A Place for Hands

There’s a certain manual character of life at camp. Given all of the activities we have going on simultaneously, the community living structuring our days, and the constant outdoor experience, camp is a setting where we use our hands constantly. We’re doing things, making things, and exploring things with our hands everyday. Sweeping the dining hall, tying a climbing rope, gripping a tennis racket, steadying a ball of clay on the potter’s wheel— all that and more can happen before breakfast! …not to mention, pulling back the string of a bow, tying embroidery floss into an intricate pattern, smacking a tetherball or gagaball, steering the reins of a horse. Camp life is defined by action, by direct inter-action with the physical— all five senses! —nature of the real world, and thereby provides almost limitless opportunities to engage things with our hands.

Rope Hands
Potter Hands
Tennis Hands
Bracelet Weaving Hands
Archery Hands
Nature Hands

I think this is a significant benefit of camp because modern life, with its “conveniences” and “processing,” has made working with our hands less common and made hand skills less important. Perhaps, like spending time in nature, it’s good for us, and for our children, to do things with our hands. Maybe, this kind of “manual engagement” with the physical world is a core aspect of what makes us human, and it’s at great expense that we give it up.

If so, then that means our kids need chances to work with their hands. And I don’t mean pushing buttons or swiping the screen of a smart phone! Just the opposite; they need what camp provides— daily connections with the physical (and natural) world.

We might go so far as to say this manual character of camp helps explain why kids find life here so novel and fun. When their ordinary lives are limited by polished products, buffered by climate controlled spaces, and abstracted by technology, it feels really good, it —feels — refreshing to dig in with their hands. It probably means getting a little dirty, and maybe ending up with a couple of bruises and scrapes, but that’s simply part of living this fully.  This is another way that camp differs from ordinarily living, and I would claim, another reason why it’s so gratifying.

Camp is a place for our hands. And, that’s really good stuff.

Rockbrook-camp-girls

Camp Life is Handmade

harry potter costume pottery camperThere was a little bit of Potter Mania at Rockbrook today. Marking the release in theaters of the final Harry Potter film, we decided to decorate RBC in all things HP. We of course had plenty of campers and counselors dressing up as characters from the series— lots of maroon and gold, green and black stripes, Harry Potter shaped eye glasses, and lightning bolt shaped scars (drawn with dark eye liner or paint) on dozens of foreheads. Some of the campers clearly planned for this day because their costumes included more elaborate hats, capes, wigs and make up. Girls were decorating magic wands, and carrying them around, would shout out spells now and then with a sly giggle and in their best English accent. Several of the counselors and the Hi-Ups really pulled out the stops by decorating the dining hall like the Great Hall of the Hogwarts Castle: Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Slytherin, and Ravenclaw, all represented. The equestrian staff even put together a game of Quiddich for the girls, keeping the theme going. This involved riding around a series of cones and, from atop their horse, trying to toss a small ball through a hula hoop at one end of the ring. The whole day was very imaginative and fun.

Girls making ceramics at summer campYou may have noticed this from checking the online photo gallery, but one of the neat things about life at Rockbrook is how much time the campers here spend doing things with their hands. Everywhere the girls are making things, building things, and decorating things. All of the arts and crafts activities are examples of this (weaving, painting, sewing, ceramics, etc.), but so are the adventure activities (climbing and paddling, e.g.), the sports (archery and riflery, e.g.) and even the horseback riding. These girls are working with all kinds of physical materials, manipulating, shaping and arranging real, not virtual, things. They are, in this way, connecting to the physical world, often to nature, and to their own sensations and feelings.

Girls playing hand game with summer camp friendsWhat’s important about this “hands on” experience central to camp life is how much the girls really love it. This may be because the rest of the year lacks the same opportunity for kids to do much with their hands, and it’s simply novel and fun, but it could also be because camp is feeding a hunger. Perhaps kids need chances to work with their hands, to make things, to forge real connections with the physical world, and modern life, with its pre-processing of almost everything, is making “hand work” (working “by hand”) less common. The manual character of camp is satisfying an important need kids don’t even know they have. Instead, they simply know it’s really fun, really satisfying, to make stuff, whether it be a clay pot, a tie dye t-shirt, or even a magic wand. Maybe, we as human beings need this kind of manual experience, and we’ve forgotten it. Thankfully, there is camp to remind our children! As they grow older, we can hope they’ll remember the satisfaction they gained from working with their hands at camp. If so, I suspect they’ll be happier.