It’s the Season of Hygge

Thanksgiving is so hygge! Wait, what? What in the world is hygge, and how do I even pronounce it? To start with, it is a Danish word, and it is pronounced “hoo-gah.” Denmark has been getting a lot of attention lately, because the people in this country are known to have a very high level of personal satisfaction, informally known as the “happiest people in the world.” In a country where there is so little sunlight in the winter and the weather is usually cold and overcast, how can they be so happy? Some Danes claim it is because of their cultural concept of “hygge,” or “consciously cozy.” This is an important value in their culture, to make things as cozy as possible. And there are certain ingredients that help create a cozy atmosphere. As I was reading The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking, it made me so excited about the upcoming holiday of Thanksgiving, because it is a time when we all slow down enough to savor these cozy elements. And then I realized that the culture of Rockbrook really aligns with the concepts of hygge as well. No wonder I like the book so much!

Here are the essential ingredients to help create ‘hygge,’ according to Meik Wiking:

Camp Candlelight

1. Atmosphere: Turn down the lights, burn lots of candles and light the fire. From learning to build a campfire in WHOA to our spirit fire candles, we naturally create atmosphere often at Rockbrook. At your Thanksgiving table, add some candles and soft music.

2. Presence: Shut down the screens. Be here now. We all know how easy it is to be distracted by screens. Rockbrook girls tell me all the time what a relief it is to be without their phones at camp. Remind yourselves and your family to power down on Thanksgiving.

3. Pleasure: Take the time to really taste your food. Mmmm. Muffins. Turkey. Rockbrook girls run to the dining hall when the muffin break bell rings. Standing in the late morning sunshine as the fog is lifting and munching down on a pumpkin chocolate chip muffin is the best. You will surely have some wonderful dishes at your Thanksgiving table. Really savor them.

4. Equality: “We” over “me.” The community is stronger than just one individual. Camp is all about the amazing people we get to meet from all over the world. Your family is amazing too – slow down and have some complete conversations with them. Ask them unexpected questions and really listen to the answers.

5. Gratitude: Look around. Take it in. You are very lucky. There is so much activity at camp for girls that we build in times to reflect upon all of the wonderful parts of it. At the end of the day, campers and counselors talk about their “rose, bud, thorn” moments. Try asking those around your Thanksgiving table what they are grateful for before they dig into the food. (rose = the best part of your day, thorn = the most challenging part of your day, bud = what you are looking forward to the most)

6. Harmony: It’s not a competition. We already like you. There’s no need to brag about your achievements. Isn’t it the best to feel part of the gang, the big Rockbrook family? You don’t have to pretend to be different from how you really are. Your quirks are celebrated. Let your real family know how much you like them too.

Camp Togetherness

7. Comfort: Get comfy. Take a break. It’s OK to relax. Camp girls for sure know how to do this, as I see them lounging on the hill in their crazy creek chairs, wearing their footie pajamas, and braiding each other’s hair. Find cozy nooks in your home too and invite your Thanksgiving people to join you.

8. Truce: No drama. Let’s discuss politics another day. Sometimes it is a relief to step into the child’s world that is camp. Yes, there is a lot going on in the world that can be stressful, but we choose to put that aside for our camp session. Give yourself a break from that on Thanksgiving too!

9. Togetherness: Build relationships and shared experiences. Trying new things brings people together. Just as a white-water rafting adventure can bond a cabin group, doing something new as a family can build connections. Maybe a fun outdoor game to get moving on Turkey Day would provide exercise plus a little shared fun.

10. Shelter: This is your tribe. This is a place of peace and security. During the summer, we often get mountain gullywasher rainstorms. Those are the best times to get cozy in the cabin with our cabin mates, telling funny stories. Thanksgiving is a wonderful time when your tribe, your family comes together and enjoys that shelter of our relationships with each other.

From our Rockbrook family to yours, we hope you have warm, wonderful hygge Thanksgiving!

Camp Belonging

3rd Session Video Note

Robbie Francis of Go Swan Filmworks (and Rockbrook dad!) has returned this summer to film and edit more of his occasional highlights videos. Each video provides a fascinating 2-minute glimpse into life at camp, the buzz of activity, and the sweet friendships blossoming all around us.

Here is Robbie’s first video for the third session. Take a couple of minutes to watch. We think you’ll really enjoy it.

Click here for the video. Or see below.

2nd Session Video Note – Part Two

Robbie Francis of Go Swan Filmworks spent another day this past week filming at Rockbrook, capturing some of the sweet interactions at the heart of our camp community. And now we have another of his fascinating 2-minute videos to enjoy.

Take a look! There are moments of accomplishment, true affection, spirit, and of course sheer happiness.  Be sure to turn up the volume to enjoy the sounds of camp too.

Click here for the video. Or see below.

A Place of Belonging

It’s not too difficult to see that the girls at Rockbrook this session are having a great time. If you visit camp, all the action is what you first notice: the horseback riding at the barn, the rock climbing at Castle Rock, the kayak roll sessions in the lake, the spinning pottery wheels, clicking looms, nimble scissors, and busy knitting needles. Likewise, your first glance at the photo gallery leaves the same impression. The girls at camp are engaged in so many ways, happily active, smiling and chatting with each other.

That’s all good stuff, but on another level, there’s something remarkable also going on. It’s the culture of Rockbrook. It’s the way the girls treat each other, the assumptions and values that subtly guide them. It’s how it feels to be at Rockbrook, living and playing together in this tight-knit community.

It’s tricky describing this culture because it’s certainly multifaceted and complicated, but one aspect I think worth noting is the sense of belonging girls enjoy at Rockbrook. Almost immediately after they arrive, girls are comfortably in groups around camp, paying attention to each other, including each other no matter what’s going on. Cabin groups provide the backbone of this feeling, but it’s present everywhere. Free from the competitive social and academic pressures of school, this all-girls environment is devoted foremost to the quality relationships we have with each other. Simply put, the culture of Rockbrook, and by extension what it means to be a “Rockbrook Girl,” begins with being “nice” to each other.

summer camp teen friends

Thinking about the traditional “Rockbrook prayer” recited during the “Goodnight Circle,” programming staff member Savannah put it this way:

The culture here at Rockbrook is one of optimism, respect, love, and altruism. The amount of kindness is astounding; people are always seeking out ways to brighten someone else’s day in any manner. Each positive encounter, no matter how small, can always somehow be traced back to at least one aspect of the prayer. The message encourages girls to stand up for what is right, to be their best selves no matter who is watching (or not watching), and to aim towards making the camp community even better than it already is. It allows us to feel a sense of support unlike anything else.

Campers are more than willing to take opportunities to “do a little good” by writing a friend a sweet note, picking up a piece of litter on the ground, or walking a younger camper to her activity. Everyday at camp is filled with these small, sweet moments.

kids playing outdoors at summer camp

I’ve written about why girls love camp, and there are certainly many reasons. But perhaps most importantly, Rockbrook is a place where girls feel they belong, where who they really are (and not who they think they’re supposed to be) matters. At camp, there’s mutual caring. It’s a place where we all value and rely on each other without any reference to our age, our intellect, or our looks. Nobody has to say it, but for these girls, Rockbrook is “a place of their own” where they feel safe and happy.  And that feeling becomes the foundation for all of our relationships at camp, the root of the friendships, and the spark for personal growth.

More than ever these days, young people need certain experiences to overcome the forces of abstraction and isolation they face. Just think, for example, how all that screen time impacts their ability to communicate face-to-face, to engage the inevitable imperfections of the real world (compared to the edited and filtered online version of things), and to be actively creative and confidently engaged. They need a place of belonging where they can practice being more connected to those around them, where they can play, encounter new challenging experiences, and grow.

Thankfully, Rockbrook is such a place.

girls relaxing at summer camp

Play the Game

cmap gaga ball game

At Rockbrook, we play all the time. Walk around camp at almost any time of day, and you’ll see the intensity of a gaga game, a line of girls waiting to play tetherball, and hear the familiar bounce of tennis balls being hit during free swims. Even though all of these are competitive games, Rockbrook considers itself to be a noncompetitive camp. By that, we mean that we emphasize playing over winning. Though of course winning has a certain thrill, there is beauty in living in a culture that reminds us that the point of playing isn’t always to get ahead. Sometimes, it’s about finding the joy in what you’re doing, to focus more on the process of the game, rather than just the outcome. In this, competitions continue to be a way of building each other up, whether we are the next Serena Williams, or a complete novice. We learn to support each other, to win and to lose gracefully, and most importantly, to have less inhibition about just playing the game.

Our Rockbrook camp girls really embodied this ethic today, as we went to Camp Carolina for riflery, archery, and tennis tournaments. When we got there, it turned out another camp, Keystone, was also there, so it became a tri-camp tournament! Throughout the competitions, I was really impressed by how the Rockbrook girls embodied the tenants that come from Rockbrook’s focus on sportsmanship and support, even in a more competitive environment. This morning at breakfast, Rockbrook sent its support to the tournament girls by singing the tennis song, “I’d rather play a tennis match than any other girl I know…” and the archery song, “archery, that’s for me, it’s my favorite activity…”

tennis camp girl

The girls left camp in matching shirts that the counselors had made for them, bringing Rockbrook spirit to Camp Carolina. This spirit pervaded everything they did. For example, I watched a match played by senior girls against Camp Carolina boys. One of the girls clearly had a ton of tennis experience whereas the other one was newer to the sport. I heard her laugh as her partner helped direct her around the court as she was serving, “Oh,” she said with a smile, “It’s not that different from volleyball!” The two constantly communicated back and forth, and she was able to hit most of her serves in. When they missed a ball, they kindly said, “that’s okay!” to each other, and when they succeeded, they clapped their racquets together in a high-five. Though the match was close, the duo ended up winning. Ultimately, though, the match felt uniquely ‘Rockbrook’ to me—the girls had so much fun throughout, and the majority of the focus was on building each other up, rather than being the tennis champion of the day.

Later that day, I saw a boy struggling to get his serves in the box. That same girl who did not have much tennis experience reassured him from across the court: “Don’t worry about it!” she said calmly. “I hit them out all the time, too!” Not only was she a supportive teammate to her partner, she was also kind and reassuring to her competition. In some ways, I think this epitomizes Rockbrook’s spirit. It’s not that we don’t care about winning, but we want everyone to feel that taking risks and making mistakes is okay; there should be joy in the process. In archery and riflery, Rockbrook girls loudly cheered on their teammates, no matter how many times they hit the target. At Rockbrook, being on a team means supporting each other no matter what.

Girls victory game
Vive la France!

This same spirit continued later in twilight when girls went to land sports to play World Cup Soccer. As a camp, we have streamed the quarter finals and finals of The World Cup, and we certainly have some avid soccer fans at RBC. Girls got into teams of three, and adopted a country that was in the World Cup! All of the teams try to score a goal, and when you kick, you say your country’s name! If you’re the last country to score, your team is out. At Rockbrook, though, when teams get out, they go to the side and wholeheartedly cheer on their friends! In a funny coincidence, France won the World Cup at RBC this year, too! What a lucky country!

Today was a fun day of playing and competing. Soon, we’ll go home to our own athletic teams, schools, and other activities that ask us to compete against each other a lot. As we come from Rockbrook’s noncompetitive environment, I hope that we can all remember the lessons we’ve learned here. While winning is great, it is also important to remember to try things even when we aren’t the best, it’s still important to build each other up, even when they’re competing against us, and at least some of the joy should come from simply playing the game.

camp girls cooperating

Second Session Highlights Video

This is the fourth year that Robbie Francis of Go Swan Filmworks is visiting camp to film and present a series of highlights videos.

We’ve had great feedback from parents about Robbie’s past productions. He can film for one day and beautifully capture much of the action, and many of the sweet moments at camp.  In under two minutes, you can really tell how these Rockbrook girls are loving camp.

Robbie filmed this past week and now we have his first video of this session. Once again, he’s made something special, and I think you’ll really enjoy it.

A Camp of Goddesses

Leaves in nature goddess hair

Everyone knows that Rockbrook is a “fairyland of beauty” home to countless forest spirits who work tirelessly to enliven our experience of nature and make the camp magical. Just glance to the side anywhere around here, and you’re bound to see something beautiful.  Today Rockbrook was also a land of Greek goddesses.  With a little help from the Hi-Ups, each cabin was given a particular goddess to follow— dress according to her characteristics, use her symbols and icons, and playfully emulate her personality. For example, Selene, goddess of the moon, Gaia, goddess of the earth, and Hecate, goddess of magic all came alive at camp today. Keeping it kid friendly, we selected about a dozen goddesses in all. The costumes ranged from elaborate dresses with crowns and golden jewelry, to delightfully homemade adornments. Ate, the goddess of folly used lots of feathers, while Gaia had leaves, moss, and twigs woven into clothing and hair. Antheia, the goddess of flowers was definitely the most colorful. When all of our various goddesses arrived at their activities, the counselors played along asking them to demonstrate their qualities and special personality. It turns out that goddesses are right at home here at Rockbrook, easily enjoying all the action and inter-action that defines our days.  The girls happily bestowed more magic, folly, nature, flowers and success on all of us.

rocking chair camp crafts

So how is it possible that these girls were so terrifically excited to become goddesses for a day, to dress and behave in costume for everyone to see? Isn’t that just weird, or embarrassing? Honestly, it is, and outside of camp, most of these girls wouldn’t dare walk around with leaves in their hair, or a necklace of clover flowers, or wearing a full-length cloak. At the same time though, there was no awkwardness in this for the campers. They seemed instead to revel in the opportunity to express themselves so freely, to laugh with each other, and to explore untapped aspects of their personality and who they are deep down.

This makes sense when you realize that Rockbrook is a haven for girls, a special place where they feel safe, supported, and valued. It’s an intentional community built upon positive relationships— cooperation, communication, encouragement, generosity, respect and care. Led by a fantastic staff of adult role models, this girls camp community listens and accepts and has an amazing power to bring people closer, foster confidence and grit.

In this special environment where it’s easy to relax and be our true selves, it’s also natural to find friends, enjoy the tiniest adventure, and have the time and encouragement to try new things. It’s a recipe for what the girls simply call “fun.”

It’s also worth recognizing that all too often girls experience the opposite in their daily lives the rest of the year. Life at home and school comes with social ideals and standards, and often kids thereby feel pressure (even anxiety) to perform and even look a certain way.  In the face of competition and lacking genuine community support, our kids ordinary experience can inspire insecurities, self-doubt and unhappiness.

That’s why we were a camp of goddesses today. And thank goodness! These days more than ever, your girls need time and a special place like Rockbrook for them to feel good about being their true selves, to put aside social pressures, to play and to grow.

It’s a daily joy for us to see it all unfold so beautifully.

girl camp buddies

Building Relationships

camp girl descending rope

When people think of a summer girls camp, odds are good they picture kids canoeing, climbing a ropes course, riding horses, making tie-dye T-shirts, and hiking through the woods. That certainly is a big part of how we spend our days here at Rockbrook, but even in the midst of all of those fun activities, a main focus is our relationships with each other. In everything we do we are looking for ways to build connections, strengthen communication, and model positive conflict resolution. Whether we are reminding kids to walk instead of run at the lake or helping a first time camper find her place at camp, our goal is to have each camper feel they are a valued part of the Rockbrook community.

Living in community doesn’t always come easy. It can be tricky to learn to share close quarters with people you haven’t lived with before, but the good thing about camp is that we get lots of time to practice. Our counselors strive not only to provide close one-on-one interaction with every camper, but also to help campers learn their role in a group as well. Everything from morning chores in the cabin to planning camp-wide events teaches campers how to express their feelings, ask for what they need, resolve conflicts, and share ideas.

good camp friendship

Cabin groups work together to prep their living space for cabin inspection every morning. Each camper has a cleaning job in the cabin, but each girl is also responsible for keeping her own belongings tidy as well. This early morning exercise in teamwork helps girls delegate and ask for help, important skills both at camp and in their out-of-camp lives. Counselors can help them navigate disagreements in this time, reminding them to keep their voices calm and convey their feelings clearly. Campers might think they are just tidying up their cabin, but our staff is watching for any opportunity to help girls communicate better and support each other fully.

Cabin day is another time where group dynamics are the star of the show. A cabin group may have to work together to build a fire in order to enjoy a special campfire treat. They’ll have to talk together about the process, discuss supplies needed, assign different roles to each member of the group, and work together to get to that sweet result. There’s nothing quite like the victory of a cobbler that you’ve cooked together over an outdoor fire.

camp girls hugging as friends

Because of our investment in relationship building and teamwork as the core part of camp life, we see ripples of these practices all around camp. Everyday, the quality of our relationships, the growing care and understanding we have for each other, makes a difference. When a camper is hesitant at the top of the water slide, you can be sure her cabin mates will be there cheering her on from the lake below. Divvying up supper clean up chores becomes smoother every day as girls take turns delegating and sharing jobs. And on the river in a whitewater raft, those communication skills really pay off as girls work together to ride the rapids.

So when you think of camp and all those fun activities come to mind, know that the work is much more than finding rhythm on a horse, weaving a basket, and or molding something beautiful out of clay. We’re also finding our rhythm as a group, weaving a beautiful community, and molding each camper into a caring, strong communicator. And having lots of fun while we do it!

camp girl riding a horse