Like a Girl

Ceramics Glazing Kid

Take a brief tour of camp, and it will quickly by obvious that these Rockbrook girls are doing amazing things. Yesterday I mentioned hand rolling kayaks, but there’s a long list of other extraordinary accomplishments we could name. Girls are riding and jumping horses over 2-foot rails. They are swimming laps in the lake, smashing tennis balls on the courts, and doing gymnastics flips off the balance beam in the gym. Rockbrook girls are showing their creative talents by sewing pillows, weaving cloth on wide floor looms, and tying intricate friendship bracelet patterns. Their pottery is as beautiful as their shooting form in archery. These Rockbrook camp girls are light on their feet and quick with a song. Seeing them interact with each other is equally impressive. They’re happy to help one another, to be kind and caring, and incredibly generous, knitting our community tighter everyday.

Climbing Kids

And they’re doing all this themselves, being remarkably successful without their parents’ continual guidance. This is significant, of course, because it reminds us that camp, particularly a sleepaway camp like Rockbrook, provides consistent experiences that boost girls confidence and self-esteem. At camp, it’s simple to feel good about your individual achievements because you see the results. Our days here are filled with moments, thanks to the enthusiasm and support from the community of great people around us, when girls think “Wow! I did it!” No matter their age or experience, their abilities or talents, and without too much concern for the outcome— whether the pottery mug is straight, or every serve clears the net —Rockbrook girls know they are competent and strong. They are given the freedom and responsibility to make their own decisions. They are empowered to be themselves, and celebrated when they do. Camp proves their “personal capacity.” At Rockbrook, girls “can do it,” all while having fun with whomever they’re with.

Cool Kayak Kid

Rockbrook shows what it means to do something “like a girl.” And as you can see, it’s awesome.  Have you seen the #LikeAGirl video that’s making the rounds? Documentary photographer and filmmaker Lauren Greenfield made it and it’s got more than 47 million views on YouTube. The video reveals how often “like a girl” is used derogatorily, and thereby can have a significantly negative effect on young girls and women. The video also proves, however, like camp, that doing something “like a girl” is amazing. Being a girls’ camp, you don’t hear that phrase very often because after all, everything we do here is “like a girl,” but it’s clear to me that the experience of camp is having a powerful effect on the meaning of this phrase for everyone here. We’re all helping each other build skills and abilities, become more confident and self-assured, and be our authentic selves no matter what we do. It’s obvious; these girls have power, talent and insight.

The video hopes to “Champion Girls’ Confidence.” At camp, we’re doing exactly that.

Goofy Kids

Teens Seeking Sensations

Girls Camp for Teens Thrive on Sensation

If you spend time around teenagers, it’s easy to see them exhibit “sensation seeking” behaviors. They thrive on new experiences and stimuli of all kinds, and tend to take surprising risks. In fact it’s widely accepted within psychology that this personality trait is a dominant force in the lives of teen girls and boys. This sensation seeking is thought to be an evolutionary skill, something that helps teens learn new things, become more independent from their parents and to increase their social competence. Overall, it’s a good thing.

On the other hand, chasing novelty like this, even if they’re unaware of it, can sometimes get teenagers into trouble. As a young teen girl or boy is bombarded by urges to experience new things and to be included in their peer group, they may lack the cognitive development to temper risky behaviors, or blindly hold the perceived benefits of that behavior supremely important over everything else. For example, a girl may experiment with drugs at the urging of her friends, effectively ignoring the personal, legal and health consequences of that decision, because she values the approval of her peer group more. Put differently, it’s thought that risky teenage behavior can be understood as “sensation seeking” run amok.

It’s a dilemma; we want our teenagers to experience new things and meet new people, and thereby to learn and grow from that novelty, but we also want them to choose less risky behaviors and seek out positive experiences and peer influences. How to land on the right side of that equation?

Summer camp is well suited to provide this kind of positive sensation seeking for teens. Everyday at sleepaway camp, girls can enjoy new experiences, whether they be climbing a rock, the excitement of shooting a gun, or just making friends with new and different people.

Camp is a pool of positive peer pressure. Chock full of excellent role models, it promises to help teens channel their urge for novelty and their desire to connect with friends. Camp is also a place where teens can take acceptable risks, challenging themselves in exciting new ways, even as parents can be assured their children are kept safe, encouraged and supported. It’s just an ideal environment for teens seeking sensations. It’s no wonder they love it so much!

Full-Throated Fun

Camp girls exploring nature in the lake
camp girl swimming with a watermelon

One of the activities offered each day at Rockbrook is something called “Nature.” While rather broadly defined as anything involving the plants, animals and forests of camp, it’s a real treat for the campers. The notion of exploration, of discovery, describes it pretty well also, because mostly the campers are tromping around through the woods and finding fascinating bits of the natural world. With more than 200 acres of Rockbrook property available, the counselors have come up with loads of really fun ways for the girls to be true naturalists. They take stream hikes, stopping to turn over rocks looking for crayfish and salamanders. Like in this photo, they take nets and capture tadpoles at the lake to compare their stages of development. Or, they may simply hike through the woods, perhaps bushwhacking off-trail, to marvel at some of the huge old growth trees on the property.  Of course part of the fun is getting a little dirty and truly feeling the grit and grime of what they find, but that’s one of the things that helps the girls appreciate the beauty of it all, and for us, is something we can feel good about because of the benefits outdoor experience provides.

During one of the swimming activities this morning, the counselors greased up a watermelon for the girls and organized several fun relay races. There’s still plenty of silt coming down the creek and into the lake making the water cloudy, and this made the watermelon a little more difficult to find when it went under. Having to hunt for a hidden, submerged fruit is surprisingly fun because it can appear far from where you expect it. On a bright sunny day, this is good old fashioned fun, and it comes with a sweet tasty watermelon treat.

girls cheering their friends on sliding rock

Being Wednesday, the afternoon was our cabin day, a time when instead of each camper pursuing her individual schedule of regular activities, the cabin groups and their counselors stay together for special whole-cabin events. Each cabin decides what they would like to do. Many involve hiking, like along the gentle trail to Rockbrook Falls or the steep and severe trail up to Castle Rock overlooking the camp. Today, a few cabins played group games on the hill, a couple of Junior cabins played board games, and others relaxed on the porch of the Lakeview lodge making friendship bracelets. One cabin was caught doing outdoor yoga!

girls screaming on sliding rock
girls showing power on sliding rock
girls splashing into sliding rock pool

All of the senior cabins took a special trip right before dinner. Dressed in their bathing suits and with towels in hand, they loaded up the buses to head out to a special spot in the Pisgah Forest for a picnic. Our timing was excellent because when we arrived, we were the only people there to enjoy a wonderful grassy field, trimmed with awesome shade trees and just the right number of picnic tables. Rick packed us another amazing dinner of fresh corn on the cob, tortellini, warm rolls, and cool, bright red raspberries. The late afternoon sunshine was gorgeous and we had plenty of altitude to keep things breezy and comfortable. After eating, we couldn’t help but skip around the field and play an exuberant game of “Duck Duck Goose.” You might think teenage girls would be “too cool” for this kind of game, but not so with this crowd.

Our next stop on this outing was the main event: Sliding Rock. Always a favorite, this is the natural waterslide formed by Looking Glass Creek as it drops about 60 feet over a gently sloping rock into a deep pool. Going this late after the Forest Service lifeguards have left (we bring our own) is ideal because it avoids the typical crowds of summer, and thereby allows our Rockbrook girls to spend less time waiting in line and more time sliding.  Is the water cold?  You betcha!  That explains why most of the photos of the girls sliding end up showing them with their mouths open.  A few can remain poised enough to smile for the camera as they accelerate toward to bottom, but most are anticipating the plunge that awaits and just let loose with a wide-eyed, full-throated scream.  You can almost hear it in each shot.  Meanwhile, the rest of the girls waiting their turn are cheering their friends on, clapping and shouting.  It really is super exciting.

With our fill of sliding, there was one more stop to make, and it’s always a crowd pleaser.  On the way out of the forest we took that happy left turn into Dolly’s Dairy Bar so everyone could enjoy a cone of their favorite flavor of ice cream.  There were more screams and cheers of delight as we pulled into the parking lot and all the girls ran to join the line waiting to order.  Dolly’s has refined their serving so it took just a few minutes for everyone to be savoring (for some, gobbling) their treat. Yummy stuff.  It was dark by the time we made it back to camp, bringing our surprise night out to a close, but it was the kind of big group fun we love around here, and a really good time.

Girls at dolly's after sliding rock

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 Kids

As 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.

They Need Summer Camp

If you could reform the common education of teenagers, change something about how teenagers today learn, or what they learn, what would you do? Looking around, what do you think teenagers need to understand? How do they need to change if they are to become happy, well-grounded, satisfied adults? Is there a skill, a personal value, some rule of thumb that you wish all teenagers today would adopt? Is there one crucial thing that today’s teens are missing, and as a result has placed them on a path toward trouble later in life?

You get the picture; the assumption here is that our young people are already having trouble, and aren’t measuring up to the ideal outcomes our education system, culture, and families define. It might be declining test scores, weak academic competencies (compared with children in other countries), unhealthy eating and exercise habits, poor social skills (e.g., difficulty making friends, disrespecting others), decreased creativity, or a general failure to overcome unexpected challenges. Any of these, or several, might be identified as the core problem facing our teenagers these days.

Summer Camp Teenagers

So what can we do to help? If your teen is slipping in any of these ways, how can you improve the situation, make a difference in some way? One proposal suggested, and increasingly so it seems, is to lengthen the school year. It’s claimed that organized classroom education provides the best chance to “reach” the youth and “make a difference in their lives.” As we’ve mentioned before, this is a weak, incomplete solution at best, one that fails to understand the complexities of youth development and the many dimensions it demands. It might be easy to understand and simple to measure, but extending the school calendar is not going to help our teenagers navigate their lives better. If your teen can’t make choices for herself, extra math homework isn’t going to help.

Again, what is there to do? How can we complement our current education system, augment what we already do in the classroom with learning that addresses the complete human being? What experiential gaps should we fill, opportunities should we create, models should we provide? What setting would best support these ordinarily neglected aspects of growing up?

One answer, we, and so many other youth development professionals, advocate is the benefits provided by summer camps. Camps are organized settings that encourage young people to reach beyond what they know, interact with others positively, take responsibility for their own decisions, physically engage the natural world, build self-esteem, and experience meaningful success. Summer camps are incredibly effective educational institutions, that camp parents will tell you, make a huge difference in the health and well-being of their children. Summer camps are just very good at helping children grow in these very important ways.

Yes, we should extend the education of our teenagers and children, not by lengthening the school year, but by providing greater experiential opportunities like those found at summer camps. Send your teenager to camp. That’s what you can do.

climbing teenagers

Evening Program Writing

Girl Teen Sleepover Camps

We found this great old photo in the Rockbrook archives the other day. It’s not exactly clear when it was taken, but we’re guessing that it was sometime in the 1950s. It looks like the girls are all writing for the camp yearbook, “The Carrier Pigeon” during an evening program in the upper Lakeview Lodge. It’s when all the girls in an age group take time to jot down a favorite memory (sometimes as a poem or drawing) from their time at camp that summer. We later compile them all and publish the “Carrier Pigeon” each year.

From the photo, you might think it’s a sleepover, since the girls are in their pajamas, but that’s just life at an all girls camp. Nice and relaxed.

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!

Camp Builds Teen Self Esteem

NC Teen Camp Girl

It’s not something we talk about much— mostly because it happens without any extra effort —but camp is a place where everyday you can achieve something great. You can make something, do something extra-ordinary (if ordinary is what happens at home or at school), meet some challenge, and feel good about it. For a teen girl, especially, camp proves you can do it, and you can believe in yourself.  It’s a real boost to your self-esteem. Sure things can sometimes go badly, like when you can’t quite hit the target at first, but camp is also a place where you get plenty of encouragement and support from the people around you. Particularly at Rockbrook, we’re not competing. We’re all trying new things and enjoying each other’s company, no matter what our “score.” Here too, it feels so good when you realize that these people are your friends, no matter what. Ask the teen girls that come to camp every summer, and they’ll tell you. It’s just like this.