Welcome to Kid World

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.

Goofing Off

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.

Glee
Jumping for Joy

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.

Good Clean Fun

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.

More Please!

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?

Just Lying Around

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.

A Haven from the Hectic

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?

Camp as a sanctuary from hectic living

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.

Let’s Go Rock Climbing!

Kid Adventure Rock Climbing

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!

How Camp Helps Build Self-Esteem

Camp girl showing self-esteem

How does summer camp help children gain self-esteem?

Parents know it’s important for children to feel good about themselves, to be proud of their abilities and accomplishments, and to be accepted socially. That’s why we take such great care to provide experiences where children will succeed. Music lessons, organized team sports, even the “right” haircut and clothing— we hope all of these will help our kids be more competent, confident, and ultimately happier in life.

Many times this strategy works. Our child may find a talent, rise above the ability of others, gain some praise and recognition for it, and thereby feel good about being “good.” Being recognized for an outstanding ability, winning the competition for social attention, can be a real boost to a young person’s self-esteem. But what if a child doesn’t quite measure up, and she’s not the prettiest, the smartest, the most athletic, or the most talented in some way? What about her self-esteem? Is winning some unspoken competition the only way to feel good about herself?

Fortunately, there’s more to self-esteem than just individual success. It’s also about feeling competent in the face of life’s general problems, having a sense of “personal capacity.” It’s also about being able to simply have fun with others, to be able to make decisions for oneself, and feeling included in group endeavors. Interestingly, self-esteem is also about cooperation and community. In an environment defined by encouragement, mutual respect and collaboration, it’s not important if a child doesn’t stand out as an individual because of some extraordinary talent. Instead, a sense of self-worth and dignity can arise from doing something great together, from being a part of a group accomplishment.

And that’s why camp is so ideal for helping children grow their self-esteem; it is exactly this kind of environment. On the one hand, summer camp is a place for kids to make their own decisions, try new things, and discover individual achievement.  There are small moments of personal success everyday.  And on the other, there is incredible community spirit at camp, with groups of kids working together to solve problems, taking care of each other, and collaborating on creative projects. Regardless of their age or ability, their experience or talent, children at camp are reminded everyday that they can do it, and that they can believe in themselves. Everyone’s in it together at camp, and while we each may not hit the target with every arrow we shoot, there’s laughter and joy among friends no matter what. It’s through building this kind of community that all the girls at camp strengthen their self-esteem. Around here, you can count on it!

Kids Going Outside

Kids Going Outside at Summer 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!

All Their Senses

Kids Outdoor Senses

“I worry about how much time my kids spend looking at a screen.”

We’ve heard this more than once recently, perhaps not so surprisingly when you consider how many electronic screens are part of our lives these days. For our kids too, in addition to television, there are cellphones, computers, tablet computers, ebook readers and hand-held video games. Screens are everywhere, even in our pockets! With this kind of availability and often unlimited access to technology, we now see that the average 8-18 year old child in America is spending 53 hours per week consuming electronic media.

We’ve discussed before the value of unplugging from technology and how camp gets kids out of the virtual world of screens and into the actual world of nature. Camp turns off the screens and gets kids actually doing things instead of just watching.

It’s worth underlining another benefit to turning off the screens. It’s the simple fact that by getting kids outside and giving them lots of fun things to do, they stimulate and utilize all their senses. They feel things— mist in the morning, hear things— owls at night, smell things— galax along the trail, and even taste things— s’mores (!), that can’t come from a screen. By bringing all of their senses into play, instead of just their eyes and ears, kids activate and develop their brains in important ways that can enrich their future experiences.

This is another way camp really matters to kids. It’s fun in creative, imaginative, and sensuous ways. It’s stimulating in the best sense.

5 Ways Camp Helps Children Grow

Summer Camp Foster Youth Development

Summer camp professionals around the country, largely encouraged by the American Camp Association, have begun to refer to camps as “Youth Development Organizations.”

Being at summer camp, we all agree it seems, is more than just “fun and games.” It’s beneficial for children in unique and lasting ways. Summer camps are dedicated to helping children grow, certainly also to have a good time, but perhaps most importantly, to gain valuable skills and foster personal development.

But what are the ways children grow while at camp? We’ve often said Rockbrook is “a place for girls to grow,” but what kind of growth can we expect?

Here are 5 powerful ways a summer camp experience fosters youth development and growth for children:

1. Social growth: Going to a sleepaway summer camp means joining a close community of people living and playing together 24/7. It builds inter-personal skills like sincere communication, conflict resolution, a willingness to share, and an enthusiasm for working as a team. Perhaps more importantly, the highly social nature of camp really encourages children to make friends easily. It’s a fun, down-to-earth, friendly environment that naturally draws children together.

2. Character growth: Summer camp, simply because it’s living away from home, is an ideal opportunity for children to become more independent. As they make decisions for themselves, for example when selecting their activity schedule, children learn to embrace the freedom (opportunities) and responsibility (consequences) their choices entail. With its non-competitive activities and with the care and support of the camp counselors and staff, camp provides children fantastic opportunities to succeed. It’s a real boost to campers’ self-confidence and self-esteem when every day includes accomplishment. Of course, it can also include setbacks and disappointments, but summer camp is always supportive and encouraging. It inspires resilience by providing role models of courage and determination.

3. Humane growth: An overnight camp like Rockbrook is also a great place for children to strengthen and develop greater humane values. Starting with a general warmth and sensitivity toward others, camp fosters cooperation and respect. Camp is also a place to meet children from different countries with perhaps unfamiliar cultural assumptions and religious traditions. It provides real world reminders, despite these differences, of our common humanity.

4. Practical growth: Residential summer camps provide an incredible variety of activities for children. They combine quality instruction, equipment and facilities specially designed to challenge kids’ sports abilities (like tennis and horseback riding), nurture their artistic and creative talents (painting, ceramics, and dance for example), and build their outdoor adventure abilities— all practical, real world, life-long skills.

5. Physical growth: Camp is chock full of action! Whether it be swimming, jumping, climbing, dancing, riding or running, Rockbrook keeps girls in motion. It introduces them to all kinds of ways to develop physical skills. With all the great food (made from scratch!), outdoor living, and big active fun, camp has important health benefits for children.

Everyone knows Rockbrook is super fun, but in these five ways, it’s powerfully formative as well.

teen girl grows climbing

A Confident Equestrienne

Equestrian Kids Camp Riding

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.