How Camp Changed My Life

Triple C melds traditional camp experience with current theories on child development

Rosser Wayland couldn’t be sure the crying child he saw on the D.C. subway was lost. The boy seemed alone. But were his parents nearby, waiting out a temper tantrum? Were they administering a timeout?

Wayland watched the eyes of the other passengers. He listened for any indication the boy’s parents were nearby. After a few minutes, he decided he should approach the child just to be sure. No one else seemed to be paying attention to him. If his parents were on the train, what was the worst that could happen?

Wayland sat down next to the boy—“hey man”—and asked him what was making him cry—“what’s going on?”

I would love to think I would have known what to do anyway, but it was so much easier to handle because of my experience at Triple C.

- Rosser

The boy couldn’t find his mom. He didn’t know what to do.

A longtime attendee of Triple C Camp in Charlottesville and a graduate of the summer day camp’s leadership program, Wayland switched into counselor mode. He told the boy it would be okay. He asked him about his hobbies and what he was into. He got him off the train and took him to the Metro security office. He and the boy “hung out and had a good time.” The boy’s mom showed up at the office soon thereafter, and Wayland saw him off, safe and sound.

“I would love to think I would have known what to do anyway,” Wayland said. “But it was so much easier to handle because of my experience at Triple C.”

character intro_final

Wayland isn’t the only young person in Charlottesville who has summer camp to thank for helping him become a well-adjusted adult. Triple C, the one traditional outdoor camp in the city, has seen more than 15,000 campers safely walk in and out of its gates since 2000, when the current owners took over the operation. Down the road in Louisa, Camp Friendship welcomes hundreds of campers every year, and C’Ville based Camp Holiday Trails caters to kids with special health needs, but no one else delivers an experience like Triple C’s.

We are partnering with parents to raise their children for their lives.

- “H”

“Traditional summer camps focus on child development through activities like sports, arts and crafts, nature, and horseback riding,” said “H” Rothenberg, who runs Triple C alongside his wife Libby. “We are partnering with parents to raise their children for their lives.”

The Psychology of Choice

A well-thought-out summer camp environment is exactly what children need to develop into effective, self-directed adults, according to Western Kentucky University’s Ron Ramsing and the University of Utah’s Jim Sibthorp. The researchers have studied the effects of camp extensively, and their findings in “The Role of Autonomy Support in Summer Camp Programs: Preparing Youth for Productive Behaviors” show camps that allow children to direct their own experiences can help build well-adjusted adults.

“Autonomy support—providing rationale, choice, and perspective, and limiting control—has been shown to enhance self-determination,” Ramsing and Sibthorp write. And a “camper-centered instructional approach produces increased perceptions of autonomy support.”

Wayland gives a lot of credit to Triple C Camp for helping him develop into a self-directed adult. It’s no wonder—he’s been with the camp longer than the current owners.

Rosser Through the Years

  • Rosser as a camper at Triple C

  • Rosser as a counselor with his twin Trailblazer camper

  • Rosser with "H" and Libby's son Ryan

  • Rosser making balloon animals with the Pioneers campers

  • Rosser holding a sign dedicated to him by Libby and "H"

  • Rosser at his wedding with his former counselor and their former camper

  • Rosser's wedding party made up of life-long camp friends

Wayland first spent a summer on the mountainside off Route 20 when he was four years old. He and his parents remember the camp as being a good place to run around and blow off steam. When Wayland was entering 8th grade, Libby and “H” took over, and the entire Wayland family appreciated that the camp became more structured. Plus, Libby and “H” added a second pool to the bow-tie-shaped grounds and challenge course.

Wayland said it was only years later that he realized Libby and “H” had added to the educational side of the camp experience.

“It wasn’t like you were just playing tag. Tag had a point,” he said. “They would mold these regular games and push structure and activities. For a kid like me, it was awesome. Here was a game I played all the time, and unbeknownst to me I was learning something.”

Today, Wayland is a customer service manager in a field he loves. He said he was able to move up to management mostly because of the communication skills he learned at Triple C. According to “H”, developing those sorts of life skills is the goal with each Triple C camper. The camp, he says, focuses on the development of the whole child and looks to build character traits like grit and determination. Triple C aims to fuel children’s promise, hopes, aspirations, and dreams, all the while giving them the tools they need to make them possible.

Everywhere else, ‘no’ and ‘don’t’ are in every sentence. Our rules are all in the positive context.

- Libby

“H” said one way Triple C develops these attributes is through its positive rules and discipline program. Take the camp’s pool rules. Where most public pools post a sign telling kids what they can’t do around the pool, Triple C posts rules telling its campers what they can do.

“Everywhere else, ‘no’ and ‘don’t’ are in every sentence,” Libby said. “Our rules are all in the positive context.”

Pool rules 12.13

Taking the same philosophy a step further, positive discipline is further reinforced by giving campers several options for alternative behaviors when they’re acting out, Libby said. If a young camper refuses to play by the rules during a kickball game, a camp counselor might pull him aside and suggest he sit the game out for a while or change his behavior and rejoin the other kids. The child will choose to cooperate with the game almost every time, Libby said.

“If something negative happens and it’s not a safety thing, it can be ignored and not given attention, because the kids are craving attention,” “H” said. “If it needs attention, we redirect focus to something that is more positive.”

The discipline strategy is particularly effective in a day camp setting, according to Libby. Whereas in school children are often isolated when they’re being disruptive and disciplined later, in camp, counselors can freeze time and deal with issues the moment they come up.

We don’t expect them to be perfect. We allow them to evolve to their own conclusions.

- Libby

Libby said by the end of the summer, Triple C campers often police themselves. “There’s nothing better,” she said, than seeing a second grader tell her friend she might not want to stand up on the porch railing after lunch outside the camp dining hall. “We don’t expect them to be perfect,” Libby said. “We allow them to evolve to their own conclusions.”

In their research, Ramsing and Sibthorp find behavioral goals that are uninteresting to kids, like exercise, diet, and medical self-management, are best learned through “self-regulation.” The curriculum at Triple C is specifically designed to give kids increasing autonomy through the years. It’s another important part of developing well-adjusted adults, but it’s also a way to keep kids excited about coming to camp every day.

“At some point, kids start to determine their interests,” Libby said. “It’s a progression, a rite of passage.”

Through the Years at Camp

Hannah Ciucias may have just spent her last summer with Triple C Camp. She’s gone through every level the camp offers in the years since she started there in kindergarten, and she recently completed the Triple C leadership program for rising 9th and 10th graders called “The Edge.”

KUcTNliTR8tk339Mm9yzW6UytSrYgXL9f7UpGXf6myoThere is a chance, though, that Ciucias hasn’t seen the last of the naturally shaded grounds on the gentle slope of Carter Mountain. The camp that has played such a big part of her life over the past 10 years invites its leadership program graduates to apply to be counselors at the camp.

“H” said not all leadership program graduates are automatically made counselors, but Hannah has the background to be a top candidate. She started her journey in “Pioneers,” where rising kindergarteners and first graders are separated by gender and placed into groups of about 15. Two or three counselors, as well as specialists in each activity field, lead the kids through daily swim lessons, arts and crafts, nature projects, basic ecology, sports and games, and pony rides.

Triple C Camp Age Groups

  • Pioneers: Rising K - 1st

  • Trailblazers: Rising 2nd - 3rd

  • Explorers: Rising 4th - 6th

  • Teen Scene: Rising 6th - 8th

  • The Edge: Rising 9th - 10th

“We are the only camp in the area that is a traditional outdoor camp. We’re not a gym or a sports facility,” Libby said. “What’s more fun than playing in a nice soft rain at camp? We can get muddy and dirty and gross. It doesn’t matter at camp.”

As a “Trailblazer,” the next step in the Triple C hierarchy, Ciucias got her first taste of independence. Rising 2nd and 3rd graders try new sports, crafts, games, hikes, and nature activities, and they can take on the ropes/challenge course, designed to help campers work better as members of a team, communicate efficiently, and build confidence. What’s more, Trailblazers are given the opportunity to pick an activity once a week on which they can spend extra time, be it swimming, horseback riding, or archery.

The independence for Trailblazers continues with the opportunity to spend the night at camp on Thursday nights.

“The overnights were my favorite part of camp,” Ciucias said. “I liked it because you could be with your friends and it was more relaxed.”

 

 

Explorers,” the program for rising 4th through 6h graders, represents a big step up in making choices, as each week campers “explore” one of the camp’s activities for an entire week.

The choices extend beyond the bounds of the Triple C campgrounds for rising sixth through eighth graders when they enter “Teen Scene.” Off-site trips to go hiking, swimming, canoeing, fishing, or play tennis are scheduled for three days out of the week and offer a chance to learn activity planning. The teens engage in community service one morning out of the week.

Finally, it’s on to “The Edge,” the leadership program for rising 9th and 10th graders from which Ciucias just graduated. Having learned about the operation of a camp as a business and enrichment program, the only question now is if she will continue on as a counselor.

“I’m working on the application right now,” she said. “One of the questions is, ‘Think of a time when you put someone else’s needs ahead of your own.’ I’m part of a school [service club], and I was in the middle of watching a basketball game when I got a call from my sponsor to help with a fundraiser at Food Lion. I was happy to help.”

Traditional Summer Camp Activities

Camp Counselors and Leaders

Michael Thompson, a clinical psychologist and school and camp consultant, believes role models like camp counselors can be as important to the development of young people as their parents. College-aged students are viewed as different from parents, he says. They’re better looking, cooler, and have interesting skill sets. Just by being themselves, they can make it seem like a good idea—fun even—to set tables, keep track of your belongings, take turns, take risks, and accept challenges.

“These young adults often teach complex, challenging life-and-death skills: sailing, horseback riding, rock climbing, whitewater kayaking and survival techniques,” Thompson wrote in a 2012 New York Times article entitled “Why Camp Counselors Can Out-Parent Parents.” “They also teach character and community, caring and sacrifice. And they do it all in an environment free of electronics.”

According to “H”, camp counselors are also critical for creating a safe environment, since without safety, parents can’t be comfortable, and campers can’t have fun. That’s why he and Libby are involved in every staffing decision made for Triple C Camp.

“The sense of responsibility was a big thing at camp,” Wayland said. “That’s the one thing I always go back and talk to new counselors about. These parents don’t know anything about this camp, and they’re about to give their kids to you for a whole summer. It lays a huge sense of responsibility on you.”

Libby Rothenberg

Libby Rothenberg is a registered nurse and an American Red Cross lifeguard instructor trainer. Her camp background comes through the Girl Scouts, where she evolved from camper to director. Libby has visited every international Girl Scout center worldwide, and she is now extensively involved with both her children’s scout troops. Libby says one of her proudest achievements is seeing both her kids, Eryn and Ryan, achieve the highest honor in their respective scouting organizations.

Over the years, Libby has directed private camps, not-for-profit camps, and year- round sports programs. “H” said that at Triple C, she is “a true camp Mom.”

“We have a feeling of family camaraderie at Triple C,” Libby said. “We see every face multiple times a day.”

"H" Rothenberg

“H” Rothenberg has been involved in camp in some way or another every summer since 1975. He has been a camper, counselor, unit head, assistant director, and director at private and not-for-profit camps across the Midwest. His college degree is in elementary education, and he has extensive experience coaching basketball at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. Prior to coming to Triple C in 2000, “H” was director of an all-boy’s sports camp in Northern Wisconsin.

“H” is also the professional development committee chair of the America Camp Association’s Virginia section and participates in conferences nationwide, sometimes as a speaker.

“I speak about child development and getting outside for play,” he said. “Play inside is very different than play outside, today more than ever. We want the kids to connect with the outdoors.”

With a safe environment assured through extensive interviews and background checks, “H” said it’s critical to find counselors that can bring something special to the camp curriculum.

“It all starts with our certifications and training, but also how we train the staff,” “H” said. “The staff is the key to the success of the program.”

We allow for our counselors to use their skills. If they are into yoga and the campers like the woods, we might do yoga in the woods.

- Libby

The average age of the counselors at Triple C is 22-23 years old, and “H” said he and Libby only hire people who are quality role models. They also employ specialists in each area the camp offers activities—sports, arts and crafts, drama, nature, horses, ropes course, and swimming—and some of the staff comes from abroad, from countries like Australia, New Zealand, England, Russia, and South Africa.

“We allow for our counselors to use their skills. If they are into yoga, we might do yoga in the woods,” Libby said. “Our counselors recognize there are hundreds of eyes on them at all times.”

International Counselors

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Campers in the World

Whether Ciucias goes on to be a camp counselor or not, it’s safe to say the camp has had a significant affect on the person she has become. She’s an avid tennis player and works with the athletic teams at her high school, serving as a student athletic trainer during winter and fall sports. She said she’d like to attend college and go on to be an athletic trainer.

Ciucias’ love of sports is something that was fostered at camp, she said, and the variety of games and activities she participated in kept her from tiring of being outdoors, staying active, and interacting with friends on a personal level. “H” said that’s by design.

“The amount of screen time the kids are having these days is unbelievable,” “H” said. “It is their primary interaction with their friends.”

Sports and other outdoor activities can be so much more than just play, according to “H.” They offer an opportunity to learn how to work in teams as adults. And they’re a chance to make lasting friendships.

The bond developed at camp is something Wayland knows all too well. After graduating from the Edge program, he became a Triple C counselor, and in 2011, he met a girl—an incoming counselor—at a camp open house. She had worked at another summer camp that had recently closed, and Wayland “immediately fell head over heels not only with her but with our shared love and affection for camp and the camping world.”

Rosser and Lindsay Wayland married at Triple C Camp on June 15, 2013. The location was the ideal place to celebrate their life together alongside friends—many of whom were fellow Triple C attendees and counselors—and family, Wayland said.

“Camp was the most monumental experience of my whole life,” Wayland said. “It taught me to approach everything with this underlying compassion.”

Author

Shea Gibbs

Shea is a freelance writer, editor, and PR consultant based in Charlottesville, VA. Gibbs writes primarily about business, technology, music, and food and assists businesses in a range of industries with communications strategy and market research.