Time in Nature Makes Children More Caring

Time with Nature

New research from psychologists Netta Weinstein, Andrew Przybylski, and Richard Ryan at the University of Rochester suggests that when exposed to nature people are more inclined to be caring.  They are more willing to share and do good in the world.  The mechanism behind this effect is not entirely clear, but there’s simply something special to being outside, to having personal experiences of natural beauty and wonder.  When you think about it, we all are drawn toward nature and it does improve our mood, calm us down, and generally restore us as human beings.  Study after study supports this.

Here again, we’re finding that every child benefits from time outdoors and in contact with the natural world, and of course, camp is probably the best way to get a good solid dose of it.  So for us, we’d say time at camp helps children be more caring as well.

Learn more by watching this video interview of Richard Ryan discussing the research.

The Importance of Play

Did you know that play is about more than just “fun and games?” You might have heard that “play is children’s work,” and maybe you’ve realized that play often boils down to having spontaneous fun, but what makes play beneficial? What about the long term benefits of play?

Girls Play

It turns out there is a ton of research indicating that play is very important for human beings, even essential for our well being throughout our lives, from childhood through adulthood. One leader of this research and an advocate of what we might call “play for all,” is Dr. Stuart Brown, MD. He is the founder of the National Institute for Play, an organization

“committed to bringing the unrealized knowledge, practices and benefits of play into public life. [The Institute] is gathering research from diverse play scientists and practitioners, initiating projects to expand the clinical scientific knowledge of human play and translating this emerging body of knowledge into programs and resources which deliver the transformative power of play to all segments of society.”

One general conclusion Dr. Brown’s research has shown is a strong correlation between adult success and play. Language skills, thinking skills, and of course, social skills all benefit from unstructured play. And since these are crucial areas for adults as well, it’s important to develop a habit of playing throughout our lives. We can improve these adult level skills by continuing to play.

Here’s a great video of Stuart Brown giving a lecture about the importance of play. He argues that “play in childhood makes for happy, smart adults — and keeping it up can make us smarter at any age.”

We like this a lot.  It verifies something we’ve been talking about for years; play, and in particular outdoor play, is really important.  More than just entertainment, it’s a powerful benefit for children’s health and happiness.  This research helps us understand how these benefits extend far into adulthood as well.  Naturally, camp is the perfect place to experience all of this.  Free from the over-structured, over-scheduled nature of school, and free from boredom-inducing electronic media, camp provides daily opportunities for play.  Children are so much better for it.

Hey, don’t forget to play!

A Noncompetitive Riding Program

Riding Equestrian KidThe equestrian program at Rockbrook follows the core philosophy guiding the camp, in particular its emphasis on encouragement and its overall non-competitive character. Being free from the pressure of competing, horseback riding becomes so much more fun for kids. The goal becomes personal satisfaction, greater self-confidence, and a simple joy of improving their equestrian skills.

Beginning and experienced riders alike thrive in this non-competitive atmosphere. Matching each rider with the right horse and the right instructor, the Rockbrook riding program allows everyone to learn at their own pace, and feel good about the experience. It’s just nice to not worry if you’re the best or not, and just focus on your own riding. Definitely exciting and fun, always educational, but relaxed too.

Summer’s for Getting Outdoors!

Kids Outdoor Activity

In the recent debate over how many days kids should stay in school, it’s often claimed that they could learn more by shortening the summer vacation. More days studying math, science, arts and reading would make our kids more educated, it’s claimed. Certainly this is true; the more you study something, the better your competency in that subject. However, what is lost by taking time from summer and devoting it to further study? If we choose more school time, what are we neglecting as a result?

One thing that would clearly suffer, and something that summer camps are known to enhance, is time outside, sustained outdoor activity for kids. It’s during the summer that kids have the time and the permission to play outside. They can return to nature, explore all the amazing details of the environment, and really feel what so many of their ancestors felt outdoors. Being inside at school most of day, and for most of the days each year, there are very few opportunities for kids to enjoy outdoor activity. They suffer from what Richard Louv has now famously dubbed “Nature Deficit Disorder.” The psychological, personal and intellectual consequences of our kids losing touch of nature are now well understood, and are widely condemned. Extending our kid’s school year, and thereby further limiting their time outside in Nature deserves that same condemnation.

This is also an environmental protection issue. If we reduce the ability of our kids to experience and know the outdoors, we make it much less likely they will value and love it. If their Nature Deficit Disorder is made worse by reducing their time outside of school, they won’t feel strongly about the wonders Nature provides, and consequently they will feel less concern for protecting the environment. Not knowing and loving nature from their personal experience, they’ll be less apt to protect it. Here again, time outside (and away from school) makes kids more human. It provides another, equally important, form of education. Denying them opportunities to learn outside, even when in service of traditional academic learning, is a perilous position for us all.

Kayaking for Kids

Kid KayakerWhitewater kayaking is really catching on with the kids at Rockbook, and not just with our Seniors. Our Middlers, kids in the 5th or 6th grade, are also excited about kayaking.

You might think that is a little young to start such a technical sport, but the camp girls are usually quick to catch on to what’s involved. They learn about the equipment and basic techniques in the Rockbrook lake, and when ready, then move to one of the local rivers.

Even on the Rockbrook Camp property, there is a short section of the French Broad river that provides a great teaching rapid. It’s a nice cove of the river perfect for learning to ferry, peel out, and catch an eddy— three important kayaking maneuvers. Next stop? The Green, the Tuckaseegee, and the Nantahala rivers!

RBC in the Press

Summer Camp Girl FriendsWe bumped into an article the other day by Anne O’Connor entitled, Is Summer Camp Good for Her?  It’s a great discussion of why traditional overnight summer camps offer so much, and how many “specialty” camps (e.g., computer camp, soccer camp, etc.) often lose track of important social benefits.  The article quotes Dr. Chris Thurber. He says camps are not about “the equipment or specific attractions— it’s the friends.” He claims, “it’s much more valuable to have social skills and a friendship base than to be an expert soccer player.”

What caught our eye was the quote in the article from a Rockbrook dad describing the value of the camp friendships his daughter made over the years. He also describes the skills she developed as well. “When they have to be independent, when they have the responsibility for planning their days, their self-esteem goes through the roof,” he said.

Camps— so good in so many ways! 🙂

Anxious about camp?

Happy Summer Kid SwimmingGoing away to camp, particularly to an overnight or sleepaway camp, is a big step for kid. Being separated from parents, meeting loads of new people, and trying lots of new challenging activities— all these can be a little scary. Imagining it all, it’s easy to worry and find yourself asking “What if…?” kinds of questions. In fact, it’s just as common for parents to be scared and worried too. They also can suffer from a certain amount of “separation anxiety.”

There are a couple of things that can help both parents and kids feel better about this. First, realize that this is perfectly normal and all parents feel nervous about being away from their children for extended periods of time. Likewise, all children see their parents as their basic source of comfort and can at first be reluctant to go without it. Being away from each other requires both parents and children to develop a new sense of trust. Parents must trust the camp (its directors and staff, in particular) to take good care of their children, and each child must learn to trust themselves and their abilities away from home.

Fortunately, summer camps are ideal places for this kind of growth. They offer safe, structured environments where each girl finds plenty of fun things to do, but more importantly, caring adults trained to encourage her to make her own decisions, and to be more independent and self-confident. Camps have a lot of experience in this. They know it can take time, but have seen thousands of children succeed at camp and be better prepared for challenges later in life.

If you are considering summer camp for the first time, it can help to practice the kind of healthy separation camps represent. For example, it’s a good idea to schedule sleepovers at friends’ houses or other long weekends away from home.  Even with something this simple, kids learn they can do things on their own.

Camp is a wonderful experience for everyone.  For both parents and kids, it’s a chance to grow up a little.

A Rock for Sliding and Swimming

Swimming Adventure Water Slide

How many times have you gone down sliding rock? In the Pisgah National Forest, not too far from Rockbrook’s kids camp, there’s a famous natural water slide formed by Looking Glass Creek as it slides down about 60 feet into a pool at the bottom. The US Forest service has improved the area and now provides lifeguards during the busy summer season.

Most sessions at camp, we’ll take our Middlers and Seniors over in the afternoon for some cool mountain fun. It’s swimming. It’s adventure. It’s thrills, and because it’s also a clear mountain creek, it’s chills too. The girls just love it!  On one trip last summer, some of the kids raced backed to the top and slid down 9 times!  Have you tried it?