Robbie Francis from Go Swan Filmworks returned to camp for another day filming this week, and with more of his brilliant editing, produced this fun 2-minute video for us.
Take a look and you’ll see what I mean— these girls love camp.
One twilight, late in July of 1999, I sat on the Rockbrook hill with my counselor, watching the sun sink down behind the mountains.
Well, she was watching the sun. I was too preoccupied with the stream of words pouring uninterrupted from my mouth to give much thought to the scenery.
I had been writing a new story for the past few weeks, and my counselor had made the classic mistake of asking me what it was about. Forty-five minutes later, she was still nodding along, as I explained the great tragedy of the main character’s mother not understanding that taking time to do her homework would distract her from her duties as a spy (what my stories lacked in originality, they more than made up for in melodrama). My counselor asked all the right questions, laughed and gasped in all the right places, and, in all, served as the perfect sounding board for my eight-year-old yarn-spinning. I was delighted.
Today, I remember very little else about the story in question (thank goodness), and even the once-familiar face of my counselor has faded into a half-remembered smile from an old cabin photo. But what I do remember with perfect clarity were the sensations I felt that evening on the hill.
The astonishment at being asked about my story out of the blue.
The shyness with which I began–sure that she only wanted to hear the barest details.
The glee with which I greeted her many follow-up questions.
And, more than anything, the growing realization that she was going to let me keep talking. There was no polite smile, and change of subject as the details of my story got more and more intricate. There was no attempt to steer the conversation to a topic more interesting to her. There was no indication at all that my counselor would rather be anywhere else than right there on the hill, listening to a play-by-play of my story.
My whole life to that point, I had been trained on how best to be a kid in the grown-ups’ world. How to listen to what the grown-ups tell me. How to eat the food the grown-ups put in front of me without complaint. How to entertain myself or play with other kids rather than pester the grown-ups with constant requests for games or entertainment. How to recognize when the grown-ups are discussing something important, and wait my turn. How to be patient, quiet, seen and not heard. How, in short, to be a polite, well-behaved child. And these lessons weren’t a bad thing–they prepared me for the day when I would have to become a well-mannered adult.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that some of these lessons sank in better than others. I was, and still am, rarely seen without also being heard. But I was also always aware of how far I was trespassing beyond the bounds of good manners for a child. Whenever I talked to a grown-up, I would be waiting for the moment when I’d be told that my time was up, so that the grown-up could turn back to whatever grown-up matters there were to occupy their time.
And yet, there I was on the hill, treading far past the dictates of good manners, as I spent ten minutes describing the main character’s relationship with her best friend (and mortal enemy), and my counselor made no move to stop me.
It was during that wonderful hour on the hill, several days into my first session at camp, that I first began to understand the central truth of camp: this is not the grown-up world. It is proudly, defiantly, magnificently not the grown-up world. I was not a guest in this new camp world, there to have Very Important Life Lessons served up for me by the nearest available adult. I was an active participant in this community, able to make my own choices, talk until I was blue in the face, make my own mistakes, and craft my own camp experiences. And every adult in sight was there to make sure I had the time of my life while doing it.
These days, I have the rarer opportunity of being a grown-up at camp. I get to be the guest in kid-world. Whenever I get lost in the logistics of camp–those lists of names, activities, and out-of-camp trips that pass through my hands every day–I can be snapped out of it at any moment by an invitation to a dance party in a lodge, or to the newly opened spa in Junior 3. I can be asked to braid one girl’s hair on the steps of the dining hall, and find myself braiding six others in quick succession afterwards, because why on Earth should I say no?
I get to watch as campers spend the first few days of camp coming into their own, and taking ownership of this new world. I get to see the looks of dawning possibility when they first choose their own schedule for the next three days. I get to see them try the food on the dinner table and, if they decide it isn’t for them, head off to the salad bar to find something more to their liking. I get to see them come alive in kid-world, and realize that, unless their safety or someone else’s is at risk, we won’t hold them back from pushing their limits and experiencing new things.
But my favorite moment to watch will always be those one-on-ones between camper and counselor. When I get to see the moment that the child realizes that her ideas, opinions, and interests are sincerely appreciated by an adult she respects–an adult who will listen without promoting their own ideas as being better informed or more interesting.
That’s the moment when they realize they’ve entered kid-world, and it’s going to be better than they even imagined.
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.
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!
Does it seem to you like we are living in an increasingly hectic world? Look around and you’ll see families, and more importantly kids, being pulled into a whirlwind of commitments and scheduled activities, all while having less time than ever for quieter, slower things. They’re holding a hectic pace rushing from school to sports practices, from homework to home chores, cutting short time with family, or just the freedom to pursue whatever comes to mind. With rushed meals, complex logistics for “getting things done” and that ragged feeling of not getting quite enough sleep, it’s no wonder kids can so easily be unhappy.
Could it be that by “doing everything we can” to help our kids succeed and achieve, we parents are unintentionally failing to do something else? By charging full speed ahead and taking advantage of every opportunity, what other important things are we missing?
It reminds me of a quote by Tomas Tranströmer (b. 1931), the Swedish poet who won the 2011 Nobel Prize in Literature. The author of more than 15 collections of poetry, Mr. Tranströmer has been described as “Sweden’s Robert Frost,” a poet who “gives us fresh access to reality… through his condensed, translucent images.” You definitely should look up his work. At any rate, he also wrote,
“You can see beauty if you look quickly to the side.”
Quite keenly, this is a prescription, a welcome reminder that beauty is all around us, that if we stop speeding ahead and take a quick glance to the side, something wonderful is right there waiting to be discovered. It might be as simple as a clump of grass squeezing itself between two bricks, or the decorative trim on an old man’s hat, but more importantly, it could be a person, or a new inspiring experience. It’s pretty clear that as our lives become more hectic, we are missing out on all kinds of subtleties and precious opportunities to expand what we already know. How unfortunate, especially for our kids!
Thankfully, there is summer, a time when kids can slow down and enjoy a meandering pace. And likewise, thank goodness for summer camp, that special place where kids meet wonderful people, and every day encounter fun activities and new experiences. Camp is just brimming with these kinds of positive opportunities to grow. It provides the right balance of structured instruction and free time to pursue casual interests “just for the fun of it.” At Rockbrook, the rewards of “looking quickly to the side” are frequent, rich and immediate.
While the rest of the world grows increasingly hectic, Rockbrook is an exception. And that’s a good thing.
Everyone experiences setbacks now and then, the occasional failed effort or unexpected misfortune. But what happens when you kids trip up or get knocked down? Do they stay down? Sink lower, and let that moment of failure defeat them? Or, do they bounce back, maybe learn from the experience, and gain a new dimension of confidence to face the next challenge? Put differently, how resilient are your kids?
Dr. Michael Ungar, a Social Worker, Family Therapist, and University Research Professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada has thought about this question a lot. He is a co-director of the Resilience Research Centre, an organization coordinating experts from around the world in sociology, psychiatry, education and medicine in a broad project to understand the cross-cultural similarities and differences in how resilience is understood, and to explore ways we can help children and young people be more resilient.
Several times before we’ve discussed how summer camp helps kids grow and how becoming more resilient is one of the clear benefits of camp. Now Dr. Ungar weighs in with a nice Psychology Today article entitled, “Summer Camps Make Kids Resilient.”
I encourage you to go read the article, but I wanted to summarize his main points here as well. Perhaps most importantly, Ungar identifies summer camp as a place where kids learn to do things for themselves without the kind of careful orchestration parents ordinarily provide. It’s a place where, instead, they can try challenging activities and take manageable risks, all while being provided encouragement and positive role models to help them learn to cope with disappointments.
Speaking from his research on resilience, Ungar pinpoints 7 important components of the summer camp experience children need to develop these coping strategies. These are seven things camp provides that help kids when they experience setbacks later in their lives.
There’s so much more to each of these, and I suspect interesting mechanisms that make them effective. What’s important to realize is that all of them are core ingredients of the camp experience here at Rockbrook. The program activities, staff training, and overall camp philosophy here work together to insure that our campers enjoy these beneficial experiences. Of course, we’re having a really great time together as well, just as we strengthen our powers of resilience.
When kids come to Rockbrook for camp, they know there’s going to be outdoor adventure happening, things like backpacking, kayaking and whitewater rafting, but they are sometimes surprised about all the rock climbing available. That’s mostly because there is simply so much rock to climb right here on the camp property, not to mention some of the famous rock climbing areas nearby in the Pisgah National Forest. But it’s also because learning to climb is so popular! No matter how old you are —yes, even the youngest kids— you can climb a real rock just about every day at Rockbrook.
Here’s how it works. Usually at breakfast or at dinner the night before, the rock climbing staff will announce a trip they have planned. Like for all of our adventure trips, the campers can then decide if they want to go. They make their own decision weather to go. It means giving up their regularly scheduled activities, and that can be a hard choice if you really love horseback riding or archery for example, but it also means enjoying the thrill of getting up on the rock. It helps to have experienced the fun of rock climbing to realize these trips are worth signing up for, but even after just one outing, campers learn how much of a treat they are. Some of these trips are short hikes up to a couple of the routes on Castle Rock, while others will be all-day adventures to one of the climbing areas on Looking Glass Rock.
The Rockbrook Camp rock climbing program is a big part of the adventure activities around here. Hey, let’s go climbing!
“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
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.
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.
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.”
How many Facebook “friends” do you have? And how many of them are also your “real” friends? Of those, how many do you actually see or talk to regularly? It’s a strange modern American phenomenon that paradoxically, we have loads of these kind of casual contacts, acquaintances and loose relationships, but also often feel profoundly on our own. As we spend more of our time plugged into the virtual world of the Internet (a rather solitary activity, after all), as we are encouraged to be uniquely independent and value our “freedom,” and as we are increasingly “on the move” to pursue professional, financial or lifestyle “opportunities,” we seem to have been quick to sacrifice real friendships.
Daniel Akst, in his essay “America: Land of Loners?” published last year in the Wilson Quarterly, clearly makes this point. He describes how for so many of us, a fierce dedication to independence and self-sufficiency is robbing from us an important form of human relationship that can’t be replaced by one’s spouse, immediate family members (e.g., children, siblings, etc.), or pets. Combine this with complex demands on everyone’s time— work, school, chores, etc. —and it’s easy to see how it’s become quite difficult to make and maintain close friends.
I suspect, also, that children aren’t entirely immune to this phenomenon. They too, though perhaps less so than adults, struggle with being overly busy, with spending a lot of their time alone or online, and with having fewer opportunities to meet new people and share common rewarding experiences. The ordinary lives of children today are generally less suited to building a strong network of close, true friends. This is worrisome, especially when you consider that the forces behind this trend will only get stronger as our children grow older and take on greater responsibilities.
Ah, thankfully, there is camp, that magical place were kids get to relax a bit, take a break from the pressures of school and try some new things just for the fun of it. It’s a place to meet new people, share wonderful experiences, and simply do a lot of things together. Camp gets them outside, away from the buzz and flicker of electronic media, and allows children to explore who they are and be their authentic selves. All of this is the ideal setting to develop real friendships, to connect with others in meaningful ways. Camp is where your real friends are. And everyone will tell you, you have to come back to camp every summer… to be with your friends.
Camp is a haven, a place where children can fulfill their need for true friends, and is something we all can use nowadays.