Media Use Among Children

Children Enjoy Being OutdoorsAbout a year ago, the Kaiser Family Foundation published the results of an extensive study examining the amount of time children (ages 8-18) spend consuming different forms of media for recreation: TV, movies, Internet sites, video games and mobile devices (ipods, tablets, and smart phones). They conducted the study by surveying children in 2009, following similar efforts in 1999 and 2004. The goal was to quantify average media use and show trends over time.

The trends really aren’t too surprising, but the quantities have to make you pause. Overall, daily media use among children and teens is up dramatically from 5 years ago. This follows from an increase in the availability of recreational technology (in particular mobile devices— no longer must we be at home or plugged into a wall to consume electronic entertainment), but also from a tendency to allow children unrestricted access to television, video games and computers. Interestingly, the study does not count text messaging or using a cellphone for a telephone call. So what are the totals? Here’s a summary of the findings:

  • 7 hours, 38 minutes of media comsumption per day (53 hours per week)
  • 64% say the TV is on during meals
  • cellphone ownership has grown from 39% to 66%
  • Black and Hispanic children consume nearly 4.5 more hours of media per day
  • 75% of 7th-12th graders have a social networking profile

The study makes no conclusions beyond reporting these averages. It does not suggest, for example, a cause and effect connection between high media use and poor grades in school (though it does show that correlation). Essentially, whatever the consequences of electronic media/entertainment use, we have confirmation here that they are increasing.

There is, however, another conclusion we can’t ignore. As children spend more of their free time consuming electronic media, they are certainly spending less time doing other things, perhaps valuable things. Just think of what else our kids could be doing during those 53 hours each week! They could be playing outside (our favorite!), forming new friendships, developing their creative powers, or being physically active. And this is just scratching the surface. There’s no doubting the allure of technology and its power to push aside other beneficial, more human, activity. With this study, we have evidence that for our children, more and more is being pushed aside.

Camp, as we’ve mentioned before, is a place where we intentionally turn off our electronics. We reclaim those 53 hours! And spend our time actually doing things: arts and crafts, sports, horseback riding, outdoor adventure, singing, dressing up, and pretty much playing around all day long. Far beyond what electronic entertainment media provides, spending a few weeks at a summer camp like Rockbrook is a wonderful opportunity for children to exercise so much more of who they are. Camp reminds them that “life is much more fun in the real world.”

A Teacher in Everything

For quite some time now, we’ve talked about summer camp providing children valuable lessons, unique opportunities to learn that can’t be recreated in traditional educational contexts. If you mention this claim to just about anyone associated with a summer camp, you’ll find full agreement. Summer camps are “Youth Development” organizations. Camps are heaps of fun, but are also something kids need to foster their growing up.

Kids Learning CampThe American Camp Association has articulated these educational benefits of camp most extensively. Following broad research initiatives and years of collecting data from summer camps across the country, the ACA continually makes a strong case for what children gain from a camp experience. The list of these “outcomes” and “competencies” is now well-known: self-identity, self-worth, self-esteem, leadership, self-respect, compassion, contribution, commitment, caring, honesty, generosity, sharing, resilience, resourcefulness, ethical awareness, responsibility, and communication skills. We have discussed many of these benefits on this blog, here and here for example.

The next question to ask, however, is not “what gains do children make at camp,” but “how does camp provide these benefits?” There is a lot to this, of course, but let me point out one crucial reason summer camp has this unique educational power, and again, power above and beyond what traditional classroom educational settings offer.

Residential summer camps are uniquely educational because they are first and foremost communities dedicated, through first-hand experiences, to broad personal, social and physical well being. Camps are experiential learning communities. Led by admirable, caring adult role models, summer camp communities are tightly-knit groups of people who not only live (eat, play, make) together, but also grow personally by virtue of experiencing so much together. So many of the “outcomes” and “competencies” above, those personal qualities we all recognize as valuable— honesty, compassion, responsibility, generosity, etc., can be traced to what individuals gain from fully participating in a vibrant positive community. Summer camp communities are dedicated to, thrive upon, and thus foster, these kinds of personal traits.

Equally important is the full-time nature of the summer camp community experience. These aren’t lessons taught sitting at a desk in idealized abstract language. This is learning that’s lived. At camp, the “teachable moments” actually happen, involve real people, and carry real personal consequences. Just about every moment at camp is this kind of “teachable moment,” an opportunity to learn from the interaction with others and the natural world. At summer camp, there is a teacher in everything!

Being at summer camp is almost non-stop fun, but it also brings out the best in kids by asking them to pay attention to the people around them, and to build positive relationships of all kinds. It’s this kind of direct experiential community learning that gives camp the power to shape young people so profoundly.

Summer Learning for Children

There’s been another push recently, here in North Carolina and other places, to lengthen the school year by shortening the time students have off in the summer. Taking a look back at the history of schools in America, it’s interesting to see that this has been a long trend. During the pioneer days of this country children grew up on farms and helped their families with the seasonal work farming required. Most of their time was spent outside, working, and learning practical skills. This left only the winter months to supplement this “real” education with “book learning,” the kind of intellectual development we associate with school nowadays. It’s true; school used to only be 3 months of the year!

Summer Camp Learning KidsAs cities grew, Americans became less tied to summer agricultural work, and so the time available for school increased. This meant the school calendar was simply extended, back into the fall and forward into the spring. The agricultural origins of our traditional school calendar, with time off in the summer, was retained even as the need for its seasonality waned. The summer, of course, became a time when all kinds of non-classroom educational opportunities could therefore flourish. Summer camps, programs to “train the eye and hand,” outdoor work and travel became an important part of growing up in America. Leading educators, John Dewey for example, came out in favor of the learning that goes on in the summer, the importance of educating the whole child, encouraging creativity and building healthy “minds and bodies.” The importance of preserving the summer as time away from the classroom was long understood and valued.

As pressures to advance the educational system in America have increased, however, school system administrators have looked to the summer “vacation” as a means to increase classroom time, and theoretically by extension student achievement. US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan put it this way when he called summer “an inexplicable, counterproductive anachronism that takes youths out of an educational setting for 2-3 months every year.” The argument here is that if we want children to learn as much as possible, they should be in school as much as possible.

Ugh. That argument, however, is based on a fundamentally flawed assumption, namely that classroom learning in school is more valuable than the education children receive over the summer. Current research has demonstrated, quite conclusively, just the opposite— that a summer camp experience, for example, provides tremendous benefits for children, unique gains far beyond what they could find at school.  These are huge benefits too… some of which, like confidence, communication and leadership, serve as pillars later life.  Shrinking the opportunity for children to attend summer programs and camps, in the name of academic achievement, is short-sighted and comes at a great cost.

It may be harder to measure the important life lessons gained over the summer, and it may currently be difficult to provide organized summer programs for all children, but the opportunity for crucial youth development outcomes is undeniably linked to time spent at summer camp.  Shouldn’t we be doing everything we can to promote that opportunity for our children?  Yes we should, and that means preserving the summer and resisting the temptation to lengthen the school year.

Shared Enthusiasm for Camp

Summer Camp kids having fun outsideWe 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!

Wow, thanks so much!

Camp Circus Picnic

Nantahala River whitewater rafting trip for camp girls
Nantahala River Kayaking Camp Kid

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.

Summer Camp Picnic kids

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!

Circus dress up costumes for girls camp

Unplugging at Camp

Kids Enjoy Summer Crafts without TechnologySpotted a nice article about summer camp in the American Way Magazine. It’s called “Summer, Unplugged.” The author, Winston Ross, interviews several camp directors and camp kids to find out what’s so attractive about being at camp. There’s a lot of good stuff to read, so you should go check it out.

One thing that stood out for me, was the discussion about technology and how camp is so nice because it doesn’t have cell phones, video games, television and the Internet. Campers admit that it’s really tough to give that stuff up at first, but once they settle in at camp, they appreciate being “unplugged.” One girl put it this way.

“It’s kind of like a symbolic way of stepping out of the real world,” she says. “It allows me to take off from home, leave my worries, thoughts about college, and stress behind. I just go escape.”

Turning off your technology allows you to really engage all of what camp offers— the real friendships, the physical activity, and the chances to explore and discover the natural world. Instead of being entertained by a flickering screen, you get to create a fun time with your friends. You get to actually do really cool things instead of just sitting around “watching” something. …Take off your shoes, soak ’em in the creek, and let’s make a basket.

When you think about it, there’s a lot more to life, to being human, than “facebooking,” text messaging, and watching “reality” TV. These days, it takes a real effort to get past all of that so you can exercise those more important parts of who you are. Camp is special place to help with that effort. It’s perfect for reminding you that life is more fun in the real world.

Why do Kids Love Horseback Riding?

Kids Riding HorsesWhy do kids love horses so much? Certainly they enjoy the fun of riding. They like the freedom of being up high, the challenges of learning how to work with such a large powerful animal, and the sense of accomplishment that comes from perfecting different gaits. It’s easy to understand how being able to ride is a big part of being “horse crazy,” but don’t you think it’s a lot more than that?

And let’s not forget the physical exercise that goes along with horseback riding, and the bugs, and the stable chores. Some of the things about horses are definitely “work” too. So what is it that gets kids, and perhaps girls in particular, so excited about horses?

One way to think about it is to focus on the friendship that forms between a horse and a rider. It’s a big part of riding— communicating sincerely, trusting, respecting, sympathizing, really feeling the horse. Horseback riding creates a very intimate and powerful relationship that kids really appreciate and fuels their confidence, perhaps because it’s so different from most of their other daily human relationships. Beings friends with a horse, in this special way, is a big part of what makes riding so important to kids.

What do you think? Do you love riding because you love your horse?

Brevard North Carolina Ranks

Outdoor Kids in BrevardBack in August, Backpacker Magazine published a list of “The best cities to raise an outdoor kid.” And guess what! Our very own Brevard, North Carolina ranked number 20 in the list. These are the best places in America to “beat Nature Deficit Disorder.” That’s not too surprising when you think about all the incredible outdoor opportunities available nearby: all the Pisgah forest trails, great rock, and nearby whitewater rivers. It’s also one explanation for why this area is so fantastic for a summer camp.

Rockbrook is fortunate to be located here in the mountains of western North Carolina, and you can bet we take full advantage of the many wonderful outdoor destinations nearby.  Trips to Sliding Rock, sea kayaking on Lake Jocassee, whitewater rafting on the Nantahala, rock climbing on Cedar Rock, swimming at the bottom of High Falls in the Dupont State Forest… And so many more.  These are just a few of the truly special experiences made possible by the forests near camp.

If you can’t live hear and raise your kids here, then come to camp here! It’s amazing.