One of the top reasons camp is great for kids is that it’s full of action! With almost 30 different camp activities, sports and adventures each day, everybody is on the move. Girls are zipping around Rockbrook all day long, up and down the hills, in and out of the lake, and from here to there with their friends. Camp is moment after moment of “Hey, Let’s go… (fill in the blank)!”
Even better, most of this action happens outside. So in addition to the simple physical benefits of being active, campers also find themselves being more relaxed, more perceptive, and even more caring. The research supporting the positive effects of outdoor experience for children is strong and convincing.
Now there is a national campaign that recognizes and supports most of this. Launched by First Lady Michelle Obama, this initiative, titled “Let’s Move!“, is dedicated to solving the problem of childhood obesity in America by encouraging common sense strategies and providing important information to improve child nutrition and physical activity. Our kids need to eat healthier food and to be more active if we are to address this growing problem.
Camp can easily be seen as a model for the Let’s Move! initiative. After all, outdoor activity is the name of the game around here at Rockbrook, but also, we proudly serve excellent, nutritious meals, using local produce when we can, avoiding trans-fats, and making most things from scratch. If you haven’t seen our Taste of Rockbrook video, check it out and see what I mean.
As we, and the Let’s Move! initiative, advocate for a more healthy, active, balanced life for children, let’s get our kids outside this summer, and let’s get them to camp!
There’s a fun article in the March 28th issue of the New Yorker Magazine that lists the “features” of “going outside.” It’s by Ellis Weiner and is entitled “Just in Time for Spring” (here’s a summary) In the tradition of a radio commercial for a new product, the article suggests that “going outside” is an “astounding multipurpose activity platform that will revolutionize the way you spend your time.” Of course the humor here is that going outside is not new at all; though, it has been too often forgotten as we spend more of our day interacting with electronic media and filtering our experience through technology.
So what does going outside promise? Here are a few highlights.
1. real-time experience through a seamless mind-body interface.
2. authentic 3-D, real-motion visuals.
3. true surround sound.
4. complete interactivity with inanimate objects, animals and Nature.
5. the opportunity to experience actual weather.
Rockbrook is the kind of outdoor camp where all of this is so easily true. Kids love being outside at camp. They love all the chances to actually do things, to use all their senses, and to experience the wonders of Nature. Of course, we’ve mentioned before just how good this is for kids as well. If you think about it, it’s good for all of us!
It’s a common question, even from parents who went to camp themselves. Children have such individual needs and develop at so very different rates, there’s no age or school grade to point to. One girl might be perfectly ready for camp after kindergarten, and another may want to wait a couple more years before starting. Sleeping away from the comforts, familiarity and consistency of home is a big step for a child, so how is a parent to know if the time is right?
Here are 5 ways to know if your daughter is ready for an overnight camp experience.
1. Emotional Health: This is important to consider because children who are generally happy and enthusiastic do very well at camp. They seek out new experiences and are quick to participate. They recover from setbacks easily, and are comfortable expressing their emotions.
2. Social Proficiency: A sleepaway camp is a very social environment, so being able to make friends easily is an important skill. Children who are outgoing and friendly have fun joining group activities. They feel valued and get excited about being “on the team.”
3. Self-Care Skills: Living away from home also requires children to take care of certain personal habits. With minor assistance, they should be able to dress themselves, take a shower, brush their teeth, and sleep well through the night.
4. Following Directions: Joining a community of people means understanding and following a set of rules and expected behaviors. Campers should naturally comply and be happy to follow adult instructions and requests.
5. True Excitement: Girls are ready for sleepaway camp when they are truly excited about the idea. They may have learned about it from friends or family members and now are convinced it will be a super fun way to spend part of their summer. When it’s truly her idea, it’s a good sign.
Ask yourself if these 5 traits are true for your daughter. If she’s honestly excited about camp, follows directions well, can take care of her own hygiene, makes friends easily, and has a happy disposition about most things, then she is probably ready for summer camp. Of course, she doesn’t have to be perfect in all of these areas, because camp is a wonderful opportunity to improve them as well.
Going to a sleepaway summer camp is always an adjustment for kids. To one degree or another, each child is stretched in new ways, but with the excellent counselors and long traditions at Rockbrook, each is given phenomenal opportunities to grow as well.
Have you run into Amy Chua’s book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, or heard any of the controversy surrounding it? The book is mostly a memoir of Chua’s own childhood and her Chinese mother’s parenting style, but it’s also an account of how she is raising her own children with similarly strict, high standards, as opposed to what she sees as the overly indulgent, coddling, and soft ways of western parenting. Some of the anecdotes are shocking… demanding thousands of math problems be completed in training for a competition, threatening to burn her daughter’s stuffed animals if a music composition wasn’t played flawlessly, and refusing to allow her daughters to attend a sleepovers because they are a waste of time. It’s not too hard to see why American mothers were so quick to denounce the book as horrible parenting advice.
After hearing about this, you have to wonder if Amy Chua ever sent her kids to summer camp. I kind of doubt it. We can only speculate, but for parents that value intellectual, musical or athletic achievement over everything else, spending weeks at summer camp to “just play” doesn’t make much sense. Calls for a longer school year, and thereby a greater opportunity for classroom learning, are akin to this attitude. The idea is that if you really want to be good at something, even the best at it, then you have to give up other things. Superior achievement requires sacrifice! While it is true, this approach can yield highly trained, skilled people, you have to wonder “at what cost?” Sure you might be a top-notch pianist, but what did you miss out on when you were doing all that practicing? Yes, we can all be a lot better at math and science if we study all year round and you might even be a world-class athlete, but with all that training, do you have any time for other parts of yourself? Your creativity, your friends, your undiscovered talents? Sadly, the answer in most of these cases is “no.”
Amy Chua’s book reminds us that training our kids too rigorously, at the expense of the “whole child,” can have serious consequences. Like a blind devotion to academic achievement, we risk narrowing educational experience and perspective to the point of debility.
Fortunately (and I would include Chua here), most parents understand the value of providing their children diverse educational opportunities because they want them to grow up with a wide range of personal skills that can serve them later in life.
That’s why parents send their children to Rockbrook. They want more for their girls than just what school provides. They understand the tremendous benefits of a summer camp experience. They know camp is fun, but more importantly, is a break from all the “practices” of the school year, where girls can relax and explore all the other sides of who they are.
If you’re a horse kid, an equestrienne (a girl who loves all things horse related), then you will love the equestrian camp programs at Rockbrook. You’ll of course learn a lot about riding and improve your horseback skills, but you’ll also gain important equestrian confidence. This photo shows a little of that. It’s a great shot of what it feels like to be comfortable in the saddle, to really know and trust your horse, and to build up a set of instincts about horseback riding.
The secret to all of this is not just great horses and great riding instructors; it’s also making the equestrian lessons fun for kids. With the right match of horse and rider and the right level of instruction, you feel good in the activity, not worried about anything and certainly not bored either. At Rockbrook, we’re riding, and learning, and becoming more confident equestriennes, and having tons of fun doing it.
“We have shifted our culture from one that is engaged in a healthy, interactive, imaginative way to one that is inwardly facing, sedentary and expecting things to be fed to us.” — Dr. Michael Rich, Director of the Center of Media and Child Health
The National Wildlife Federation has joined the ongoing discussion among educators about the importance for children of outdoor experience. In response to the drastic decline of the time modern children spend outdoors, they have launched a well-organized campaign to provide “practical tools for families, schools and communities [that] will make being outdoors a fun, healthy and automatic part of everyday life.” It’s called “Be Out There.”
The NFW reports some troubling facts. “Children are spending half as much time outdoors as they did 20 years ago. Today, kids 8-18 years old devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes using entertainment media in a typical day (more than 53 hours a week).” And there are equally troubling related consequences: increased child obesity, decreased creativity, imagination, and social skills.
The benefits of outdoor experience have been well researched as well. “Outdoor play increases fitness levels and builds active, healthy bodies. Spending time outside raises levels of Vitamin D, helping protect children from future bone problems, heart disease, diabetes and other health issues. Exposure to natural settings may be widely effective in reducing ADHD symptoms. Exposure to environment-based education significantly increases student performance on tests of their critical thinking skills. Children’s stress levels fall within minutes of seeing green spaces. Outdoor play protects children’s emotional development whereas loss of free time and a hurried lifestyle can contribute to anxiety and depression. Nature makes kids nicer, enhancing social interactions, value for community and close relationships.” Likewise, on this blog, here for example, we’ve discussed the benefits of regular outdoor experience.
The point, of course, is that summer camp provides an excellent antidote to this modern trend. As children spend more of their time indoors isolated from nature, as they begin to show symptoms of “Nature Deficit Disorder,” outdoor camps like Rockbrook become even more important. Being outside, most if not all of the time, is one of the secrets that make summer camp so beneficial for children.
The National Wildlife Federation agrees; it’s one of the best things parents can do for their kids… turn off the screens and send them to camp!
We wanted to pass along just a sample of the feedback we have been receiving through the end-of-camp survey recently sent out to parents. So many wonderful comments, happy campers and thrilled parents, it’s enough to make all of us at camp blush! But also, it means a lot to know that the deep feelings we have for Rockbrook are shared with so many of our camp families. We can hear the appreciation and enthusiasm in your voices! Here’s one parent’s comments.
I would sacrifice just about anything to allow Emma to attend Rockbrook every year, and RBC is not an insignificant expense for us. I love so many things about Rockbrook: the activities that are only available to my daughter at camp, the confidence that she is developing over the years as she participates in different activities that push her comfort level, and the camp friendships that she is building from year to year. I truly believe that Rockbrook Camp is helping shape my daughter into a stronger, more confident person. I am so glad that we found it!
Today was a day of boating over on the Nantahala River. While the regular activities kept folks busy in camp— horses ridden, rocks climbed, games played and arts created —Clyde, Kelsey and Christine took a group of our more advanced kayakers out for the day. These are girls who have spent plenty of time working on their paddling skills and who have run other whitewater rivers. Several of the rapids on the Nantahala require precise paddling along specific lines. They require catching eddies and real concentration despite the roar of the whitewater. With Clyde leading (have you read Clyde’s profile?) and with Kelsey and Christine also instructing, the campers had outstanding models to follow and were well supervised. All day the campers paddled superbly, showing their enthusiasm and proving their skills on each challenge. The final, and largest rapid on the river gave everyone some trouble, but with the exception of the very last wave, all the campers handled it very well.
Meanwhile, another group, this time of Middlers, was rafting the Nantahala at the same time. Most of these girls, in contrast, had never been rafting or experienced the thrill of whitewater boating. We met our regular crew of guides at the put-in and geared everyone up with helmets, PFDs (life jackets or “personal flotation devices”) and paddles. Steff gave the group the safety talk explaining how to hold the paddle, how to sit in the boat, and what to do if you fall out into the river. Each boat of five or six campers has an experienced Rockbrook guide, so even if the girls forget something from the safety talk, there’s an adult right there to assist. Do you know how to catch a throw rope? Your camper does! The weather was nice and sunny, always a welcome buffer to the chill of the Nantahala’s water.
The girls back at camp, also enjoying excellent sunny weather, had a picnic lunch out on the hill. Rick and the other kitchen folks whipped up mounds of homemade coleslaw and grilled hamburgers for everyone. Add some cheese, lettuce, sliced local tomatoes, mayo, ketchup and mustard if you like, grab a cup of lemonade, and you’ve got a classic summertime meal. Top it off with a slice of watermelon, and what could be better?
Today was also circus dress up day at camp, a chance for the girls to pull out their costume accessories and become their favorite circus character. The were several brightly colored performers, mostly in leotards and tutus, but probably the most common costume was dressing as a clown. We saw huge funny shoes, goofy hats and plenty of over-sized glasses. There weren’t any wild animals to be tamed or do tricks, but we did see at least one pink fuzzy creature!
This month we’ve had 33 girls who have had their birthday while at camp. While some days there might be none, on others there are several girls on the same day (like 4 today!). The kitchen is always sure to bake each birthday girl a cake, and usually members of her cabin get together to help decorate it in true Rockbrook style, i.e. lots of frosting and candy 🙂 . The cabin mates often make a big colorful sign to hang in the dining hall as well. When the cake is brought out, candles lit, the whole dining hall sings Happy Birthday and ends with the chant, “Tell us when to stop!” One giant handclap, in unison, for each year— it’s a real celebration. Have you seen the Rockbrook Camp Youtube Channel? It’s got several short videos we’ve uploaded, including a birthday song to Carrie. Go check it out!