Children Learning at Camp

summer camping children

Cory Doctorow wrote a nice post reminding us of the classic book about children and learning by John Holt, “How Children Learn” (originally published in 1967).  The book, which has been revised and reprinted, can still be found on many education course reading lists because it makes a very important point teachers and parents easily and often forget.  His basic claim is that children are natural learners, and that instead of always forcing them to adhere to a generalized curriculum, they should be encouraged to follow their curiosity, engage what they are passionate about, expand their perception and awareness, and experiment with the world around them.  For adults, this means being less of a tyrant (“You have to…”) and more of a partner along for the adventure of growing up.  Holt has observed this kind of adult coercion in the realm of learning to be often more counterproductive than not.  Of course, parents and teachers need to provide some guidance at times and encourage or facilitate certain educational activities (or social behaviors!), but any habit of rigidly adhering to particular learning styles, contexts, or subjects may shape children to the detriment of their strengths and talents.

What does this have to do with camp?  If most of the year is comprised of adults telling children what to do, what to study, what to learn —and you have to agree it is— then having a break from that in the summer is incredibly important and valuable.  After all, that’s what camp provides.  Campers arrive at camp and decide for themselves (without mom, dad, or teacher) which activities to take and how they will spend their time at camp.  With some guidance from the counselors, they make their own experience, explore their own interests, build their own understandings.  The great feelings that come with this freedom is certainly one reason girls love their camp experience.

Camp is so meaningful for them because they are active participants in making it meaningful.

Tie Dyes are Always in Fashion!

Camps Craft Tie Dye

One craft at summer camps like Rockbrook that’s always popular is making a tie dye t-shirt. It’s certainly a classic thing to do, and while you might think of swirls and colors on shirts from the 1970s, tying and dyeing cloth is common all over the world. For example, there is adire tie dyeing in Nigeria (Africa), shibori dyeing in Japan, and mudmee dyeing in Thailand, just to name a few.

In the Rockbrook craft activity called “Hodge Podge,” the girls use rubber bands to tie up the cloth. Folding, twisting, bunching, pinching, and wrinkling the material you make all sorts of different patterns. Then with the rubber bands, you keep everything tight. The tighter the fold, the more resistant to the dye that part will be. That’s part of the creativity involved— deciding what to make tight (resisting the dye) and what to leave loose (taking on the color of the dye). Plus, there’s the fun of picking what colors to use, and in what areas. With so much variation, it’s neat to see how each shirt turns out different.

Childrens Summer Camp Needlecraft

Children Needlecraft at Summer Camp

Another super popular summer camp activity for children at Rockbrook is something we call “Needlecraft.” It’s a craft activity where we make all kinds of things out of yarn, string, and thread, and as you might expect, use “needles” to weave, tie, twist and knit the strands into interesting patterns and shapes. Sometimes we do cross stitch (like in this photo), sometimes knitting, sometimes crocheting, or needlepoint, or other kinds of embroidery. It’s fun to learn these “old timey” crafts, and you can make some amazing things… hats, scarves, bookmarks, monograms, blankets, even socks! Plus, it’s the kind of thing that you can keep doing when you get home if you like.

Sitting on the back porch of Curosty, under the trees, listening to the creek and the birds, wiht lots of friends… it’s the perfect place to enjoy needlecraft.

Kindergarten Camp

Kindergarten Children’s Camp Lodge

Rockbrook is a camp for kindergarten children too. How old are the youngest children that attend Rockbrook? That question does come up now and then, and at times the answer is surprising. If a girl has completed kindergraten, she can come to camp, assuming of course both she and her parents are ready for camp. An outgoing and social personality, an excitement for trying new activities, a growing sense of independence and self-conifidence are all helpful qualities. And with encouragment from their parents, there are always a few kindergarteners in our camp sessions. This is why the youngest campers, who we call “juniors,” can be six or even five years old. Rockbrook has a long tradition of camp activities and programs specially suited for children this young.

The stone building in the photo is the Junior Lodge, our assembly building for special Junior Line programs.

Childrens Outdoor Experience

Another article has come our way (thanks Bird!) about the value of outdoor experience for kids. It’s “Time Outdoors Gives Kids a Big Boost” by Tom Stienstra of the San Francisco Chronicle. The article is about an initiative in California to recognize a “Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights,” a document declaring that every child should have certain opportunities connected to the outdoor world. It lists ten things every child should do:

  • 1. Discover California’s past.
  • 2. Splash in water.
  • 3. Play in a safe place.
  • 4. Camp under the stars.
  • 5. Explore nature.
  • 6. Learn to swim.
  • 7. Play on a team.
  • 8. Follow a trail.
  • 9. Catch a fish.
  • 10. Celebrate his or her heritage.

And quotes Gov. Schwarzenegger.

“Parents could start by applying the lessons to themselves and sharing the outdoor experiences with their children… I believe that learning outdoor skills should be a required class.”

The connections here to summer camp, of course, are strong. After all, it’s what camp does every day— we splash, play, climb, camp out, explore and discover, celebrate and learn… all in the context of being outside. It would be great to see some of this implemented in schools, but at the very least, we know that camp is a great start.

Childrens Outdoor Camp and Games

What Summer Camps are About

Summer Camp Baskets

Here’s another interesting bit of reading about summer camps, this time from Harper’s Magazine (September 2007 issue). Rich Cohen, in “The Summer of Our Discontent: An Ode to Sleepaway Camp,” writes about his childhood experience at a camp in Wisconsin, and brings to the article a good deal of research about summer camping for kids in general. There’s lots of good stuff to be found (subscribers can read more here), but I wanted to simply pass along a summary quote.

“Life at camp was changing— the nature of the kids and counselors, the very sense of what camp should be about. In the 1800s, it was about religion; in the early 1900s, it was about preserving a spark of frontier spirit; in the mid-1900s, it was about the barracks and preparing a generation for the coming war; now it’s about preparing kids for school and work, speeding them through the meritocracy.”

Yes, “being prepared” is still a big part of camp, but at Rockbrook we want kids to be kids. So camp is a place where girls can try new things, play, and play some more, create things, explore the outdoor world, gain confidence (social, physical, etc.), and have some crazy fun. Of course, personal growth and “preparation” for being a happy, well-adjusted individual happens within this context, and under the supervision of many positive role models.

I guess we could say attending Rockbrook isn’t primarily about learning how to be a better student or employee at school or work (though that might happen in the end), but it’s about having a more rounded and complete childhood experience that serves you well later in life.

Childrens Camp Games

Summer Sports Camp

Basketball! Dodgeball! Kickball! Four Square! Volleyball! And more versions of tag than you can count! There always seems to be some kind of gym sports camp game going on— counselors and campers running around and having fun in the Rockbrook gym. One of the best things to do is to make up a game. Take something you already know, like dodgeball for example, and then change it up somehow, like by having 3 or 4 teams instead of 2, or playing with a really huge ball, or having a “come back to life” ball. Gosh, the options are almost endless!