch long-term, what has been shared is long remembered.

Camp is an open and friendly place. It’s where you can put aside your reputation from school, avoid a lot of the drama, and just relax into who you really are. That’s a big part of why you make your best friends at camp; you’re not trying to impress or be someone else. It’s just you, and you soon see, that’s just fine.

Once you experience it, you understand it, and you too will be coming back to camp for the friendships it provides.

They Need Summer Camp

If you could reform the common education of teenagers, change something about how teenagers today learn, or what they learn, what would you do? Looking around, what do you think teenagers need to understand? How do they need to change if they are to become happy, well-grounded, satisfied adults? Is there a skill, a personal value, some rule of thumb that you wish all teenagers today would adopt? Is there one crucial thing that today’s teens are missing, and as a result has placed them on a path toward trouble later in life?

You get the picture; the assumption here is that our young people are already having trouble, and aren’t measuring up to the ideal outcomes our education system, culture, and families define. It might be declining test scores, weak academic competencies (compared with children in other countries), unhealthy eating and exercise habits, poor social skills (e.g., difficulty making friends, disrespecting others), decreased creativity, or a general failure to overcome unexpected challenges. Any of these, or several, might be identified as the core problem facing our teenagers these days.

Summer Camp TeenagersSo what can we do to help? If your teen is slipping in any of these ways, how can you improve the situation, make a difference in some way? One proposal suggested, and increasingly so it seems, is to lengthen the school year. It’s claimed that organized classroom education provides the best chance to “reach” the youth and “make a difference in their lives.” As we’ve mentioned before, this is a weak, incomplete solution at best, one that fails to understand the complexities of youth development and the many dimensions it demands. It might be easy to understand and simple to measure, but extending the school calendar is not going to help our teenagers navigate their lives better. If your teen can’t make choices for herself, extra math homework isn’t going to help.

Again, what is there to do? How can we complement our current education system, augment what we already do in the classroom with learning that addresses the complete human being? What experiential gaps should we fill, opportunities should we create, models should we provide? What setting would best support these ordinarily neglected aspects of growing up?

One answer, we, and so many other youth development professionals, advocate is the benefits provided by summer camps. Camps are organized settings that encourage young people to reach beyond what they know, interact with others positively, take responsibility for their own decisions, physically engage the natural world, build self-esteem, and experience meaningful success. Summer camps are incredibly effective educational institutions, that camp parents will tell you, make a huge difference in the health and well-being of their children. Summer camps are just very good at helping children grow in these very important ways.

Yes, we should extend the education of our teenagers and children, not by lengthening the school year, but by providing greater experiential opportunities like those found at summer camps. Send your teenager to camp. That’s what you can do.

climbing teenagers

How to do a Handstand?

Camps GymnasticsCan you do a handstand? Maybe not yet, but like all gymnastics skills, with a little practice, you’ll improve and be able to do it. Camps are the perfect place to try it, learn a few tips, and practice.

Here are a few tips to help you learn how to do a perfect gymnastics handstand.

  • First find a wall and use it to balance against. Stand back from the wall, plant your hands about a foot away, kick up, and lock your elbows.
  • Your arms should cover your ears. Your legs should be straight and together, and your toes pointed towards the ceiling.
  • Keep your stomach tight, and your back straight, not arched.
  • Look down at your hands, but don’t stick your head out too far.

When you feel your balance improving, you can try your handstand without using the wall. Here is where it’s good to have a spotter help you balance by holding your legs once you kick up.

Doing a handstand is one of those great camp gymnastics skills that’s fun to learn, exciting to practice, and super cool once you can do it.

Being a Camp Leader

Leadership for Summer Camp Kids

One important mark of leadership for the staff at Rockbrook is their ability to model personal character for the girls at camp. We strive to hire cabin counselors and activity staff members who exemplify good character and thereby can serve as role models for the campers. It means a lot to children to see others they admire make good decisions. It’s just a crucial part of building character— having positive relationships with others who embody exemplary habits and attitudes. When we talk about “leadership” at camp, this is what we mean: being that sort of exemplary person.

But what is exemplary character, how do you recognize it, and how do you encourage its development? We’ve found the approach taken by the Josephson Institute to be extremely articulate and practical. It’s “Six Pillars of Character” is a well thought out resource. Essentially, the “pillars” are fundamental principles and values that serve as a core for ethical decision making. They are: Trustworthiness, Respect, Responsibility, Fairness, Caring and Citizenship.  Without appealing to religion, politics or ideology, we strive to realize these six values in our camp community.

There’s a lot of good stuff in all of this, so go learn more.