Like a Girl

Ceramics Glazing KidTake 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 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 KidsAnd 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 KidRockbrook 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!

How to define “Camp”

Defining “camp” or a “summer youth camp” is more difficult than it might first appear.  We all tend to speak about camps and understand summer camps as somehow special.  We believe they can be defined, shown to be unique and different than other youth development organizations or experiences.  The difficulty of defining “camp” starts to become clear, however, when faced with a definition that is too wide, vague or ambiguous.  For example, saying “a youth camp is a place to have fun” seems inadequate.  After all, it’s easy to think of very “non-camp-like” examples that would fall under this vague definition.  Is going to a movie, or playing video games in an arcade, or riding a bicycle (all ways to have “fun”) a “youth camp?” Certainly not.  Conversely, defining “summer camp” is difficult because a definition could be inadequate by being too limited or restrictive.  Would we all agree that a youth camp is “a day program to teach teenage dyslexic boys how to play chess?”  Certainly not because we can think of many examples of camps that don’t match up with this narrow definition.

Youth Summer Camp KidsThe challenge is to establish a definition that’s not too wide, thereby allowing anything to be included in our understanding of “camp,” and not too narrow so as to exclude clear examples of a summer camp.

So, how do we do it? What would be an adequate definition of summer camp? It’s important to realize, first of all, that by asking for “an adequate” definition, I am suggesting that there is more than one definition we might write, each of which being more or less suited to any particular context, or need for a definition. Put differently, there really isn’t one correct definition of camp. There are many. An adequate definition of camp is a matter of deciding on the right level of specificity for our purposes, and since these can vary, so can our definition. If we wish to distinguish “youth camps” from schools, we might write a very different definition than if we want to claim camps are distinct from amusement parks.

With that caveat, here are two methods of defining summer camp that are broadly adequate.

1. A summer camp is a youth development organization, supervised by professional adults, that strives to foster personal growth for children by providing them fun, safe educational/recreational programs, outdoor experiences and group activities while away from home during the summer months.

2. A summer camp is a youth development organization that may: a) serve a single gender or be coed, b) serve a narrow range of ages or a wide range, c) serve clients with special needs or the general population, d) provide a specific narrow group of activities or a broad general program, e) be residential or operate only for limited hours during the day, f) include religious training/guidance or be non-religious, g) operate in a single location or focus on trips/travel, h) be a for-profit business or non-profit, i) be private and independently owned or overseen by an agency.

The first definition relies on what summer camps do, on their unique functions as youth development organizations, while the second definition focuses more on the range of substantive attributes camps express as organizations.  Again, both definitions are merely adequate because they could easily be made more exclusive by adding functions or attributes, as the case may be, or more inclusive by removing criteria from each.

For now, we can recognize the context-dependent nature of these definitions, and still celebrate the unique goals and accomplishments of summer camps, the benefits they provide children, and the organizational character they have sustained for 150 years.

The Youth Camps of North Carolina

Visitors to western North Carolina often remark that there are a lot of summer camps located in the area. There sure are! The awesome natural features of this part of NC— the highest peaks east of the Mississippi River, millions of acres of State and National forests, whitewater rivers, rock climbing crags, and beautiful lakes —make it ideal for adventure activities, cooler summer temperatures, and the outdoor setting for summer camps. It’s not too surprising western North Carolina has a long history of summer camping.

Looking at the entire state, there’s a clear pattern to where summer camps are located. Take a look at this map.

Summer Camps in North Carolina

It shows the youth summer camps in western North Carolina. In the entire state, there are approximately 186 camps, with more than half (about 90) located in the western mountains. The others are concentrated near 3 major population centers (Charlotte, Greensboro and Raleigh). Many of these are smaller day camps that serve the local communities.

The red pins are accredited by American Camp Association accredited camps, like Rockbrook. Here too, more than half of the State’s ACA accredited camps are located in the western region.

For more information about the precise location of Rockbrook, visit our NC Location page.

youth campers in NC

Youth Development

Journal for Youth DevelopmentOne phrase camp professionals often use to describe their work is “Youth Development.” Beginning, most likely, with the American Camp Association (ACA), most camp directors are quick to point out the beneficial outcomes children gain from the summer camp experience, the power camp has in developing young people’s character, confidence, and other important life-skills. In this way, summer camps are “youth development organizations.” Just about everyone who knows about camp, and Rockbrook is no exception, will agree.

Did you know that “Youth Development” also refers to a multidisciplinary academic discipline (drawing on psychology, education, sociology, family science, and public health, among others) dedicated to studying the development of school-aged children? Well, it’s true and there’s a peer-reviewed journal published to prove it! The Journal of Youth Development reports original research and focused studies with applied consequences that can make a difference in youth development professional’s work.

One article particularly relevant for camp professionals was published in the Journal back in 2007— “Components of Camp Experiences for Positive Youth Development.” Working with survey data gathered by the ACA from its member camps, the article tries to identify those aspects of camp life that have the greatest positive effect on youth development. Most significantly, the researchers conclude it is the supportive relationships children have with camp staff that are most important, followed by “program structure, elements of accountability, assessment of outcomes, and opportunities for skill building.” The take away lesson here, of course, is the importance of great people working as a camp’s counselors. We certainly know this at Rockbrook. A great staff of caring, attentive, supportive role models really benefits the campers and brings the whole camp together throughout the summer. Our campers make all kinds of strides as a result. We’ve all seen it, but with this research, there’s academic credibility backing it up!

More Benefits of Youth Camp

Camp Benefits GirlsI spotted an article discussing how parents can understand why residential summer camps are worth their cost. It’s true; sleepaway camps are usually expensive and can cost between $1000 and $2000 per week. And while it’s also true every summer activity (e.g., other educational opportunities, extracurricular activities, family vacations, trips, and entertainment) costs something significant, what are the unique benefits of an overnight camp experience that can justify its price?

First of all, the American Camp Association has a lot to say about the benefits for youth of attending summer camp. We have written about it before here and here (and especially here!), but you should visit the ACA Web site to see what they say.

One clear, obvious benefit to camp is the fun and concrete skills kids gain from the wide range of camp activities available.  By trying everything at camp, girls learn how to be an archer, a swimmer, a knitter, a tennis player, an actor, and a horseback rider, to name just a few.  They learn to do things, exciting new things that can easily turn into life-long pursuits.

Perhaps more importantly, a quality camp experience provides kids intangible benefits as well. Here’s how one camp director in the article put it.

“Besides all the exciting activities and friendships made, the immense value in camp comes in the development of key lifetime skills and attributes such as confidence, cooperation, communication, new skills and decision-making, to name a few. Camp goes beyond a summer session. It’s unique in that it really is about each camper developing their best self for life… In that regard it is priceless.”

More than other summer activities, a sleep away summer camp experience endows children with valuable life skills, provides positive adult role models, supports them with consistent encouragement, and all within the kind of well-rounded wholesome environment all too rarely found these days. These are lasting benefits that can really make a difference in a child’s life as she becomes an adult.  It’s pretty clear; with that kind of benefit, camp is definitely worth it.

The Riding Program Staff

Youth Horse CampsOne important aspect of Rockbrook’s youth horse camps is its horseback riding staff members’ qualifications. The equestrian program’s director, Cara Thompson, interviews and selects all of the riding instructors that work at Rockbrook. Cara has directed the Rockbrook horse camps for five years now, following her graduation from St. Andrews College with a Bachelors Degree in Equine Business Management. Cara insures that each of the women teaching riding at Rockbrook’s youth horse camps has several years of experience working with horses and instructing both beginners and experienced riders. Most of these instructors are studying a horse-related field in college, and in some cases, have already graduated with an equine studies degree. The horseback riding program enjoy great consistency too because every summer several of the riding staff members joining Cara return from the previous summer.

The youth horse camps at Rockbrook have continued to expand their reputation and to attract an impressive group of young riders.

What Youth Camps Teach

Youth Camp Girl Educational ActivityAs a summer youth camp, Rockbrook’s mission is to be

“a haven for girls, a place of their own, where they can explore the beauty of nature, try new things, enjoy carefree summer living, and make some of their very best friends.”

And of course, camp is all about the fun, the super silliness of it all, too.

But it’s also more than all that, because camp is also a place where you learn a ton. Camp is definitely educational, and in the very best sense of the word. It teaches you how to be more independent, more creative, braver, and more socially adept. Camp helps you learn new ways to get along with others, to trust the people around you, and to feel good about what you do. It’s really true; youth camps help young people learn about themselves.

When you add the sort of caring spirited people that work at Rockbrook, you begin to understand how summer camps can be one of the most valuable educational experiences around.