Camp Teaches Resilience

Everyone experiences setbacks now and then, the occasional failed effort or unexpected misfortune. But what happens when you kids trip up or get knocked down? Do they stay down? Sink lower, and let that moment of failure defeat them? Or, do they bounce back, maybe learn from the experience, and gain a new dimension of confidence to face the next challenge? Put differently, how resilient are your kids?

Girls Resilience at Summer Camp

Dr. Michael Ungar, a Social Worker, Family Therapist, and University Research Professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada has thought about this question a lot. He is a co-director of the Resilience Research Centre, an organization coordinating experts from around the world in sociology, psychiatry, education and medicine in a broad project to understand the cross-cultural similarities and differences in how resilience is understood, and to explore ways we can help children and young people be more resilient.

Several times before we’ve discussed how summer camp helps kids grow and how becoming more resilient is one of the clear benefits of camp. Now Dr. Ungar weighs in with a nice Psychology Today article entitled, “Summer Camps Make Kids Resilient.”

I encourage you to go read the article, but I wanted to summarize his main points here as well. Perhaps most importantly, Ungar identifies summer camp as a place where kids learn to do things for themselves without the kind of careful orchestration parents ordinarily provide. It’s a place where, instead, they can try challenging activities and take manageable risks, all while being provided encouragement and positive role models to help them learn to cope with disappointments.

Speaking from his research on resilience, Ungar pinpoints 7 important components of the summer camp experience children need to develop these coping strategies. These are seven things camp provides that help kids when they experience setbacks later in their lives.

  1. New friendly relationships
  2. Regular moments of pride and self-confidence
  3. Experiences of competency and self-efficacy
  4. Relief from unfair social treatment
  5. Healthy physical activity and nutrition habits
  6. Belonging to a meaningful community
  7. Opportunities to reflect on cultural values

There’s so much more to each of these, and I suspect interesting mechanisms that make them effective. What’s important to realize is that all of them are core ingredients of the camp experience here at Rockbrook. The program activities, staff training, and overall camp philosophy here work together to insure that our campers enjoy these beneficial experiences. Of course, we’re having a really great time together as well, just as we strengthen our powers of resilience.

All Their Senses

Kids Outdoor Senses

“I worry about how much time my kids spend looking at a screen.”

We’ve heard this more than once recently, perhaps not so surprisingly when you consider how many electronic screens are part of our lives these days. For our kids too, in addition to television, there are cellphones, computers, tablet computers, ebook readers and hand-held video games. Screens are everywhere, even in our pockets! With this kind of availability and often unlimited access to technology, we now see that the average 8-18 year old child in America is spending 53 hours per week consuming electronic media.

We’ve discussed before the value of unplugging from technology and how camp gets kids out of the virtual world of screens and into the actual world of nature. Camp turns off the screens and gets kids actually doing things instead of just watching.

It’s worth underlining another benefit to turning off the screens. It’s the simple fact that by getting kids outside and giving them lots of fun things to do, they stimulate and utilize all their senses. They feel things— mist in the morning, hear things— owls at night, smell things— galax along the trail, and even taste things— s’mores (!), that can’t come from a screen. By bringing all of their senses into play, instead of just their eyes and ears, kids activate and develop their brains in important ways that can enrich their future experiences.

This is another way camp really matters to kids. It’s fun in creative, imaginative, and sensuous ways. It’s stimulating in the best sense.

Interrupt the Race to Nowhere

Crazy Summer FunAfter discussing the rigorous, driven parenting style recounted by Amy Chua, the recent documentary film Race to Nowhere adds fuel to the fire. In their desire to do “what’s best” for their kids, to provide them “every opportunity,” and to cheer them on to “work hard” toward their goals, the film shows parents pushing their kids to the brink. It’s heartbreaking to see in the film the anxiety both school kids and their parents are dealing with as they race between school work, team practice, and other responsibilities. The quality of what they eat and the amount of sleep they get are the first to be sacrificed in this pressure to excel, but kids are also, I would say, giving up important parts of their childhood. In the name of “getting into a good college” and later, “getting a good job” they have hopped on a treadmill that’s speeding past valuable opportunities to develop as healthy, happy human beings.

Here again, we have to applaud the power of a traditional sleepaway summer camp to act as a welcome relief from these pressures. Rockbrook is a down-to-earth community of people who simply love to relax, be themselves, make good solid friendships, and enjoy the pure freedom of summer. We’re a zany bunch, always in motion, and always ready to try something new for the fun of it. Camp, like the best moments of childhood, is full of unexpected pleasures. Surrounded by equally enthusiastic people, it’s easy to be excited about everything!

The lasting benefits of a camp experience are very well documented, but here’s another. It’s simply wonderful for kids to take a break from the pressures of school. Interrupting the “race to nowhere” with camp is a very good idea.

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.