Being Camp

joy of summer living campRockbrook’s program philosophy has long revolved around several core concepts, each of which is intended to help girls grow more independent, confident, and capable while at camp. These include providing a caring community of people offering genuine encouragement, exciting challenges, and new experiences, but also opportunities for creativity and cooperation rather than competition. As you walk around camp and see the girls in action, it’s easy to notice them create— new arts, new skills, new relationships— and not compete. Certainly the campers don’t think of their camp experience in these terms, but I think emphasizing creativity over competition, encouragement over critique, helps everyone at camp enjoy themselves more and feel good each day.

camper departs summer camp wavingToday was the day we had to say goodbye to our friends in the first July Mini session. Sadly, their session has ended even as the main session girls have two more weeks to go. All of us will miss those girls. Even in just two short weeks, we’ve done so much together, made so many memories, it’s hard to say farewell. The good news is that most will be back next summer, and will have another chance to see each other, enjoy camp, and recharge at Rockbrook. For the entire staff, it’s always a pleasure to be with the girls at RBC. The sessions are action-packed and full of excitement, but more important to us is getting to know the campers and being with them as they grow closer to each other and begin to feel a part of Rockbrook. It’s really their camp, and they know it in such a short time!

Camp Drama class driving improvisationWhen you see the smiles, and can almost hear the laughter in the daily photos, it’s not just because the girls are being entertained at camp. They’re not just happy they’ve been rock climbing or thrown a pot on the wheel (though they are that too), or merely interested in a novelty or trend. Their happiness is deeper than that and stems from the positive feelings arising from the people around them and the freedom camp provides to explore who they are. Camp is a true haven, a special place where girls can be themselves and be happy about that. Being surrounded by friends, it’s easy to smile!

Camp Life and Soulcraft

Making ceramics by hand at summer campI just finished reading Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew B. Crawford, and it struck me that he would probably be a big fan of camp. The book is an argument for working with your hands, for engaging the material world as opposed to the more abstract constructions of modern life (think TV, all forms of digital entertainment, even the work of most “white collar” jobs). The ordinary lives of most Americans, including our kids, are too often divorced from the joys of working with real things and with real people, and as a result our relationships suffer and we find ourselves dissatisfied. Crawford suggests working with our hands, enhancing our “manual competence,” can serve as an effective antidote to this modern affliction.

You’ve probably heard of “Nature Deficit Disorder,” a concept fashioned by Richard Louv describing the negative consequences of children spending too little time in the outdoors. Here we have a similar notion linking negative effects to living a life abstracted from the sensuous, physical nature of the real world. And just as it’s a response to Nature Deficit Disorder, summer camp provides children a wide range of opportunities to work with their hands, to make things and explore the real world (including the people around them!). Every day of life at camp challenges kids to do things with their hands, to actively engage the material world, whether it be building a clay mug, learning a flip off the diving board, or dressing up like an old lady to play bingo with your friends and laughing your head off.

Crawford doesn’t talk much in his book about children, and not at all about summer camp, but if you know anything about camp life, you can easily see how it also serves children well in their development of “manual competence.” Kids love camp, and they’ll tell you that it’s because it’s simply “a lot of fun,” but maybe a large part of that can also be traced to their need to connect to the physical world. After all, camp is exactly that.

In Praise of Neoteny

Today the word of the day is neoteny. It’s really a term from evolutionary biology, but it describes the retention of childlike attributes in adults. You might think of a grown up who has a “baby face,” or is generally “cute.” When you are talking about these kinds of physical features, we tend to think it’s a good thing to have “young looking skin” or the “energy of youth,” for example. Neotenic people are usually attractive. Being neotenous is mostly a good thing.

Camp Fun for KidsBut what about personality traits, attitudes or approaches to the world? What about these ways of being childlike? Think about what life is like as a child. The world is magical, full of curiosities, almost always kind and wondrous. As kids, we spend so much time being creative and playing. We feel so many more things— joy, excitement, anticipation, and the broad sensuous world around us. All of this probably makes it so easy to make friends (“Come on! Let’s play!).

You’ve also noticed what usually happens when we grow up. We get serious, we latch on to patterns of behavior, we get scared, we feel the need to protect what we believe, we accept responsibilities and feel pressure to perform and “be” someone in particular. As adults, we spend almost all of our time, mostly alone, working to stay organized and fighting opposing forces. We’re all too consumed by those adult things we’ve grown to accept as important, and it ain’t easy.

It’s no surprise to see that being an adult trumps those childlike traits. Sadly, to grow up often means losing touch of what we used to be, those aspects of being human we loved as kids. As adults, we have a harder time feeling what makes the world wonderful, a harder time making friends, and a much harder time playing and having fun. Of course there are exceptions to this, but that’s the point. They are exceptions, and that’s too bad.

Let’s remember the value of being childlike even as adults. Let’s be joyful as we’re responsible. Let’s be creative when encountering opposing beliefs. Let’s be friendly and playful, cooperative and excited about learning new things. Let’s strive to foster our innate neotenous instincts. Certainly, all good things.

Bringing this back to camp… Summer camp is a place where kids can really be kids. It’s a special time when they are encouraged to play, make friends, be creative and explore the world around them. Separate from the forces of home and school (which are fundamentally about forming “adults”), camp provides a wonderful opportunity to strengthen our “kid selves.” Camp is joyful break from all that training, and that’s a big part of why it’s so fun.

Maybe we could say, camp helps you learn how to be a really great kid so that later in life you’ll be a really great (happy, content, remarkable) adult. Camp’s power to strengthen these “kid traits,” I suspect, will be a big part of that success.

Girls of all ages

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.

Have you ever tried acting?

Summer Girls ActingOK. So you’ve always thought it would be fun to act… perform a short scene, maybe create a character or personality, develop a story line. You’re a secret performer at heart. Sure, but the problem is, when do you do it? Who’s going to be watching? What will people think if suddenly you turn into a sweet old lady, or a glamorous Hollywood starlet, or a cranky bus driver?

That’s another fun thing about camp; there’s plenty of chances for acting. In addition to the Drama activity that meets most every day, you can join the group of girls producing the end-of-session musical (Did I mention singing too?). Also, some of the evening program activities provide opportunities to perform for your friends.

A great example of this is “Fractured Fairy Tales,” a fun game where each cabin of girls presents a skit combining more than one classic fairy tale. Can you imagine Little Red Riding Hood and the Three Little Pigs in the same story? Needless to say, it can be pretty funny. Each cabin takes a turn performing its skit. With so many characters, everyone plays a part. It’s also fun to watch the other skits when its not your cabin’s turn.

Once you try acting at camp, it could become one of your favorite things to do!

Play Outside this Summer!

One of the tag lines we often use to evoke Rockbrook is “Play outside this summer.” You can see it all over our website, on a lot of our printed materials, and even on a t-shirt or two. We really like how it’s a great summary of what camp involves— spending a lot of time outside and a lot of time playing.

Girl Friends OutdoorsIt’s particularly neat to realize that by fostering both outdoor experience and group play, camp makes both of these better. Compared to being inside, it’s just more fun to play outside, and being outside encourages imagination and physical activity, two powerful stimulants to play. Outside you get to run around, be free of all those indoor limitations (having to avoid noise, messiness, walls), and become whoever the game requires. Outdoor play is also usually a group activity. It certainly is at camp. You and your friends make it happen. You build important relationships when playing together. These are real human connections that tend to run much deeper than those found in-doors or in school. Perhaps this begins to explain why girls say their camp friends are their absolute best friends; they are friends formed while playing outside. The things that make outdoor play better are the forces that make camp friends so strong.

What do you think?

Camp is a Refuge

Cute Little Camp Girls

We hear this a lot, actually: that camp is a refuge.  It’s a place where girls can escape the busy, sometimes overwhelming pace of their regular lives.  For many young kids, each day is a bombardment of stimuli, new information and entertainment.  There are school responsibilities, social demands, and activities at home all demanding attention.  Increasingly, parents have noticed that the intensity of their children’s lives is making them more anxious, fearful, and worried.  There’s so much going on, it’s difficult for kids to really connect with the people (family and friends) around them, adding even more to the burden of handling everything on their own.  Everything around them seems to be shouting, and sometimes it’s just too much!

Thank goodness for camp.  It really can be a refuge, a huge relief from all of this.  Simply being outside, unplugged from rapid-fire electronic stimulation, is a powerful antidote.  Having daily opportunities to engage creative talents, physical challenges, and deep social/personal relationships is so welcome, kids just blossom in a camp setting.  It’s the greatest gift to simply have time to relax, to play in the creek, dress a little silly, or chat with a friend in the porch rocking chairs. The environment of a kids camp is a powerful healthy response to the extreme busyness of ordinary life. It always has been, and these days, it seems like it’s needed more than ever.

Bend It Back

Helping the Girl at CampThere are people in my life who I admire, who I emulate, because they, without hope for award or acknowledgment, joyfully and selflessly give all that they can in service to others. Many of these people are campers and counselors at Rockbrook Camp.

Rockbrook campers are often recognized for their good deeds by being awarded colorful, way-cool Bend-It-Back bracelets. And I mean that. They truly are way-cool. A mark of pride and contribution to the community.

I watch my co-workers exemplify selfless generosity every day as they put campers first, and I watch campers recognize this generosity and give forth to others on their own as well. From volunteering to do the dishes to making a card for a friend who doesn’t feel well, RBC folks are about helping out.

To give selflessly – to put others before oneself – is a daunting task. But once the joy that is the product of such giving is recognized, it becomes the lifeblood of one’s daily action; it is the lifeblood of this place. This is a joyous place that depends upon gracious giving and gratitude. May the bracelets be a reminder of this joy and the camp that thrives in it.