Creating Their Own Fun

What's That?

Schedules are useful. Schedules let you know the shape of your day before it even starts. They tell you that that appointment you’ve been dreading will be over by ten, and that restaurant that you love will be seating you at seven. Here at Rockbrook, we know and appreciate the benefits a schedule, and stick to one (with a few daily adjustments) nearly every day of the week. Rising bell at 8 AM. Lunch at 1. Dinner at 6:15. Four activity periods, two snack breaks, and two Free Swims a Day. The schedule allows both campers and staff to slide into a rhythm, and know what to expect out of their days.

Now Reach!

But our campers are used to schedules. In some ways, they are too used to schedules. Their days throughout the year are filled top to bottom with school, tutoring, music lessons, sports practices, and homework.

This overabundance of stimulation in their everyday lives is one of the reasons that I think the absolute most important part of our daily schedule are the times that we schedule… nothing. No activities, no events, nothing at all but the space around the campers, the people they are with, and their ability to use their imaginations to create their own entertainment.

Easily Entertained

Free Swims and Twilight are largely left up to the campers. They might find themselves at the beginning of a Free Swim taking on the risk of boredom that has become all too rare in modern life. There are no phones or tablets to captivate them with mindless games and social media; no TV or Netflix to keep them entertained and sedentary. There is only forty-five minutes to an hour of staring at a wall, unless they and their friends can come up with something to do.

And, boy, to our Rockbrook girls rise to the challenge. Just in today’s Second Free Swim, I saw girls racing stray flip flops down the stream, circles of hair-braiding-chains on the Hill, and signs up on bulletin boards advertising auditions (“open to all ages”) for a band that some campers are putting together.

Fierce!

With ample free time, and the risk of boredom, comes startling creativity, openness, and boldness. Girls who might shriek at the sight of a live crawfish in the winter find themselves poking through streambeds in search of them during Twilight. Girls who perhaps have only ever played card games on computer screens, learn that by far the best use of real playing cards is building them into elaborate houses with their friends. Girls who reach instinctively for technology at the first sign of a quiet moment, might discover that it is far better to reach for a book, or even for the hand of a friend as they jump into the lake.

A Great Match-Up

With unscheduled time, of course, comes the risk of boredom, and the twiddling-of-thumbs. What it also brings, however, is an agency over the use of their own time that our campers might not often see in school-days. At camp, this time is given to them in abundance, and it is a beautiful thing to see our campers take it and run with it.

Jumping Right In

"Smile" for the Camera

Every summer, on the first full day of camp, it strikes me how little time it takes for the “spirit of Rockbrook” to take hold on our campers.

Within the first 24 hours, our campers transform from the quiet, polite children who arrive on Opening Day into true Rockbrook Girls (who, while always polite, are rarely quiet). Through the courage of jumping into the lake for the swim demos yesterday, the creativity of planning and performing skits with their cabins last night at Evening Program, and the sheer adventure of setting out this morning for the activities that they themselves chose, those handy manners that school instills in them are stripped away in preparation of three weeks of carefree fun.

Getting Their Hands Dirty

Gone too are some of the inhibitions that might hold them back from taking fun and crazy chances in the “real world.” Girls who have been nervous around horses their whole lives chose to step into the barn this morning. Girls who swore up and down all year long that they wouldn’t do the camp swim demo completed it yesterday afternoon and earned their green bracelet. Girls who dreaded opening day all year long, sure in the knowledge that they would be homesick, began to realize that they are strong enough to make it through, and even enjoy, nearly three weeks away from the comforts of home.

High Five!

Most wonderfully, though, campers are putting away their self-consciousness and desire to “fit in” with the crowd, and have begun to let their inner zaniness shine through. They are realizing that camp is a place where “weirdness” is not only tolerated, but welcomed and encouraged—a place where differences are celebrated. Silly songs in the Dining Hall? No problem. Creating a skit about Cinderella and Hannah Montana starting a dance party on the moon? Totally normal. Wearing pants on your head to dinner? All par for the course.

Embracing the Weird

There were three Juniors in particular who embraced that philosophy last night, when they stood up and made the announcement at dinner that, “Rockbrook is all about having fun, and sometimes to have fun you have to get a little weird.” They then challenged their fellow campers to dress as weirdly as possible for today’s meals. Our Rockbrook girls, new and returning, rose marvelously to the challenge. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner were populated by walking bananas, ketchup bottles, aliens, pants-on-head wearers, giant sunglasses, and more.

It is amazing to see the transformations that only a single day at camp can bring about; and even more amazing to consider how our campers will continue to grow and change between today and Closing Day.

Firecrackers and Confetti: Resolutions for Happy Girls

A happy girl’s guide to this year’s New Year’s Resolutions.

1. I resolve to go on at least one adventure a day.

Adventures of the pack-up-your-suitcase, walk-in-the-woods, live-by-the-seat-of-your-pants persuasion are lovely and, very often, inaccessible. Climbing Mt. Everest is hard, but big adventures are everywhere- unopened doors, questions just waiting to be asked, roads less traveled. A right turn instead of a left, can begin a grand adventure!

Camp hill and American flag

2. I resolve, everyday, to learn one new thing about my family.

Engage with the people you love. Ask them about who they are. Ask them about their day, their passions, their history, their successes. Give your family the opportunity to share their stories.

3. I resolve to find gratitude for at least one thing that did happen and one thing that didn’t happen.

Psychologist Chris Thurber tells us that just as important as it is to rejoice in what you have, life also moves forward when you acknowledge what you don’t. For example, you weren’t expecting a fire today and be thankful there wasn’t one.

4. I resolve to burn fewer cookies.

Thurber also points out, when you throw a batch of two dozen cookies in the oven and twenty of them burn, savor your four successes. Then, consider how you can recalibrate to burn fewer of the next batch. Life requires a few tweaks now and again.

5. I resolve to let the sky be my limit.

Once a day, aim to see things not how they are, but how they could be.

6. I resolve to go where there is no guarantee.

Share yourself with the world. Never hold back, even when your efforts have no guarantees.

friends

7. I resolve to start every day believing that I am a somebody and end each day as a better somebody.

Start each day believing that you are somebody- you are worthy of love and connection and you have amazing things to offer. Then, let each day change you for the better.

8. I resolve to be a tough cookie.

Set backs, scraped knees, a scraped ego. A life filled with challenge is a life filled with color and possibility. Be tough enough to absorb life’s lessons.

9. I resolve to be astonished.

Stay amazed. Life is an endless journey of firecrackers and confetti.

10. I resolve to give.

Your value increases in proportion to how much of it you give away. Holding tightly to your time and money can, ultimately, narrow your wealth.

11. I resolve to be a party animal.

The world is a party and you can be the life of it! Life is like a stick of gum- you can simply chew it or you can blow bubbles.

fireworks

12. I resolve to never stop making mistakes.

Mistakes are open doors. Mistakes are proof that you are as alive as you’ve ever been. Mistakes mean that you are a take-risks, sing-out-loud, love-with-your-whole-heart, share-what’s-on-your-mind, change-the-world, happy girl!

This is Me

Pair of Camp kids
Camp Counselor Camper Girl
Canoe Trip Kid

Last week I wrote about how the many examples of “imperfection” and “incompleteness” around us at camp— in the environment, in our abilities, and even in our personality and appearance —can be understood as beautiful. I suggested that the Rockbrook camp culture, as it celebrates our differences and eccentricities, parallels in some ways the Wabi-sabi aesthetic. Camp is a place that loves our quirks. It’s a safe place for being “who we really are,” a special place where everyone can proudly say “This is me!” and feel they belong, are supported and loved.

We understand this and work hard to make Rockbrook that kind of haven. Instead of suggesting all of us should fake it to align with some “perfection” of personality or appearance, camp is a community built upon authenticity— real selves having real relationships in the real world. Here at Rockbrook, we know the value of honest communication, spirited cooperation, sincere generosity, mutual respect and care. As I’ve mentioned before, these values make this an extraordinarily friendly place where relationships are knitted tighter than what’s ordinarily possible. I believe this is what makes camp so much more than just “fun.” It’s what makes camp meaningful, and ultimately transformative for the girls here.

Put differently, Rockbrook is a place where we all can feel comfortable being vulnerable. The camp community, as it both celebrates and supports our individualities, inspires the courage we might need to open up and expose who we really are. Life at camp isn’t so scary, but instead feels joyful and liberating.

All of this brings to mind Brené Brown’s book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead (2012), and its argument for cultivating a habit of vulnerability. The book observes that most people spend too much time “armoring” themselves against social criticism (and its associated feelings of shame) and as a result tend to be isolated from the people and deep experiences around them. Brown argues also that learning to accept our vulnerability can enhance our relationships with others, inspire us to be more creative, and make our everyday work more enjoyable. Retaining a spirit of vulnerability (which is different than weakness, by the way) is a powerful means of personal growth.

Sound familiar? We know camp is “a place for girls to grow,” as we’ve often claimed, and now we have Brown’s research and writing to explain how it works. It’s particularly interesting how she argues that vulnerability is “absolutely essential,” and that “we can’t know love and belonging and creativity and joy” without it. If so, and if Rockbrook is a safe place for young people to feel comfortable with their imperfection and incompleteness, to be proud of their true selves (… “This is me!” …), to be vulnerable, then camp life provides a great benefit far beyond the activities and special events recorded in the photo gallery each night. It may just be the perfect place to learn not only about your authentic self, but to explore what it means to live a “Wholehearted life” rich with true connections.

If you’d like to learn more about Brené Brown and her research, you can watch her TED talk. So far it’s been watched more than 45 million times!

Camp Group of Girls

A Haven of Their Own

Ready, Set, Go!

I was six years old when I found the ravine. I had heard my older sisters talk about the ravine before, of course, but they had all firmly refused to show me where it was. They had mostly grown out of their days of playing outside by the time I set out to find it, but still they felt there was a certain importance in my finding it on my own—a sort of rite of passage.

And so, every day after first grade, I would press out on my own into the trees behind my house, in search of the ravine (it should be noted that I did not actually know, at the time, what a ravine was—I was, however, assured that I would know it when I saw it).

Down the Rapids

I don’t remember how long it took me, how many days of searching before I stumbled across it. I don’t remember the season, month, weather, or day of the week it was when I finally emerged from the trees and saw what was, unmistakably, The Ravine—all of those details have faded away across the years. What I do remember was the sense of absolute exhilaration that I felt when I saw the slope of massive gray rocks descending steeply into the stream at the bottom. I had found it: the place for kids, the place where adults never went. This was my place.

My family moved out of that house a few years later, cutting short my time with the ravine. I haven’t been back there since I was a child, but the place still looms large in my imagination as being as big and profound a spot as the Grand Canyon itself. A cursory glance at the land behind my old house on Google Earth, however, tells me that it was nothing more than a (slightly) glorified drainage ditch that stretched for about thirty yards above ground before disappearing beneath it.

My mother’s thoughts on the ravine (once we finally told her, about a year ago, that it had once been our favorite hangout) were less generous still. To her adult eyes, it had been nothing more than a smelly, mosquito-ey, (probably) vermin-infested dump, and she was horrified that we had spent so much time there.

Kayaking Class

But to us, then and in our memories still, it was paradise.

Thinking about it today, with sensibilities that have been honed by several years of working with children at camp, the thought of a six year old tramping off into the woods by herself makes me immensely nervous. What if I had fallen? What if I had come across a dangerous animal? What if I had tripped and gotten stuck between two of those heavy boulders, and no one had known where to find me? What if I had drowned, or been eaten by a bear, or gotten lost and wandered around aimlessly through the wilds of Mississippi until my parents had given up on ever finding me?

As you can probably guess, none of those things happened. I think I fell and skinned my knee once, but, as tragedies go, that’s not the worst, and I did feel pretty cool walking through the back door at the end of the day with my very own battle wound.

Starting a Fire

I rarely think about the ravine anymore, but recently I read an article called “The Overprotected Kid,” by Hanna Rosin, and memories of the place came flooding back. Rosin talks at length of the modern lack of once ubiquitous childhood spaces such as mine. I’d imagine a lot of the parents reading this can remember a place of their very own where they went to play. A secret place, usually outside, where they and their friends built forts, played hide and seek, and settled their own problems and sought out their own, individual accomplishments. A place where their parents rarely, if ever, went. I wonder how many of today’s children could say that they have such a place?

Between school, extracurricular activities, and family time at home, modern children spend less and less time away from the direct supervision of adults. On first thought, this seems like a great thing. It’s a dangerous world, after all. If they are always near adults, then we can keep them from taking unnecessary risks, we can intervene when they have conflicts with their siblings or friends, and we can guide them through every challenge that comes their way. If we are vigilant enough, as parents and childcare professionals, then we can protect children from ever suffering the sting of failure, or the anxiety that accompanies facing a new challenge.

But, of course, there is a backlash to this constant supervision. Shield them too much from any sort of discomfort, any sort of risk, any sort of failure, then when the inevitable day comes that they are faced with these things, they might be unequipped to handle it for themselves.

Horseback Riding

So how do we find the balance between protecting children, and giving them the freedom they need to grow and develop on their own?

You guessed it.

We call Rockbrook “A place where girls can grow” for a reason: 2-4 weeks spent in the heart of our wooded mountain gives girls the chance to make a world for themselves. It gives them the chance to try new things and face the very real chance that they just might not be any good at it: maybe they’ll never hit the target in archery, but they’ll try it anyway. It gives them the chance to craft their own set of cabin rules with their peers, and teaches them to hold themselves and each other accountable, without the interference of adults. It teaches them to find the joy of climbing to the very top of the mountain, while still having an appreciation and respect for the risks and struggles it takes to get there. It gives them the chance to grow.

I’m certainly not saying that campers at Rockbrook are unsupervised—far from it. They are always within sight and earshot of at least one counselor, adventure guide, or director. But the beauty of staffing our camp with college-age counselors is that they are in the unique position of being at once an authority figure, and a “cool” older kid, around whom our campers feel entirely comfortable to be their quirky, crazy, energetic selves.

One of These Things is Not Like the Others

We value our counselors for the responsibility and trustworthiness for which we hired them. The camp girls value our counselors because they can behave more naturally with them than they would with “normal” adults (they know, for example, that their counselors will not bat an eye should they spontaneously decide to show up at dinner wearing a batman costume and a tiara).

We give the campers supervision that doesn’t feel like supervision. We let them take risks—like climbing up rock-faces and hurtling down whitewater rapids in a raft—that feel like risks, but are supervised by professionals who know exactly how to keep them safe. When the campers fight with one another, often we let them work out the dispute among themselves. We’ll be nearby, and will intervene if necessary, but we know that they have the tools necessary to solve their own problems, and they will be the stronger for it afterward.

Tough Girls

They might gain some bumps and bruises along the way. You might pick up your child on closing day with a freshly skinned knee, or a bee sting, or a story of the unkind words a fellow camper said to her. But delve deeper into these stories and you’ll find that the skinned knee was acquired on an incredible hike to the top of Looking Glass Rock. The bee sting hurt, sure, but a counselor or nurse was standing by with an Epi-pen, just in case, and now your daughter has learned all about the signs that might signal anaphylactic shock. Maybe she never quite came to like the girl who said unkind things, but she did learn that she has the strength and maturity to live peacefully with a person that she’s not fond of—a skill that we all know can come in handy later in life.

There’s no need to worry that, in sending your child off to camp, you are letting them loose in the world of “Lord of the Flies.” We have plenty of rules and procedures in place designed to keep all of our campers as safe as possible. Safety is always our first priority. But our very close second priority is to offer the girls a world in which they have agency, responsibility, and daily experiences that challenge them, and even make them a little nervous or uncomfortable.

Not to worry—they won’t be hiking off into the woods by themselves in search of nearby ravines, as I once did. But I can promise you that every single camper will experience, at least once in their time at Rockbrook, that same exhilaration I felt the first time I ever felt a sense of ownership over an accomplishment that was fully and completely my own.

Rockbrook Cheerleaders

The Silver Lining of Homesickness

The first time I ever saw Rockbrook was in July of 1999. I was eight-years-old, and my two-week session was to be the longest I had ever been away from my parents. I was so nervous that I could hardly sit still in the car ride up the mountain. Whenever anybody asked me, of course, I’d tell them that I couldn’t wait for camp to start. I had memorized the activities listed in the catalogue, and picked out exactly which ones I was going to sign up for first (Riflery, Archery, Sports and Games, and Tennis, if you were wondering). I was excited. But I was also scared to death.

Camper-counselor Bonding
Opening Day Reunions

I vividly remember standing halfway up the hill that day, with my counselor’s hand on my shoulder, watching as my parents got into their car to leave.

It’s not too late, I remember thinking to myself. I can still call to them, or just jump in the car and let them take me home.

But I stayed quiet, and I stayed put (I was much too stubborn, even then, to admit that I might have been scared), and it wasn’t long after I saw their car disappear down the driveway that I forgot all about those butterflies that had been giving me second thoughts. That moment on the hill was the only instant of homesickness that I ever remember feeling at camp. Of course, thinking about it logically, fifteen years later, I know that there must have been other moments in which I felt lost and overwhelmed in this new environment—but those moments are so fully overshadowed by the memories of my first camp friends, the first time I ever held a bow, and my first time stepping into the most wonderfully boisterous Dining Hall my eight-year-old eyes had ever beheld, that only that first instant of uncertainty has managed to stick in my memory.

Tie-Dying

There are plenty of campers, new and returning, who come to camp every year and don’t look back, just as I did. They are too excited and too busy to have any time for homesickness. But there are just as many, if not more, who don’t find it so easy to be away from home for the first time.

I have seen campers deal with homesickness every year that I have been at camp, each in her own way. There are those who hold it in, keeping a stiff upper lip with the understanding that it’ll get easier if they don’t think about it. There are those who become sad and listless, and can’t bring themselves to fully partake in their activities. There are those who throw temper tantrums. And then there are those who are simply scared, terrified to be away from the safety net that they know and trust for the first time.

Excited at Camp

As a parent sending your child into someone else’s care for the first time, I know that the thought of which of these reactions your own daughter will have must be at the forefront of your mind. The truth is, there’s no way to tell what form her homesickness will take—if any at all—until the day comes. It may be that your daughter takes to the camp lifestyle like a duck to water, and will beg you on closing day to let her stay forever. On the other hand, it is just as possible that you will be getting a letter from her three days into camp, begging you to come and fetch her right away, with her tearstains circled on the page for good measure.

Your first instinct upon finding out that your daughter is scared and upset without you will of course be to come and rescue her immediately. After all, if she’s afraid, then how could she have the presence of mind to learn and grown in all the ways that camp has to offer? If she is crying to her counselor during rest hour, how will she have the time or energy to make friends with her peers? While this is a perfectly understandable response, I hope you’ll think twice before taking the step of ending her camp experience before it’s really even begun. And it might not be easy. In all the preparations leading up to camp, in all the conversations with your daughter about what it will be like for her to be away, it’s easy to forget that your daughter’s homesickness will be just as hard for you.

So if the moment comes that you find yourself reaching for your keys, considering  driving to Brevard to pick up your daughter without a second thought, here are a few things I hope you’ll remember:

  1. Jewelry Making
    Whatever form homesickness takes, it is almost always fleeting. The first few days of camp—when your daughter is still working through the first stages of friendship with her cabinmates, figuring out her way around camp, and feeling like she just doesn’t quite “get” camp yet—are always going to be the hardest. But things move fast at camp. Within a week, she will have at least one friend whom she will consider her Best Friend Ever, she will be navigating the camp property like a pro, and singing the camp songs at mealtimes just as loudly and enthusiastically as everyone else. Chances are, by the time you’ve received the artfully tearstained letter, she will already have forgotten that she ever asked you for rescue.
  1. Our staff knows how to help her. Between your daughter’s counselors, her activity instructors, and the camp directors, she will be surrounded at all times by compassionate adults wanting to help her to love camp as much as we do. Our staff is trained intensively, taught to recognize the signs of homesickness, even if your daughter is doing her best to hide it. Whether she needs to talk it out, or just to be distracted until the feeling passes, the Rockbrook staff is there to help.
  1. Meeting the Cabinmates
    She wants to love camp. This is often a tough one to remember: nobody wants to be homesick. She’ll see other campers enjoying all that camp has to offer, and she will want to be enjoying it right along with them. Lots of times, what homesick campers really want is not necessarily to be taken home, but rather to feel just as comfortable within the camp community as they do at home. Some girls reach that level of comfort right away, while others take a little while longer. If given the time to get her bearings, often the homesickness will vanish on its own.
  1. We always appreciate your help. It might be tempting, in this instance, to ask us to let you speak to your daughter on the phone—after all, you have more experience than anyone in calming her fears and making her feel safe. We’ve found, though, that such phone calls nearly always make the situation worse—in fact, I can guarantee that every phone call home will end in tears. Even if hearing your voice makes her feel better at first, once she hangs up the phone, she will have to start the process of separation from you all over again. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t help! We know that you are the expert on your daughter. You know her favorite games, her comfort foods, the stories that can put her to sleep. The directors and your daughter’s counselors will be working with your daughter through her homesickness, and we are happy to talk to you anytime about any tips you might have on how to make her camp experience as rewarding as possible.
  1. Tennis Pro
    Hard as it is, she will come through it much stronger than before. It’s not always easy for us to recognize when a difficult situation is changing us in positive ways. If your daughter is homesick, all she will be able to recognize in the moment is that she is feeling scared and alone, and she would like to stop feeling that way. It’s a bit too much to ask for an eight-year-old to see that her current discomfort will make her a stronger, more independent person, which is why we as a staff and as parents need to remember it for her. Because there will come a triumphant moment for her as camp goes on, when she realizes that her homesickness is gone. But even if that moment never comes—even if her homesickness lasts the whole length of camp (which can happen, though it’s rare), she’ll still come out of it stronger than before. She will realize, maybe for the first time in her life, that she has the strength within her to withstand a truly challenging situation. She won’t forget that the next time another of those situations comes along.
A Friend From Home

Homesickness is a serious matter, and we treat it as such at camp. We never ignore it if a camper seems homesick; we are proactive about helping them through it, and keeping you, as her parents, updated on her progress. But the first brush with homesickness in childhood is not a circumstance to be avoided. It’s a formative, if sometimes painful experience, that prepares your child for those difficult moments to come—the first day of high school, the first day of a new job—when she might feel disoriented or out of her element, and help is not near at hand.

It’s important to prepare both your daughter and yourself for the challenges she might face in acclimating to camp. You should let her know that there is no shame in feeling homesick—in fact, it’s something that almost everyone feels at some point in their camp experience, whether or not they show outward signs of it. Most importantly though, it is critical avoid making any “pick-up deals,” or promises that you will come and get her right away the moment she asks. If your daughter knows the possibility is on the table, then what motivation is there for her to work through the issues on her own? Tell her how confident you are in her ability to make it through without your help—with your vote of confidence, and the knowledge that there’s no “easy out” at her disposal, she will be much more likely to grit her teeth and persevere.

Sometimes I wonder if I had actually called out to my mom, that day in 1999, if she would have let me climb into the car and drive back to safety. If she would have told me that we could leave camp for another year, taken me out for ice cream to make me feel better, then brought me home. I probably would have thanked her for it that day. I certainly would have felt more comfortable with that turn of events than I was standing on that hill with a virtual stranger.

But sitting here in the Rockbrook office fifteen years later, looking back on all the tangible ways I can point to that my experiences with camp have made me a better and a stronger person, I really hope she would have told me no.

Hi Mom!

The Rockbrook Guide to Winter

If you are reading this right now, then you are more than likely caught in the midst of the Polar Vortex. And while it’s true that “Polar Vortex” sounds like the rejected title for a cheesy sci-fi novel, the reality of icy arctic winds swirling their way down from Santa’s workshop to where you sit this very moment is enough to make anyone long for an end to winter.

Last Tuesday, each and every US State had temperatures fall below freezing (true, you had to climb to the top of the highest mountain in Hawaii to find temperatures of 21 degrees, but it totally still counts). This means that, at some point in the last few days, every American Rockbrook camper (including me) has been bundled up against the cold, dreaming of warmer days. To those campers who are warm and snug in the balmy southern hemisphere: oh, how we envy you.

It’s not that winter doesn’t have it’s perks. What’s not to love about hot chocolate, crackling fires, and quiet evenings spent indoors with your family? Winter gives us an opportunity to slow down, appreciate the small things, and enjoy the quiet.

Still though, this Polar Vortex business might be taking this whole “winter” thing a bit too far. Sure, catching snowflakes on your eyelashes is one of life’s beautiful joys—but watching icicles slowly accumulate there is less enjoyable. True, everybody loves bundling up in cozy winter clothes—but when frost begins to weigh down your fur-covered boots, and you begin stomping around like you’re transforming into a Yeti from the toes up, suddenly those clothes are a bit less glamorous.

But, never fear, chilly Rockbrook-ers! Nothing brightens a gloomy day like a smidge of camp cheer—and lucky for us all, that camp cheer is available to us even in the Polar Vortex-iest of days. All you have to do is take some of those classic camp staples, and give them a little tweak, and voila! Winterized Rockbrook!

1. S’mores Hot Chocolate

S'mores Hot Chocolate


Oh yeah, you read that right. Hot chocolate AND s’mores, in one stunningly delicious concoction. We all know that camp just isn’t camp without those three heavenly ingredients coming together at least once to form the most perfect three-bite snack in the history of both bites and snacks. But why should you wait until summer comes around to enjoy this beautiful treat? There are tons of recipes out there for S’mores Hot Chocolate, but this one is absolutely the most delicious.

2. Chevron Scarf

Needlecraft

Needlecraft is one of my favorite activities at camp. What could be more peaceful than sitting on the shady back porch of Curosty, listening to the stream ripple past, and knitting up some Christmas presents for your family? Quiet, cozy winter evenings give you the perfect opportunity to work on your needlecraft skills. And you don’t have to choose just one boring old color for that scarf you’re working on (unless it’s Rockbrook Red—Rockbrook Red is never boring). We like to spend our summers perfecting all sorts of exciting patterns for friendship bracelets—why not use one of those? Find a knitting pattern for a chevron patterned scarf, which can remind you all winter of those beautiful bracelets that your mom made you cut off in October because they were kind of starting to smell.

3. Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

Muffin Break

Every coffee shop in the country spends all winter throwing pumpkin flavoring into every drink and snack they offer, but we all know that the best pumpkin-flavored snacks are the little morsels that our camp-baker-extraordinaire (Katie) cooks up for muffin break. I talked to Katie yesterday, and she pointed me in the direction of a pumpkin chocolate chip muffin recipe that is almost identical to hers. I know this post is supposed to be about “winterizing” camp traditions, but let’s be honest, there’s no need to winterize muffins. Muffins are excellent at all times, and in all weathers. Of course, everyone knows that these muffins taste best when eaten outside in the sunshine, after a morning of camp activities, but that doesn’t mean they can’t make a gloomy winter day a little more delicious.

4. Campfire Bonding

Campfire

What are the three most important elements of a campfire? Being with people that you love, some good music, and, of course, a fire. There’s no law that says a campfire has to be outside. All you have to do is start up a fire in your fireplace, gather around it with your family and friends, leave those cell phones and computers far, far away, and just enjoy being with one another. And don’t forget to sing. Whether you’re singing Christmas carols, old camp songs, or the latest offering from T-Swift, there’s nothing quite like singing to chase away the bite of winter, and remind you that summer can’t be far away.

This is the time of year is when camp starts to feel furthest away from us—it seems like a horribly long time since we’ve been there, and an even more horribly long time until we get to be there again. But even on those coldest days, when the news is filled with headlines about “Polar Vortexes,” “Snowmaggedons,” and “Snowpocalypses,” the spirit of camp is never really that far from us. Sure, throwing on our swimsuits and jumping into the lake isn’t really an option, and it’s probably not the best idea to go white water rafting, or to have a shaving cream fight, but all it takes is a little creativity, and you can give any boring old winter day a bit of camp flare. And these aren’t the only ideas out there—if you can think of any other ways to give winter a camp-y twist, feel free to post them in the comments section, or on the Rockbrook Facebook page!

So enjoy your snow days, fellow Rockbrook-ers—summer will be here before you know it!

Camp Fun

All Good in the Neighborhood

Telephone

While reading through the newest American Camp Association’s Camping Magazine, one article in particular caught my attention.  The article, CAMP: The Old Neighborhood for a New Generation by Jolly Corley, suggests that with school schedules more intense than ever before, it may be that kids are more intellectually stimulated than previous generations.  However, today’s youth may be missing out on learning valuable life skills.  Skills such as conflict management, problem solving, leadership and decision making.  Skills which are learned most effectively through free play.  Corley suggests that today’s generation needs unstructured play time more than children of past generations.

look up!

The best place to practice these life skills is camp.  While American neighborhoods used to be the perfect setting for free play, this is no longer the case.  The old neighborhood was a place “where kids were free to play from the time they finished chores until they were called inside for dinner.”  An old neighborhood was one where children played free of adults, with kids of all ages, and often made up their own games and rules.  A neighborhood which still very much exists at camp.  This neighborhood is one that allows campers to practice developing soft skills that are necessary to succeed in life.

going herping!

Every day at camp, campers are able to play with one another free from the interference of adults.  These interactions enable them to develop interpersonal skills that the typical school environment may not allow them to.  For example, a group of campers may decide that they want to play tennis during their free time.  Without adults telling them what to do, it is necessary for them to decide how to split up.  Will they play doubles or singles?  Who will be on each team?  Once the game gets going, they are in charge of regulating it.  Was that ball in or out?  Allowing campers to work these things out on their own will help them build lifelong skills in decision making and conflict management.

different ages on float

In addition to these skills, campers are also able to learn leadership skills through play with different age groups.  Free play with younger children provides an opportunity for older children and adolescents to “practice nurturance and leadership.” Coley also explains how playing with older children can help younger ones to “problem solve in ways that are more sophisticated than what they are developmentally capable of if left on their own or playing with children of their same age.”  The soft skills that children gain through free play are necessary for those who are going to see success later in life.

different age girls

Never has the camp experience been as important as it is today.  Gone are the days that children can roam around with the neighborhood kids playing pick up basketball games and hide-and-seek.  Their schedules are rigid, their school work is more demanding than ever, and many parents fear leaving their children without adult supervision.  This is where camp comes in.  Camp creates an environment similar to the old American neighborhood, and it’s a safe one.  Children practice skills such as problem solving, conflict management, and leadership through free play with other children of all ages.  Most importantly, they don’t even realize that they’re doing it.  They’re having the time of their lives, and they’re growing exponentially.

A Christmas Perm

Snowy Dining Hall

A Rockbrook Girl’s Night Before Christmas

‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all round the world,

Were the coolest of cool, those great Rockbrook girls.

Their trunks were still packed in the corners of their rooms,

And they offered camp-colors to wintery gloom.

The world was a snow globe, all twinkling and white,

And the houses and halls were all decked in their lights.

Their tummies were warmed by hot chocolates and ciders,

And the girls never worried ‘bout snakes or wolf spiders.

The holiday season brought so much to love:

With ice skating, skiing, warm mittens and gloves,

With Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Diwali,

With New Year’s, and Christmas with boughs of bright holly.

But while sugarplums danced in the heads of their friends,

And their brothers’ discussions of gifts would not end,

The campers they dreamed of a different time,

When the weather was warm and the company was fine.

They dreamed of the days spent beneath the hot sun,

Of laughter and joy and unstoppable fun.

They dreamed of old cabins of weathered brown wood,

Of the Dining Hall songs and the dinners so good.

For these girls have a place of which only they know,

A place that still calls them through sleet and through snow.

A queendom of summer, all wreathed in tall trees,

Governed by girls with dirty faces and knees.

A place of the Midget Man, Killroy, and Nancy,

A place where the costumes make everyone fancy.

A place where the coolest is she who sings loudest,

A place where the silliest is always the proudest.

There may be no presents, no Santas or stockings,

There may be no carolers on front doors knocking,

There may be no snowmen at that time of year,

But there’s no other time with more pep or more cheer.

It’s a time that’s for rollicking, frolicking joys,

A time just for girls, with no smelly old boys.

It’s a time that’s for hiking, for swimming, for climbing,

A time that’s for Honosorarius rhyming.

It’s a time when directors can be seen walking,

And always with counselors and campers are talking.

A time when sweet Sarah stands up at the mic,

And says to the list’ners in a voice kind and bright,

“Now campers! Now counselors! Now barn staff and nurses!

On paddlers! On crafters! On singers of verses!

To the top of the Tower and to Rockbrook Falls,

Now hike away, climb away, dance away all!

For this is your time, on this midsummer’s day,

And it shall be spent in your favorite way.

It’s a time that we treasure in all of our hearts,

A time full of many incredible parts.”

So campers, though you are now spread far and wide,

Though you may have grown older, left camp days behind,

Just think of dear Rockbrook, in days cold and dark,

And its spirit will bring summer’s warmth to your heart.

And the day will come soon, for you or your daughter,

When you both stand once more beside cold running water,

And listen to red birds sing high in the pine,

And hear sounds of Rockbrook down each merry line.

But for now, let me tell you, with heart full of joy,

That I wish you best wishes for you to enjoy.

May your holiday season be happy and bright,

Merry Christmas from Rockbrook; to all a goodnight!

A Camp perspective from Mama B

Chapel

Attempts can be made to replicate a camp, stories retold, even plagiarized, but the spirit of Rockbrook can never be duplicated.

So what makes a camp distinct, different from the rest, making it a place that generations of girls, from all over the world, count down the days until they can return?  What is it that sets apart a place that mothers long for their daughters to experience what they did as children?

As a camper, counselor, mom of campers, and now camp mom, my answer to this question comes from reflection over my life, and how much camp builds character and develops skills used for a lifetime.  Although, through the years, my perspective has changed, Rockbrook’s legacy is untouched, its heritage valued, and its spirit stronger than ever.  Girls from Rockbrook have an indescribable bond, a link to one another, bound by the fact that they were “camp girls” together.

Girls from RBC enjoy sharing what they love about camp.  From a parental perspective, here are a few of my favorites:

CHOICES-When else in life do young ladies get to decide for themselves how to spend their entire day and what hobby, talent, or new experience to pursue?  In my opinion, this teaches decision-making skills and develops a sense of independence they carry with them to adulthood.  It also facilitates adventure, encouraging them to try new things, step out of their comfort zones, and embrace new opportunities.

SIMPLICITY-We live in such a fast paced world that we forget to notice the beauty around us.  Simple domestic life at camp creates an atmosphere to better appreciate the natural surroundings.  It eliminates distractions, so campers and staff notice the magnitude of the mountains, sound of the streams, and smell of the mountain laurel.  This less busy, slower paced environment also aids in the development of new friendships.

Cabin

LIMITED TECHNOLOGY-As the mom of a teenager, I have noticed a real void in the communication skills of teens today.  Because there are no computers, TVs, or phones at camp, girls communicate face to face, an invaluable lifelong skill.

TRADITION-A place rich in tradition binds girls together despite their differences.  A camp deeply rooted in traditions gives girls the comfort that some things are “unchanging” and safe place, despite their changing circumstances around them.  They look forward to the things they do every year down to the songs, Spirit Fire, and ice cream.

And finally, LAUGHTER!  It’s good for the soul.  Girls are free to be who they are, uninhibited from the pressures of the outside world.  Loud songs are encouraged, costumes welcomed, and all personalities accepted.

Miss RBC.jpg

In conclusion, my gratitude has grown as I’ve come to appreciate the camp experience.  The more time I spend here, the more I realize that Rockbrook Camp has helped shape and mold me into the person I am today, and no matter how old I am, I’ll always be a Rockbrook girl!

Bentley Parker–Auburn, Alabama

Rockbrook Girl 1979-2013