Relief from the Burden

One of the great things about the 4-week session at camp is that it gives us all more time to spend just hanging out with each other. It happens all the time: groups of girls casually sitting in the shade, chatting, working on a friendship bracelet tied to their water bottle. Between activities, before meals when we all have about an hour of unscheduled time, after dinner, and throughout the day: camp life provides an uninterrupted flow of friendly conversation. It’s a true luxury to enjoy spending time like this with the amazing people at Rockbrook.

Yoga camp girl friendsJoining one of these impromptu groups is really pleasant too. The girls are so breezy and nice, curious and excited, silly and funny much of the time. I love asking the group questions and hearing what’s on their minds. For example, I recently asked a few campers what they love about Rockbrook that’s different from home. There are lots of answers to this question, and I believe it’s those differences that help explain why girls love camp. Many of the answers you might expect: “My camp friends… they know the real me,” “There’s so many fun things to do here,” “I love the food at camp.” One group of teenage campers surprised me when one said, “I like not having my phone,” and all the others chimed in agreeing. Teenage girls who happily give up using their smartphone? It’s a bit hard to believe, isn’t it?

You might expect the opposite, that the girls at camp are missing their phones, that they can’t wait to return to their Instagram accounts, Snapchat streaks, and Twitter followers. But it’s not true.  Back home though, we’ve all seen it. Their lives revolve around their smartphones, using them for daily communication, socializing and entertainment.  We’ve also seen this technology use effectively rule their lives, with teen girls spending an average of 9 hours per day on their phone, according to one study. Being constantly drawn to those little screens is a powerful force that we all deal with. As this sculpture “Absorbed by Light” portrays, our communication devices are effectively isolating us and distorting what we know about the world and feel about ourselves.

rockbrook camp girlsSo why is camp different? If girls are happy to not use their phone here, why not at home too? That’s exactly what I asked the girls. They said at camp there’s simply no need for a phone. The authentic days of camp make any mediating device unnecessary. Here the community provides plenty of socializing, face-to-face communication, and rich real-world entertainment everyday.  People here have lots of free time, but are never bored because there are friends all around, always engaging things to do available, and no pressure to perform a certain way.  At home, unfortunately, all of this is less true, and their smartphones are used to fill the gap.

What’s amazing is that the girls recognize all of this. Living here at camp in this technology-free community has demonstrated for them that their smartphones, while convenient and perhaps even necessary in modern life, are also a burden.  They feel a real sense of relief giving them up and not needing them. They welcome reclaiming those 9 hours per day, freeing themselves to enjoy all that camp offers. These Rockbrook girls love camp because they feel fulfilled without needing their phones.

At home, where the tight-knit community of camp is absent, the challenge is to find a healthy balance between using our phones and the kind of real-world, fully-engaging experience I think we all crave. The challenge is to structure our time, identifying when using technology is a benefit and when it is distancing us from what we really want and need. The luxury of camp life is not available all year long, after all that’s why we love camp and return to it every summer, but we can recognize what it provides and with this awareness, implement elements of it more broadly.

Your Rockbrook girls are taking great strides in that direction, and we should all be very proud!

summer camp girl dancers

Turning Into a Mermaid

By Lindsay Futch (The Lake Lady)

swimming friends at campSo, you’d rather be a Mermaid, right?
Well good news! Rockbrook Camp allows you to do just that.

From the first day you arrive at camp, you have the opportunity to dive right into the Redbird-shaped Lake, and demonstrate your swimming style.

But if you want to be a Mermaid, clearly one dip in the lake is not enough. It takes time in the water.

Here’s the Rockbrook guide to turning into a Mermaid!

Step One: Sign up for swimming as much as you can! In swimming, we like to give time to the campers to swim their Mermaid laps.  You will swim back and forth a lot, while the awesome lifeguards cheer you on with each passing lap.

mermaid girls swimming lapsStep Two: Set a goal to swim a certain number of laps each day. Depending on your age, becoming a mermaid requires different lap totals. Juniors in full sessions swim 125 laps, while juniors in mini sessions swim 65 laps. These numbers increase as you get older!

Step Three: If you didn’t make that goal amount in swimming, continue them during first and second free swim times. Sometimes, it’s difficult to meet the lap goal that you set for swimming activities. But that’s okay!  It’s fine to take a break and enjoy playing with your friends. If that happens, just know that you can always swim during the first and second free swim periods to complete your laps.

kids goofing around at the camp lakeStep Four: Just keep swimming! Like Dory says in Finding Nemo, “just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming swimming swimming!” The laps might seem too long, but setting a goal and being determined to finish that goal is very rewarding in the end. Especially when Dolly’s is the reward!

Step Five: See your scales start to glint in the sun. You’re almost done! Just a little more perseverance.

Step Six: Feel your tail start to sprout.

Step Seven: Bask in the camp celebration of your transformation. When you’ve finally reached Mermaid status, the whole camp sings a special song just for you.

“Way down at Rockbrook in the chilly lake.
There were some girls a swimming who started to shiver and shake.
We saw some scales a glinting and TAILS they did sprout.
Lo and behold a Mermaid, the whole camp to shout. Oh Mermaid, Mermaid, what’s your name?
(Name, Name)
You’re a Mermaid!”

Step Eight: Enjoy a refreshing scoop of ice cream from Dolly’s Dairy Bar!! You’ve earned it! You’re a Mermaid!

rockbrook camp lake fun

Growing Together

“Most of us can remember how long the summers used to seem and how long it was from birthday to birthday. When we were five, it seemed we’d never get to be ten, and at ten it seemed it would be forever until we were twenty. So often is it only by looking back at where we have been that we can see we are growing at all.” —Fred Rogers

multi-age camp girlsCamp is often thought of as an antidote to many of the things we miss in today’s society: it provides a slower pace, a place to have real conversations, a time to disconnect from technology and reconnect with people. Even reconnecting with people is unique. With more socializing done online and inside and less within the community, many of us only have strong relationships with people who are within the same age, or are family. At camp, however, we are constantly interacting with people, and building community with, people who are older and younger than us. These inter-age conversations give us so many advantages: we are able to see new perspectives and hear new stories, see how far we’ve grown or where we are growing to, and form a dynamic community where all ages can appreciate what the others are offering.

These relationships are woven into the fabric of camp. At dance today, for example, there were three juniors and two counselors dancing. The counselors were patient and kind as the campers picked up the moves, each representing their own unique personalities in their renditions. Then, when they took a break, I thought about how naturally the girls and counselors were talking. It was simple: they were talking about movies (the song “Thriller” was playing, which some of the girls recognized from Thirteen Going On Thirty), speculating about the upcoming banquet (a topic that is endlessly interesting), and about the upcoming dance show. Even though the conversations were simple, they were quietly profound; each girl was known, and was able to share her unique experiences with the group. There aren’t many other times that twenty-year-olds and eight-year-olds sit in the same room and talk about their lives and experiences.

camp craft project girls togetherThis happens all the time, all throughout camp. It’s there when girls are sitting on the dock talking to swimming instructors after swimming in the lake. It’s there when seniors led the Luau on Sunday, welcoming new campers and inspiring their excitement about the activities. Maybe it’s best represented by the Hi-Ups, who have the most structured interactions with younger campers. Yesterday, I helped lead the junior overnight at the Rockbrook outpost, a ten-minute walk from camp. A few Hi-Ups (the oldest campers) were helping me build a fire. One of the Hi-Ups said she had not been out there since she was a junior. When the juniors came to meet us out there, she knew all of their names, and knew what to do to make the overnight incredible. Knowing her was clearly meaningful for the juniors; they all asked her to sit beside her, and the way she knew them made each of them feel special and valued. By getting to interact with people older than them, juniors are able to see role models of who they want to be as they are growing. Yet it was also meaningful for the Hi-Up. At the overnight, she was able to see how much she had grown in her years at camp, to help provide an experience for others that had meant so much to her as a junior, and to enjoy the new perspectives and sense of joy that come from talking to an outgoing and spirited cabin of juniors.

inter-age camp girls togetherCounselors have told me they love talking to campers partly because of the way campers ask them to see the world. One counselor laughed as she was telling me about her cabin of juniors who told her they were missing Bobby. She did not want to seem so out of the loop that she did not know who (or what) Bobby was, so she asked a lot of questions about what he looked like. What does Bobby wear? A top hat and a rainbow striped outfit. Could he have wandered off? No, he has no legs and arms, but he could have rolled. What color is Bobby? Rainbow (we just told you that!). It turned out Bobby was a cork the group had decorated. The counselor dove head-first into their mission, and the cabin even made an announcement at a meal about how he had gone missing. In the end, it turned out that he was found in a Crazy Creek, not far from where he was last seen. As I type this, rest assured that Bobby is safe in his box, a nice place, similar to where you may find a charm bracelet, with a nice foam mattress and a construction paper blanket. On the lid, you’ll see “Home Sweet Home,” written in Sharpie. As we grow up, and are inundated by pressures and distractions, it’s rare that we get the opportunity to work together to find a cork in a big camp, and we remember how much pure fun the simple parts of life can be.

In addition to these inter-age conversations that happen between campers and each other, and their young counselors, this extends to an even greater range of people. A great example is Kathy Singer, who was a Rockbrook Camper from 1956-1957, and then came back as a counselor in the 60s. Now, she teaches the Folklore Activity, and she is beloved at camp for her stories about camp and also her stories about life. Recently, campers and counselors started the “Kathy Singer Fan Club,” complete with stickers, a testament to how much she has meant to the camp community this summer.

By continuing to have these inter-age conversations, we are keeping the traditions of camp alive; we are all a part of this larger community, and we take care of each other, knowing that this spirit will continue into the future. We also learn more about other people, the change in times, and how much we have grown. In a world where we are sometimes disconnected from other ages and perspectives, how lucky we are to come to camp and grow together.

swimming with kickboards together in the lake

2nd Session Video Snapshot – 2

Robbie Francis, our amazing videographer, has delivered another of his wonderful highlights videos. He again has beautifully captured the feel of camp life. At under two minutes long, it’s worth watching multiple times because with each viewing, you’re bound to spot something new— a caring interaction, a simple expression of friendship, and certainly lots of smiles. It’s fascinating!

Take a look, and let us know what you think. …or use that share button! 🙂

Here is the video. Or click below.

 

Fed by Friendship

The closing campfire of each Rockbrook camp session, what we call our “Spirit Fire,” is a time for everyone to reflect upon their experience at camp. It’s a time to think about what was most important, memorable, and meaningful over the days living together here. The Spirit Fire is a chance, we could say, to acknowledge the “Spirit of Rockbrook,” that special character that makes every aspect of camp life extraordinary, and exceptionally fun. Dressed in their uniforms and assembled around a blazing fire, it’s a time for all the girls, and likewise the staff members, to be together, and share what camp means to them.

Part of the Spirit Fire program are speeches, moments when selected campers and counselors stand and address everyone, reciting some sort of personal account about Rockbrook, or their feelings about camp life. Here, for example, is an excerpt from Maggie’s speech from our last Spirit Fire.

teen camp friends

“Camp is so hard to explain to people who have never been to Rockbrook before. How do I explain how fun a shaving cream fight is? Or what it means to be a Mermaid? Or how great it feels to be the one to spin the wheel? Frankly, it’s impossible.

Friendships made at camp are unlike friendships at home. Although I only see my camp friends for a month each year, my bond with them feels so much stronger. All of my memories attached to camp are ones I look back at in a positive light. Getting to spend my summers at Rockbrook has given me so many friendships and opportunities that I will never take for granted.”

girl camp friendsI think most everyone here has experienced what Maggie is describing. I think she is saying that despite living it so intensely while at camp, it’s difficult (even “impossible”) to describe the “Spirit of Rockbrook.” And yet for her, a core part of that spirit is the special form of friendship we all cherish at camp. It’s the character of our camp friends— their depth, power, and genuine lasting nature —in other words that makes everything else at camp so meaningful.

I think Maggie has intuited something important. The Spirit of Rockbrook, that ineffable force shaping our time together, is fed by the incredible power of friendship here. This is why girls will tell you they come back to camp every summer for “the people” (or for what I might add, “their relationships with the people at camp). They want to be with their special “camp friends,” experience again that special closeness, and return to a life energized by the “Spirit of Rockbrook.”

It’s a separate question to wonder what makes camp friends special (“forever friends”), and further what it is about the camp environment that allows this special character to form. We’ll have to consider those questions— how and why camp friends are so special —in a later post. For now, we can simply celebrate camp life, and recognize the importance of friendship for its unique spirit.

Camp friendship

Accepting Adventure

Camp crew whitewater rafting

We jumped right into some outdoor adventure today, only the second full day of the session, by taking more than 90 people whitewater rafting on the Nantahala River. Since the early 1980s, after the US Forest Service issued us a permit to run the river (we’re the only girls camp to have one!), Rockbrook girls have been taking this exciting outdoor trip. It’s a fun two-hour run through the Nantahala Gorge over several well-known, named rapids as well as calm sections ideal for splashing and goofing around with the others in your boat. Over the years, rafting has become the most popular out-of-camp adventure trip we do with I’d say almost 90% of the Middlers and Seniors choosing to go.

There were actually two Rockbrook trips down the river, splitting the number of girls to make more reasonable sized groups.  The first chose to add an overnight camping experience the night before at our outpost camp located near the river’s put in. The girls came prepared with sleeping bags, a change of clothes, flashlight, brushes for hair and teeth, sprays to block bugs and the sun.  A few stuffed animals came along as well. We enjoyed a quick dinner of mac-n-cheese and still had time for a campfire and s’mores before heading off to sleep in the platform cabins. The second trip elected to ride over from camp and raft in the afternoon, finish up and be back for dinner.

Happy camp adventure raftingThe weather was ideal for both trips— hot and sunny. This of course made the “extra-cool” (close to 50 degrees) water feel both exhilarating and good. There were “high-fives” with paddles, chances to “ride the bull,” surprising bumps followed by sudden swims, and plenty of screams and laughter all day long. Check out the photo gallery to see shots from both trips. They were great!

There’s more to these rafting trips than simply the thrill, the ride, and the fun. For example, rafting is a real adventure, something that’s a little scary (because something might go wrong— like falling out of the boat), perhaps a little uncomfortable (that cold water!) and certainly a physical challenge. It promises to be fun, but really does take courage for girls to sign up and agree to go. And when they do go, endure the discomfort, power through that twinge of nervousness, and use their muscles in new ways, there’s inevitably success that feels really good. There’s accomplishment built into rafting and thereby it is a great self-confidence boosting experience. Through their own independent choice, their own agency, the girls learn they can do something (often with expert advice and special equipment) even when it looks difficult, uncomfortable or scary. Rafting can be a step toward feeling more confident and capable in other ways. Instead of shrinking from challenges, these camp girls will be more open to moving forward, accepting adventures, and proving once again that they can do it.

Camp is wonderful in this way, and this is just one example of how being independent, making choices, accepting challenges, and finding real success is our daily bread at Rockbrook… all wrapped in a thick layer of fun.  Such good stuff!

Nantahala rafting camper girls

Classic Camp Movies

two camp girls ready for an adventure

Here’s something fun! You might be anticipating your camp session later this summer, or you might be feeling nostalgia about time at camp, but you are definitely needing a little dose of camp life to get you by. If so, it might be time to pull out a classic camp movie. But which kid-friendly movie to choose?

Thinking about the classics, Corrine Sullivan at Popsuger makes several great suggestions.

  1. Meatballs (1979)
  2. Troop Beverly Hills (1989)
  3. The Parent Trap (1998)
  4. The Parent Trap (1961)
  5. Ernest Goes to Camp (1987)
  6. Camp Nowhere (1994)
  7. Heavyweights (1995)
  8. It Takes Two (1995)
  9. The Baby-Sitters Club (1995)
  10. Addams Family Values (1993)
  11. Camp Rock (2008)

You may have already seen several of these, but when you’re feeling “campsick,” it makes perfect sense to watch any of them again. Enjoy!

goofy camp friend group

A Life Unfiltered

Summer camps have long been described as places where children can benefit from eschewing certain aspects of modern life, where children, for example, can “return to nature,” practice “physical fitness,” or discover “spiritual truths.” Through the generations, as our society has evolved away from some social or cultural norm, parents have sought a way to provide their children access to what they feel is being lost. In this way, camps have happily served as repositories of tradition, havens from the inadequacies and perils of unchecked “progress” accepted by society.

zip line child

In recent years, a new threat of modernity has risen to the top of the list. It’s not simply “technology,” computers, television or the Internet, in the broadest sense, but it’s related these. It’s the smartphone, in particular the smartphone when in the hands of a child or adolescent.

Professor Jean M. Twenge (Dept. of Psychology at San Diego State University), who researches generational differences, has published a new book that explores how the introduction of the smartphone, its now near ubiquity among teenagers and other young people, correlates with a number of serious public health concerns. The book is: iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy— and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood —and What That Means for the Rest of Us. She also just published an article in The Atlantic adapted from the book: “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?

girls weaving looms

I want to encourage you to read the article, in fact STRONGLY encourage you, because I think you will find it informative, and perhaps troubling if not horrifying. Working at the level of demographics, Professor Twenge began to notice “abrupt shifts in teen behaviors and emotional states” beginning five years ago in 2012, the year when “the proportion of Americans who owned a smartphone surpassed 50 percent.” Today in 2017, almost 75% of American teens own smartphones and have begun to use these devices as a major means through which they interact with the world. What it means to “socialize” for today’s teens is mostly mediated, technologically filtered, by their smartphones. Increasingly these days, adolescents are doing less, meeting and hanging out less, and instead spending free time in virtual spaces texting and sharing Snapchats and other social media messages. Sadly, this often means our kids typically spend hours each day “on their phone, in their room, alone and often distressed.”

kayaking children

Research results pointing to troubling psychological and social trends affecting teens are stacking up. Teens getting together with friends has dropped, as has their interest in driving a car, alcohol consumption, dating, and even sex. While these trends are helping keep kids more physically safe— less drinking and driving, and teen pregnancies, for example — they also show adolescents spending more time alone, indoors and on their phone. Research data is showing teenagers who spend hours using social media are more likely to report being unhappy, lonely, and tired (sleep-deprived).  More troubling still is the correlation between smartphone use and depression and suicide. As smartphone use has increased since 2012 among teenagers, so has the suicide rate, now reaching a 40-year high. It’s clear that with the rise of adolescents’ smartphone use, particularly with respect to social media, their behavior and attitudes, their approach to the complexities of life, their expectations and desires, their talents and ambitions, are all changing.

All girl camp kids

Bringing this back to camp, it should be obvious what Rockbrook provides: a life unfiltered by smartphone technology, one filled with the experience of real friendships, bodily inter-action, discovery and exploration of the natural world.  Being at camp means actually doing things. It means children using and stimulating all their senses, not just the narrow idealized encounters available via a screen, no matter how “smart” it is. Camp provides daily opportunities to practice being real, taking managed risks, and creating enthusiastically. Life within a caring community like Rockbrook needs no technology to enliven deeper layers of our humanity, our sense of humor, our awareness of others’ needs, and our innate ability to see beauty in the tiniest detail. For all these reasons and more, camp is a “happy place” for children.

Professor Twenge’s research and writings suggest we should limit our kid’s access to smartphones during their formative years. Kids need rich experiences, face-to-face friendships, the challenges and rewards provided by real life. Handing them a smartphone or tablet robs them of that. Ironically, this communication device isolates teenagers, significantly narrowing who they are and most likely who they will become.

Again, thank goodness for camp, a (smartphone-free) place where kids get what they need, truly enjoy themselves, and grow beautifully.

Girls Dance Group