Like a Girl

Ceramics Glazing Kid

Take 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 camp 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 Kids

And 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 Kid

Rockbrook 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

A Full Slate

Camp girl rock climbing
camp girls in NC hiking in high altitude

In addition to the regularly scheduled activities at camp, the four hour-long periods during a typical girls camp day when every corner of the camp is busily occupied with girls and activity instructors working on craft projects or improving athletic skills, for example, there are also outdoor adventure trips going out. Some might be up to rock climb on our very own private Castle Rock or to hike on the camp property along the trail to Rockbrook Falls (a multi-tiered waterfall formed by Dunn’s Creek), or perhaps out of camp to one of the nearby rivers (e.g. the French Broad or Tuckaseegee) or into one of the public Forests (e.g., the Pisgah, Dupont or Nantahala). Whether in camp or out of camp, we often announce these trips during breakfast either the day before or on the very day they will happen. In this way, if a camper wants to climb Looking Glass Rock (as was offered today), she would sign up and then miss her regularly scheduled activities while gone. With several kinds of trips offered every day, this creates a dilemma of sorts for those girls who want to “do it all.” They have to choose… Kayaking or gymnastics and horseback riding… rock climbing or Needlecraft and archery, and so forth. It’s a great exercise in decision making, but also something that gives each girl even more power to set her own schedule while at camp, to customize it according to her newfound interests or in sync with her newly developed friendships. The girls can sign up for these special trips if they want to, but it’s also just fine if they prefer to stick with their schedule of activities in camp.

Well, that’s a long introduction to report that today we offered a full slate of adventure trips. While Andy took a group rock climbing to the Nose area of Looking Glass, Andria and Leland guided another group of 8 campers kayaking on a section of the French Broad River. Meanwhile Clyde introduced a group of Seniors to a feature in Pisgah by hiking to “Devil’s Courthouse” (elev. 5670 ft.) and Emily led a backpacking excursion to one of our favorite secret campsites in a different section of Pisgah. Rounding out the options, Rita and Jenny also offered trips down the Rockbrook zipline throughout the day. There were plenty of options for everyone to scratch their itch for adventure today.

Pottery Glazing child at summer camp

At camp, both pottery studios today were happily pinching, rolling and coiling lumps of clay to make different pots and sculptures. Some campers have chosen to make slab mugs with different patterns pressed into the sides, creating textures with lace, leaves, or combs. They’ve cut shapes, for example different letters, scored and applied some “slip” to fuse them to their vessels. Several girls have been making face mugs complete with eyes, ears and eyebrows, as well as a nose and obvious lips. Other campers are sculpting realistic forms, for example dogs, rabbits, plenty of turtles and even a penguin. The last step, before firing them, is to chose different colors of glaze for the finishing touch on the projects.

Take a look at this short video Emily produced about the pottery program at Rockbrook. It shows campers working with clay and Michelle helping them throw pots on the wheels.

Camp girl learning to drum

Our twilight drum circle returned tonight when Billy Zanski arrived with his array of different Djembe and Dunun drums from West Africa. Billy has played with Djembe master Bolokada Conde from Guinea, and teaches regular drumming classes in Asheville. Tonight he led us through several rhythms up in the Hillside Lodge with campers and counselors taking turns on all the drums. Sitting on benches arranged in a circle, several girls danced while others played.  The Djembes produce both high, mid and bass notes depending how your hand hits the head of the drum, and with almost 20 of them being played together it produced a really fun sound.  The Dunun (or Dundun) played alternating bass and mid tones setting the core beat.  There’s something infectiously fun about hearing group drum rhythms like this. We had the doors of the Lodge open so the whole hill was filled with cool drumming music, inspiring everyone outside to be more upbeat and dance a bit. For all of us, it was a fun musical evening. Cool stuff.

We have very exciting plans for tomorrow’s 4th of July celebration. It’s gonna be great!

A Haven for Friendship

Camp friends hugging

One of deepest and longest lasting rewards of a residential camp experience, particularly true here at Rockbrook, is the quality of the friendships formed between the girls. Camp friends are special for some reason, closer and more satisfying than the people you know at home or at school. Why that’s the case is interesting.

Rockbrook is a “haven for close friendships” partly because it is a community built foremost upon warmth and caring for everyone. Camp is a place were every girl here belongs, and is fully included, respected and valued. From the directors and staff members on down, we begin with compassion and generosity, with spirited communication and cooperation, and end up with genuine encouragement. This is powerful stuff when you experience it everyday from everyone around you. It becomes a positive force that encourages the girls, indeed the counselors too, to move past what they believe others (parents and peers, for example) want them to be, and to explore their true personality, spirit and character, their “authentic selves.” This is a welcome feeling of freedom, but it’s also the secret to making really deep friendships. Camp has the power to dissolve that common artificiality driving so many “real world” interactions, and thereby also to fuel the genuine connections that bind true friends. Camp proves how posing is the enemy of friendship.

Combined with the shared experience of camp— the activities, meals and free time together —and the “boy-distraction-free” environment we enjoy, Rockbrook empowers girls to make friends by having the confidence to be themselves.

Camp girls geocaching

This morning our friend Matt Christian arrived to offer the campers an introduction to “geocaching.” Geocaching is essentially a “real-world treasure hunt” where players use GPS devices to find hidden “caches,” often waterproof boxes containing notepads to sign when found, and other surprising knickknacks. Matt carefully positioned several caches around camp for the girls, and after teaming up into groups of 2 or 3, and learning to use the GPS units, they explored the camp property looking for their “treasures.” Some were easy to spot, being out in the open, but others were truly camouflaged. Geocaching is a worldwide phenomenon, and can be something fun to do even at home. Here’s the official Web site to learn more.

Tonight we held a camp tradition that seems to always send a shudder of excitement through the dining hall when it’s announced. The deafening roar proved it today at lunch when the girls learned we would be dancing with the boys of Camp Carolina tonight. Fire up the showers, bust out the clean shirt, find your hairbrush (or in one case I noticed… your hair curlers), and for some, devise your best silly costume… dance night can take some preparation! We held 2 simultaneous dances, one here at Rockbrook for the youngest girls, and the other at Carolina for the Seniors and Hi-Ups. This made the number of children manageable at both camps, and allowed for more age-appropriate dances and music. The younger campers had a great time dancing together and with their counselors, mostly oblivious to the boys, while the older girls jumped around, laughing, singing (and sweating) to the beat. Tonight was also fun to see several brothers and sisters finding each other and being happy to reunite after being away at different camps. The whole evening was sweet and lighthearted with your girls being polite and gracious in every way.

Camp girls at dance party
Brother Sister Pair at Camp Dance

Lastly, I wanted to pass along news that Rockbrook is being briefly recognized in the current summer issue of Preservation: The Magazine of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The article mentions our 19th-century log cabins, “Goodwill” and “Curosty,” as examples of well-preserved summer camp architecture still in use today.

No “App for That” Here

Camp Rafting Kids Jubilant

It’s a common policy for summer camps to ban electronic devices used for entertainment like portable video players, games, Internet devices, and most any kind of flickering screen. And Rockbrook is no exception. While we do allow campers to have personal music players for use during rest hour, we don’t want our girls to be “plugged in” while at camp. For us, taking a break from technology is an important part of camp life. In fact, we believe powering down all the screens, eschewing all those apps, can make a profound impact on the girls at Rockbrook.

You might think that summer camps are only recalling the simpler life of earlier days, that we are akin to Neo-Luddites, rejecting modern technology in the name of tradition. Camps have always represented a return to nature, a trip to the wild-er-ness out and away from civilization, and this meant giving up certain modern conveniences. Given how many things at summer camp are described as a “tradition” —the closing campfire, the songs, even something mundane like the arrangement of different age groups in camp, for example —it is possible that some camps factor out technology, at least initially, because they want to preserve the tradition of “not needing all that.”

Camp Girls CLimbing and Goofy

Fueling that sentiment is the rapid acceleration of technology in our modern lives. As new alluring technologies arrive making life more convenient and efficient, summer camps proudly serve as a refuge from the “digital age.” Most parents already have a hunch that their kids spend too much time consuming electronic media (One study showed an average of more than 50 hours per week!), so camps are happy to provide a break from “all that,” just as they’ve always done. But beyond the benefits of a traditional simple life, what do camp girls really gain from avoiding their electronic gadgets for a few weeks?

I’ve mentioned a couple important benefits before, namely that camp proves how turning off your technology makes life richer and more fun. It provides first hand evidence that engaging all of what camp offers— the real friendships, the physical activity, and the chances to explore and discover the natural world —actually doing things (stimulating and utilizing all our senses), outshines the flat electronic entertainment of even the best smartphone. It’s a lesson we hope can be carried home and applied in the face of boredom.

Kid By the creek making a basket

In addition, though, there is new research suggesting that modern technological shortcuts, digital communication, and electronic entertainment can be detrimental to youth development. In their book, The App Generation: How Today’s Youth Navigate Identity, Intimacy, and Imagination in a Digital World (Yale, 2013), Howard Gardner and Katie Davis, argue that being “app-dependent” can adversely affect young people’s developing sense of identity, their ability to become close to other people, and their creative powers.  Drawing on the well-known work of Erik Erickson and his stages of psychosocial development, this book raises concern that technology, while certainly enabling in important ways, can too easily become a crutch, thereby stunting the development of these crucial human skills.  Kids need time to work out who they are in relationship with the world. They need diverse opportunities to meet and interact with other people, to get to know and appreciate them. Young people crave fresh experiences, and thrive when they can solve problems and feel the satisfaction of a creative achievement.

Excitement and Fun of Cold Mountain Water

Gardner and Davis are presenting a cultural critique, issuing a warning that when children have easy and pervasive access to computer and phone apps, their fundamental human development is impaired.

Thankfully, there is camp. There is a place without apps and without technological shortcuts to communication. There is our girls camp Rockbrook with all is natural beauty, ripe with unexpected opportunities to discover something new and experience it intimately— to really feel it, to get both lungs full of its smell. There is a community like this where the people care for each other, laugh and play together, and are enthusiastically creative.  Rockbrook encourages girls to explore who they really are, to be their true selves, and provides just the right environment to then form really deep friendships. Just look at the photos in this post, and you’ll see what I mean.

Unplugging from technology at camp— There’s no “app for that” here —doesn’t make all this happen, but if we allowed girls access to their screens, we’d undermine our goal to help them grow personally, socially, and imaginatively.  Quite intentionally, and for really good reasons, camp is a haven from all that.

camp builds girls confidence

Smart Girls Have More Fun

We live in a society that sometimes struggles to provide girls with positive role models.  Certain pressures can force young girls to try and become something that they are not simply to fit in.  Girls think they need to be prettier, richer, skinnier, smarter, quieter, louder — the list goes on and on.  The point is, we never feel like the person we are is good enough because we’ve been told over and over that we’re not.  This is why when I heard about Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls at the Party program I was so excited.  The motto for Amy’s program is “Change the world by being yourself.”  How refreshing.  Check out the episode below of Smart Girls in which Amy highlights the cool things about being outdoors, something we care a lot about at camp!

Kudos to Amy Poehler for letting girls know that not only are they OK as they are, but that by being themselves, they are exceptional.

Independence Through Choice

Although girls naturally foster a sense of self-esteem and independence merely by being away from home at a sleep-away camp, Rockbrook goes out of its way to create the camp structure that best allows for girls’ growth and autonomy. One of the best ways Rockbrook allows for the self-direction and experimentation necessary to create a sense of independence is by giving girls the opportunity to design their own camp experience.

Girls camp knitters

One aspect of Rockbrook that sets us apart from other camps is that rather than sending our campers to pre-assigned activities, we ask them to choose which activities they’d like to take themselves. Twice a week, counselors go from cabin to cabin with clipboards displaying the choices for each of the four activity periods. Each camper gets to pick the four activities she desires, and her counselor fills them out on an activity schedule card.

Girls Camp Bead Craft

Girls, especially teenage girls, can often struggle with making decisions and expressing assertiveness. Rather than making the intimidating choice to express an opinion, they might instead opt to feign indecisiveness. This can be attributed to a variety of social pressures girls might feel; they could be worrying about making a decision that might upset others, or that making a choice could reflect poorly on them, making them look “dumb” or “weird.” Since each and every girl is asked to choose her own activities, free from the influences of family and friend groups from home, Rockbrook’s system of activity choice allows girls to enjoy the empowerment that comes from designing their own camp experience in a way that also preserves them from the anxieties created by peer pressure.

Girls horse camp

Although sometimes campers do not at first get to take their “ideal” schedule because an activity has been filled to maximum capacity, we go out of our way to ensure that each girl takes her most desired activity at least once by the end of the session. On Fridays we offer an extra “choice activity” to accommodate for the girls who have not yet had an opportunity to take some of the more popular activities here at camp.

In addition to picking their own regular daily activities, girls can also choose to sign up for special activities such as overnight backpacking trips, day hikes, and kayaking and white water rafting trips to nearby rivers.

One of the benefits of staying for a longer session at camp, such as our 4-week session, is that we have more time to fill with these special trips and activity sessions that girls can pick-and-choose from to create their own unique camp experience. For example, this session we have offered an unprecedented daily “roll clinic” to help aspiring kayakers learn how to “roll” their kayak back into an upright position if it flips over. We have also had special hikes to Quentin Falls, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and other nearby areas.

By not only offering a wide variety of exciting activities that girls are unable to do at home, but also allowing girls to choose for themselves which of those activities they would like to try, Rockbrook really does set itself apart as a “place where girls can grow.”

—Haley Hudler

Girls confident campers

Unconditional Support

Folks who arrive at Rockbrook are often struck by how being here, even for a short visit, feels so different from ordinary life. “Everyone is so friendly and enthusiastic,” and “Everyone seems so happy” are comments we often hear. It’s true; camp life is charged with a special form of community energy, one defined by caring, compassion, and kindness.

Girls supporting each other


Walking around camp today, I thought of another reason to explain this deeply felt contentment the girls enjoy here at Rockbrook. It’s because the collective spirit here, our “Rockbrook Spirit,” provides all of us unconditional support. Everyday, no matter the activity or the outcome, we know that our “true self” will be accepted, appreciated and respected by those around us. Rockbrook is simply a friendly and welcoming place where everyone is included, encouraged and supported. We’ve written before how camp is an antidote for “Community Deficit Disorder,” and as such is also a source of great contentment for girls. They will tell you “it’s so much fun,” or that they simply “love it,” but I think it’s this community spirit that’s really at work.

Zip Line Swing
Canopy Tour Bridge Kid

Everyday at Rockbrook includes adventure too. It might be hiking through the woods, climbing a rock face, paddling a canoe, or even facing something personally challenging like jumping off the diving board at the lake. This morning at breakfast, Christina announced that she would be taking groups of girls down our zipline throughout the day. Campers from all three age groups could sign up for an activity period (instead of whatever activity they had already scheduled) and take a couple of zippy rides in the woods high above the back of the camp. These two photos nicely evoke what this entails: some special equipment, walking across a high, rather wiggly, plank suspension bridge, and flying along a steel cable on a pulley. It’s at first a little scary to step off the launching rock, but with en-couragment and support, it’s all smiles in the end.

Perhaps a different kind of adventure, the evening’s activity got everyone excited, the kind of top-of-your-lungs screaming excitement that happens around here— a dance with the boys of Camp Carolina.  In fact, we held two simultaneous dances, the Juniors and Middlers staying here in our gym to dance with the younger boys, and our seniors loading up buses to drive over for their dance in Camp Carolina’s dining hall. We also made a “Dance Alternative” activity available for those girls who thought dancing wasn’t their thing. Overall these dances are fun for the girls because they are mostly about jumping around with your friends, being silly and singing to the music. They are the kind of lighthearted entertainment we all enjoy.

Camp Girls Dance
Camper Dance Moves
Girls Camp Dance

Resilient Camp Girls

Rainy day at summer camp girl with raincoat

At 8:00 this morning, as is usual, the girls were awoken to the clear tones of the iron bell ringing throughout the camp, but also today to the tapping of rain on every roof. It was one of those rare mornings when raincoats came out for breakfast, when the temperature is cooler, and droplets of mud seem to spring up on most things at camp. On a day like this, some girls resist the weather and gear up completely with waterproof hats, jackets, boots and umbrellas, while others just embrace it, stomping around in flip flops, wet hair and soggy clothes.

Either way, there’s something important going on; the girls are showing their resilience, their ability to carry on despite the rain. Even with the minor discomfort and reshuffling of plans a rainy day presents, the girls coped just fine, confidently and without a parent determining every step. Life often includes moments like this when unexpected misfortune rears its head, so learning to be resilient, to land on your feet ultimately, is a crucial skill, and it’s something that camp is perfectly suited to teach. Here’s an article discussing how Rockbrook teaches resilience, what our program, staff and overall philosophy provide to help our girls handle setbacks later in their lives. (Please take a moment to read it.) We’ve said it many times before, and this is an example; woven into all the excitement and fun of camp are really significant lifelong benefits for kids.

Summer Whitewater Rafting on the Nantahala River

Today’s rafting trips are another example of your girls’ resilience. After a great night camping at our outpost located further upstream on the Nantahala River, complete with s’more making and wildlife encounters (a beautiful Eastern Box Turtle, a couple of girls discovered by flashlight), we woke to a light rain. By the time we reached the put-in to begin rafting, we had a steady, let’s-get-wet, kind of rain. Without hesitation or any sign of dampened spirits, the girls were soon suited up in blue spray jackets (for a little added warmth), PFDs, helmets and paddles, and ready to go. It’s hard to hold back an excited group of girls, and this was no exception. Even before the first rapid, boats were singing, cheering, bouncing around in the rafts, and doing “high fives” with their paddles. Rain or no rain, perfect conditions or not, these girls were having big fun.

Rock climbing girl on wall in gym
Teen Archery Girl

At camp, lunch was an elaborate taco fiesta, complete with Eulogia’s homemade guacamole to top ground beef, black beans, diced tomatoes, Mexican rice, cheese and salsa. Each table/cabin had a plate of crunchy and soft taco shells, and an unlimited supply in the kitchen for seconds. There was a little action over at the peanut butter and jelly station, but not much. Oh, and the muffins today were another of Katie’s creative combination recipes: Krispy Kreme, Applejack Muffins. Yep, they had chopped doughnuts in the batter and Applejack cereal blended in “for color and a little crunch,” as she put it. And for dessert tonight, Katie surprised everyone with homemade cinnamon rolls that she baked with just the right amount of sugar rolled up in a thin dough, sliced, and lightly glazed. We had no trouble gobbling those right up!

After dinner, a group of counselors presented a new, action-packed Twilight activity called “Gold Rush.” Working in cabin groups, the girls learned that hidden around the camp were “golden nuggets” (wiffle balls painted gold, actually) and that they were to find as many as they could, with the cabin gathering the most winning a special treat (spending rest hour by the lake, for example). They also stationed “Bandits” around the camp who could steal a cabin’s gold if the girls couldn’t sing a certain RBC song or answer a trivia question correctly. This was a high-energy event with the campers looking high and low all over the camp. In the end, we awarded several prizes to each age group. It was an evening spent enjoying the wooded setting of camp, the cool, fresh mountain air, and the company of friends playing a silly game… Exactly the kind of evening we love around here.

Teen girls happy and laughing at summer camp