The Three Rules of Pranking

A few 9th graders grabbed me the other day to ask me a question. They had something on their mind and had heard that I needed to “approve” it. They were plotting a prank, specifically a prank on the 10th grade Hi-Up campers. They wanted to know if their idea for this prank would be “allowed.”

girl hiding behind a fern
pre-teen rifle shooting girl
young girl displaying her painting

Over the years, we’ve identified a few principles I have now come to call, “The Three Rules of Pranking.” Essentially, pranks are allowed if all three of these rules are true. So when these campers asked me, “Is pranking allowed at Rockbrook?” They were surprised to hear me say, “Yes, as long as you follow the three rules of pranking.”

So what are these pranking rules?

  1. The prank must be in the spirit of Rockbrook. That is to say, it must not be mean, insulting, or intended to ridicule or shame any person or group. Pranks should be funny, but not at the expense of anyone’s feelings.
  2. The prank must be something that can be undone; it cannot cause permanent damage. In other words, a prank cannot break anything, or ruin anyone’s property.
  3. The prankster or pranksters must be willing to help undo the prank if asked to do so. This can include cleaning.

 

That’s it! These are pretty simple rules, and when I explain them to campers, they immediately understand them. These particular 9th graders nodded their heads and said, “that makes sense.” It’s easy for them to imagine how unpleasant it would be to be pranked in a way that broke any of these rules. Nobody wants to be singled out and laughed at. Nobody wants their stuff messed up, and nobody wants to be stuck cleaning up something they didn’t cause.

The girls appreciate these rules too because instead of a long list of prohibited behaviors, the rules allow a great deal of creative freedom. When discussing the rules, you can see it on their faces. These wannabe pranksters are thinking of examples and modifying their ideas according to the rules. It seems like the girls appreciate that Rockbrook trusts them to adhere to the rules, and they gladly accept the responsibility for doing that.

Often, the girls still want me to “approve” their pranking ideas. They ask, “Would it be OK if we….?” And I often dodge that sort of question because I want them to be responsible for what they decide to do. I want them to think about whether their prank will follow the rules. They shouldn’t need me to figure that out. That’s how I answer. I ask them, “does you prank follow the three rules? If yes, then it’s fine.”

So what sort of pranks happen at Rockbrook? I hesitate to say much about this, not wanting to plant any ideas in the minds of a budding prankster out there. One classic example, however, comes to mind: moving a cabin’s dining hall table and chairs to another part of camp, and leaving a “ransom note” about where to find it. On multiple occasions in years past, groups of girls have eaten their breakfast sitting cross-legged on the floor of the dining hall because their table has vanished, only to be found later at lakefront, in the gym, or down at the landsports field. This kind of prank takes a lot of muscle to pull off, but is always an impressive feat. I hope you can see how it clearly abides by the RBC pranking rules.

Today was a rafting day. We again took a double trip down the Nantahala River, giving the remaining Middlers and Seniors their chance to experience the chilly thrill of whitewater. We were a bit worried about the weather as a cold front was moving through, but both trips ended up dodging the rain and having great conditions. Be sure to take a look at the photo gallery because there’s an entire album of shots from the trips. You’ll be able to see how much fun the girls had bouncing around in the boats, the delightfully silly socializing that went on, and the wide-eyed look of adventure on their faces as they blasted through the final rapid. Here are a couple of examples. Click each photo to see it enlarged.

If camp is about trying new things, being together as a community of friends, and developing a more confident sense of self, then these girls are completely on track. Pranks or no pranks, they are having a great time at camp.

Great summer camp pals

Tuning Their Awareness

When Nancy Carrier founded Rockbrook 100 years ago, I wonder if she realized just how extraordinary the setting of the camp is. Her father had chosen the property for their family estate 25 years earlier after being attracted to its large rock faces, hills, running creeks, proximity to the French Broad river, and rich valley farmland. It included several hundred acres of forest surrounding the main house to the north, south and east up to the ridge line. When Nancy decided to build Rockbrook, she hired a local engineer and worked to arrange the camp buildings to fit the natural contours of the land. She used locally quarried rock and timber cut from the camp property to build the many buildings, adding to the feeling that Rockbrook was a natural part of these hills, almost as if it had sprung up organically and had always been there. She preserved and incorporated the natural beauty of the land, making it an integral experience for everyone who spends time at camp. Today, we all benefit from being close to its strong trees, its cool running waters, ancient boulders, and views of the distant mountains.

teen camp friends

Today I explored a remote section of the camp property with two different groups of Seniors. We went on a hunt for the elusive “Kilroy’s cabin.” This is an old, simple wooden structure, now dilapidated, where legend says a hermit character named Kilroy once lived. There’s a tragic story linked to Kilroy that involves love and loss, and a beautiful woman with red hair and light colored eyes. The cabin is said to be hidden and difficult to find unless the group searching for it includes a red-headed girl. There’s no trail that leads directly to the cabin, so groups hiking to it must bushwhack through the woods with hopes of finding it.

Hiking to the cabin is challenging. It’s mostly uphill with some parts being very steep. It requires ducking and weaving through thick bushes, sometimes literally crawling on hands and knees. There are muddy sections and briar patches to avoid, slippery slopes and small creeks to cross. All of this makes for slow going. It inevitably means getting dirty, sweating enough to soak through your t-shirt, and pulling twigs from your hair along the way. But it also means getting very close to the forest, crouching down low enough to notice more, touching the nearby trees, and encountering mushrooms, snails, spiders and other insects. Today we came upon two species of snakes, found several feathers, and stood at the base of a waterfall. The hike lasted two and half hours.

teen girl friends

In many ways, this experience is fairly typical at camp. I had a group of girls cheerfully engaged with the natural world around them, chatting, singing and laughing together as they exercised all their senses. These were teenage girls paying attention to each other, sharing stories as we “hiked,” embracing this challenging experience without a shred of complaining or whining. They were cooperating and communicating with the greatest of ease. They were bright and happy under these difficult conditions, whether accidentally brushing into thorns or sliding down a steep bank of leaves. Over and over again, I heard how the girls were having a great time. “I love this kind of stuff! Let’s do it again sometime soon,” one girl exclaimed to me.

Does this sound like the teenage girls you know? Do you regularly see this kind of enthusiasm, social confidence, curiosity and positive attitudes? Are the teenagers you know game to do things, real world things like this? I would bet not. I have a hunch that these girls are different when they’re at camp, happier yes, but also more outgoing. I also believe that for the most part they are less stressed and anxious at camp. There are things about camp life— things it uniquely offers, but also things it profoundly lacks —that have this real effect on teenagers, on their immediate health and happiness, and longterm personal success.

teen dance class

If you’ve been following my posts recently, you can probably guess one side of this. I’ve been claiming that camp is uniquely situated to add certain experiences to a teenager’s life, for example, to feel the support of a caring, noncompetitive community, or the joy of regular free time to create, imagine, and play. Camp provides that rare feeling of belonging and acceptance. It tunes your awareness of others. It’s built upon experientially rich, real-world interactions and meaningful relationships. It brings out the best in these girls as it brings them together. This is what camp adds.

The other side of this— what is crucially missing from camp life —came to mind after reading this opinion piece by psychologists Jonathan Haidt and Jean M. Twenge. I’ve written about their research in the past, making different points about self confidence and handling adversity, but this new article points at the same culprit: the smartphone. Once again we learn how “smartphones in general and social media in particular” are correlated with sharp increases in teenage loneliness, depression and anxiety. Their new research shows that this is a worldwide phenomenon affecting children everywhere. They ask, “Do individual teens who consume a lot of social media have worse health outcomes than individual teens who consume little?” And they answer directly; “the answer is yes, particularly for girls.”

There are no smartphones and no social media at camp. Instead your girls are making real connections. They’re looking around, engaging with the world around them, not looking down, scrolling mindlessly through some idealized version of reality. At camp they’re actively, not passively entertained. They’re making true friends, not superficial Instagram “followers,” or vain Snapchat “streaks.”

The girls here at Rockbrook know this too. They know camp life is contrary to what they experience on their phones. Oddly, they love camp, and actually love not dealing with their phones while here, but every one of them will likely return to their social media habits when they get back home (or even the instant they get in the car on closing day! …Here’s an idea. Leave her phone at home! You’ll be able to enjoy her camp personality a bit, and hear some stories before she take steps back into that virtual world again.). The allure of this technology is too powerful. It’s tied to too many aspects of modern life. Haidt and Twenge advocate for creating the conditions where kids learn to socialize in the real world, for example by banning phones in schools and delaying when young children begin using social media.

Well, your girls already have those very conditions; they have them at camp. On a daily basis they are counteracting the negative effects of social media. In the long run, I hope your girls can draw upon their camp experience to recognize when their smartphone use is diminishing their real world engagement. If so, I think that self awareness will benefit their relationships and longterm happiness.

camp teenager hangout

3nd Session Video Glimpse

Amazing videographer Robbie Francis returned to camp this week to film. Robbie’s been helping us for years capture on camera bits of camp life. He spends the day blending into the hustle and recording little snippets of kids being kids at camp.

He’s again edited a short video that beautifully captures the feel of our days at Rockbrook. It’s less than two minutes long, and is completely fascinating. Sometimes it’s hard to understand what really happens at camp, how your girls are feeling while they’re here. This video is a glimpse of that for you.

I hope you’ll watch it more than once.

Enjoy!

Click here for the video Or see below.

What Leads to Friendship

It happened again today. A counselor told me she was surprised how easy it was to make friends at Rockbrook. She said it took “one day” for her to feel real friendship from people she never knew before. This was astounding to her, and a little puzzling as to how it was possible, because ordinarily, making good friends was more difficult and definitely took a lot longer. I’ve heard it many times before; camp is where we make our best “forever” friends, and for some reason it’s easier to make friends at camp than anywhere else.

knitting class for girls at summer camp

Talking about it further, and thinking about what is different about camp, we hit upon an idea. We thought, “True friendship requires authenticity. When we are most authentically our true selves, we are most capable of making friends.” This works at Rockbrook because our camp culture, with all its practiced ideals, makes it easier for girls to trust themselves and forget the worries that accompany ordinary personal interactions. This place is free of social judgment, and beautifully empowering for girls to strip away the assumptions they may have about themselves and to reveal who they really are. At camp, they discover a freedom to be “the real me,” and realize that the people in this community still value and care about them. They realize that it’s OK to be quirky (we all are in some way or another!), and OK to not be perfect.

I think camp friendships are so strong because each is formed between people being genuine like this. With no superficial posing, nervous performing, or strategic posturing, we can really get to know each other. With no competition or social jockeying, we can be more caring and truly interested in each other. That combination leads quickly to friendship… not superficial friends formed between socially constructed identities we think will be attractive, but a mutual affection born from a deep understanding of each other. Please pardon me for repeating myself, but it’s this special camp community that makes all of this possible. The lesson to be learned, we concluded, was that being a “friendly person” means being brave enough to be your true self and to be kind and caring toward others. We practice this lesson everyday at camp, inspiring us to become more and more friendly.

proud camp girl with archery bullseye

Shooting a bullseye in archery, and especially in riflery, is not easy. Just aiming, shooting, and getting lucky isn’t enough to hit the center of a target 50 feet away. It takes careful, patient techniques, a certain amount of strength to remain still as you aim, and a great deal of practice to become more accurate and precise. Even hitting the target within the scoring rings is an accomplishment, and a good first step. So when a girl hits the center of her target, it is exciting. It’s achieving a long sought-after goal. At Rockbrook, we celebrate this success in a couple of ways. If a camper hits a single bullseye in riflery or three bullseyes in archery, they join what’s called the “bullseye club,” which earns her name being announced in the dining hall during a meal. Everyone cheers when the names are read. Hitting ten bullseyes in archery earns the “golden arrow” award, and achieving one hundred bullseyes is recognized with the “golden bow” award. Yes, it’s hard to believe, but a handful of girls in the past have reached the golden bow award level by the end of their session. That’s dedication, and great skill!

camp girl reading outdoors

There seems to be a lot of readers at camp this session. During points of free time throughout the day, there are several spots around camp where you can find girls tucked in with a book. Being left to decide for themselves how they’d like to spend their free time, these girls are choosing to read. But they’re also selecting some really cool outdoor spots to kick back in their crazy creek chairs. Reading on the hill under the huge walnut tree is a popular spot because it has one of the best long range mountain views in camp. It’s common as well to see girls relaxing and reading in the many red rocking chairs situated on the lodge and dining hall porches. There’s always reading happening near the lake too. Like being on vacation, there’s something nice about reading near a body of water, especially with a friend or two sitting right nearby.

It’s been really fun to see the girls enjoy our new outdoor dining areas at camp. As places to eat, they’re a big hit. Knowing that we needed to keep our cabin group cohorts separated at meals, and that having better air flow was preferable to reduce the chance of spreading anything between cabin groups, we decided to add on to the dining hall porch and the hillside lodge porch this spring. Both porches are elevated off the ground and, like most of the buildings at Rockbrook, are surrounded by trees. This creates a gorgeous forest view from the porches. The hillside lodge porch has gained the nickname “Treetops” as a result. The porches are cool and breezy, perfect places for a pleasant al fresco dining experience, like tonight when we ate Rick’s homemade lasagna, salad, bread and fresh watermelon. Lemon bars topped with powdered sugar were for dessert. People say they love the food at camp. Perhaps eating in these new outdoor spaces is part of the reason. It certainly doesn’t hurt!

three camp teen girls

Delightfully Sensorial

Let me tell you about the “Cove.” That’s our name for a lovely little swimming hole located on the Rockbrook property, hidden deep in the woods about half a mile from the center of camp. It’s formed by Dunn’s Creek as it cascades down from the mountain above. This is a very rocky part of the forest which makes the stream form a long string of waterfalls and pools. One of these pools is the Cove. Hiking there first follows the spillway that carries water toward the Rockbrook lake as it winds gently through thick Rhododendron and past an amazing variety of trees. As you approach the Cove, you first hear the crashing of the waterfalls and begin to notice varieties of moss covering almost every exposed rock.

The Cove itself is beautiful. You first notice the 20-foot rock cliff on one side and the small waterfall dropping into an inviting pool of water beneath. The pool is only about 4 feet deep at its deepest point and has a nice barefoot-friendly sandy bottom. It feels like an opening to something special, a secret part of the forest preserved for those lucky enough to stumble upon it. There’s something about it that’s immediately attractive. You can’t help but think, “Wow, this is really cool.” Today, as the weather warmed up, a small group of Seniors spent their rest hour enjoying a dip in the Cove. They played in the waterfall, and soaked in the natural pool of cool, refreshing water. They loved it!

NC Sliding Rock children

Visiting the Cove, like so many of the experiences at Rockbrook, is delightfully sensorial. It quite literally bathes these girls in sensations, rich experiences that stimulate all their senses. The examples at camp are endless— the firm muscle of the horse they’re riding, the soft feathers of the chickens down at the garden, the refreshing chill of the mountain water around here. At camp you hear amazing things too: nighttime forest animals, the 100-year-old camp bell, and the occasional intense thunderstorm, for example. And taste! —the fresh organic corn we ate on the hill for dinner tonight, a different muffin flavor everyday, and the explosion of cool watermelon in your mouth when you take that first bite. At camp we get to smell the earthiness of the forest all around us, encounter the sharp smoke from a campfire, and breathe in full lungs of the freshest air. And of course, what we see everyday is the beauty of Rockbrook, this historic camp nestled in the “heart of a wooded mountain.”

You have to love this for your kids! When so much of their ordinary lives is spent staring at screens, passively receiving a filtered, curated version of the world— and even more so during the recent pandemic restrictions —they really need all their senses exercised. I suspect their longterm cognitive and emotional health depend on it! They need rich real world experiences like taking the plunge down Sliding Rock or a bite out of a freshly roasted s’more. Camp teaches them that feeling these things is normal and good, that the diversity of sensations offered by the world can be experienced by simply reaching out. I think children naturally do this. They’re curious and eager to explore. They instinctively revel in the sensorial character of camp life (no A/C needed!). I hope you can see the tragedy of those childhood instincts being hindered by the all too common allure of technological entertainment.

Thankfully, life at Rockbrook is a relief from all that. We know how to break the spell of those screens and return to more genuine experiences, more rewarding inter-actions, to a more colorful world. Your girls love it because I think they need it. And at camp, they enjoy it everyday.

small child eating s'more

Fun and Funny

What’s an activity where your feet are numb and there’s sweat under your helmet? What activity alternates between moments of calm scenic beauty and wide-eyed, scream-inducing thrills? When does a team of girls work together and rescue someone on the team when needed? What’s delightful and a little bit scary at the same time? When can you sing and dance with your friends while accomplishing important goals? When can you do a high five simultaneously with six other people? What activity brings you face to face with a powerful force of nature but ends up being hilariously fun? When is “riding the bull” the best seat in the house, and falling “in” often a highlight of the experience? When is there talk of “all forward” and “all back,” bracing and balance, surprise bumps and spins. There’s really nothing else quite like it.

If you guessed whitewater rafting, you are correct because all of these things are true for the Rockbrook girls who took a rafting trip on the Nantahala today. We took about a third of the entire camp over there in Macon county for two different trips down the river. More will go next week as well, giving every Middler and Senior a chance to go. We’ve been taking these Nantahala rafting trips at Rockbrook since the early 1980s, and since we have a US Forest service permit to do so, we can use our own guides and equipment to raft a lot, thereby allowing every girl old enough to go if they like.

Looking at these photos, and from the description above, you can tell that the girls absolutely love these trips. I’d say when the weather is good, like today’s hot and sunny conditions, whitewater rafting is easily their favorite outdoor adventure experience offered at camp. Being in the boat with your friends for the two-hour trip is both a fun social experience, and a uniquely funny one. Almost like slapstick comedy, rafting tosses the girls about, sometimes sending them into the bottom of the boat, arms and legs hilariously sprawling, and other times out into the cold river water— exciting and hilarious at the same time.

This is another example of Rockbrook girls taking something that’s already a good time and making it fantastic. They have this remarkable ability to turn up the fun. When people see our boats floating by on the river, they’re surprised and impressed by the singing, the laughing and the camaraderie. It’s not just rafting for these Rockbrook kids; it’s playful, silly, and enthusiastic rafting. It’s a group of positive friendly girls, already primed to enjoy each others company, diving deep into this experience. It’s part of that camp magic we all appreciate around here— a kind of collective exuberance for whatever we’re doing. With everyone’s bright attitude (and honestly plenty of snacks too!), at camp there’s fun to be found in everything.

One last example… Back at camp, during the block of free time we call “Twilight,” I saw a group of Juniors playing on the hill. Head counselor Ellie pulled out a pile of hula hoops and yelled, “Who wants to do some hooping?” Soon there were hoops spinning in all directions. Some spun around girls’ waists as they found the right speed to wiggle back and forth. Others spun hoops around their arms. Some rolled them along the ground and down the grassy hill. The counselors were helping and encouraging this creativity. One hoop swung like a jump rope. They had music playing from a small speaker, as well, inspiring what we might call “interpretive dance” with the hoops.

Here too, we soon had girls laughing and cheering, jumping and twirling, releasing a mysterious power to have fun. It was so simple and genuine. Just hula hoops and a little music, plus just the right amount of encouragement from some great staff members, made it possible for these young girls to exercise that power and be extraordinarily happy. It’s phenomenal to see that Rockbrook just works like that— girls getting together, relaxing into their most authentic child spirit, and creating unique experiences for each other. It’s so refreshing and very fun to see!

summer time camp girls

Unbridled Joy

This morning I was reminded of a really think soup— maybe pea —because the fog that settled above camp overnight was so thick, I felt like we could swim through it. I could barely make out a distant hill through the grey. We’ve been having extraordinary humid weather the last couple days. That means dense fog in the mornings as the temperature drops with the dew point, sunny mornings, and rainy afternoons with thunderstorms passing through. Today we saw that exact pattern. By the way, you can always check the Rockbrook weather station if you are curious about what’s going on at camp weather wise. Today I see our temperatures were between 66 and 81, the humidity close to 100% most of the day, and 1.5 inches of rain fell between 3 and 6pm. Should we call it cool tropics?

girls tennis summer camper

All of the regular camp activities fired into action today giving the girls their first taste of 4 different new things to try. Our counselors and instructors fanned out across the camp ready with supplies and equipment to teach the girls about ropes, racquets and reins. While some girls slid down the water slide, others climbed up the alpine tower. Arrows hit targets and cartwheels spun across the blue gymnastics mats. Girls twisted and tied t-shirts prepping them for colorful dyes. They rolled and pinched clay, cut and glued paper, and wove reeds after soaking them in the creek. Groups of girls soared high through the trees on our zipline course, and others slapped a ball around the gaga ball court. There was time to swim and time to dance. There were snacks to eat: chocolate chip muffins complete with a dollop of edible cookie dough on top (famously decadent around here) in the morning, and goldfish crackers in the afternoon.

girls basket weaving near creek

This year, as you may recall from our pre-camp announcements, we are scheduling these activities so each cabin group sticks together. Ordinarily at Rockbrook, the girls select their activity schedule individually, deciding for themselves if they want to focus, for example, on more craft oriented activities instead of adventure-based options. This year, to help maintain distance between cohorts (our cabin groups) we are selecting a range of activities for each cabin, giving them a taste of sports (like archery and riflery), adventure (for example, ziplining and hiking), and crafts (needlecraft and pottery, for example). There are still optional off-camp trips where girls can sign up individually to go, and there are still three blocks of free time where campers can decide on their own what they’d like to do. Horseback riding is still individually scheduled.

If an important part of camp is trying new things, this new system is great. I’ve heard from several campers that they were surprised how much they like it. One told me, “I would have never signed up for climbing, but I’m actually pretty good at it!” Sometimes if left to their own preferences girls will default to what’s safe and comfortable rather than attempting something that looks difficult. Being pulled along as part of an encouraging, supportive group, girls can surprise themselves and discover they can do things that would otherwise seem unpleasant or impossible. Camp life is full of moments like that when what’s initially challenging is overcome in the end.

summer camp dance children

This last photo deserves a quick comment. Can’t you just sense the unbridled joy, the silly enthusiasm of this dance class? Dance happens down in the Lakeview Lodge, the stone activity lodge used by the lower line for evening programs. It has mirrors all along one wall and with its smooth hardwood floor, it’s an active dance studio throughout the day. You can tell, these young girls are having a grand time zooming around, trying out different dance moves, and posing to see themselves in the mirrors. There’s exuberant fun simply in the freedom of it all, knowing a few things and then trying whatever feels right. I think that’s why you see so many different dance positions in this scene. These girls are doing their own thing, and loving it! Together and silly, laughing and smiling, they had a great time.

Finally, let me make my appeal for mail. Send it! Send a lot of it! Even just a quick note, having something in your mailbox is a big deal at camp. Your girls would love to hear how proud you are of them at camp.

summer camp forever

A Heap of Anticipation

Arriving at summer camp is always a moment of mixed emotions. Whether you are a camper returning after a previous summer, or a new camper stepping into the world of camp for the first time, or even a parent of an arriving camper, it’s an emotional time. There’s plenty of excitement, for sure, and a heap of anticipation for all the fun each day will bring, but there are ordinarily jitters as well.

girl bunkmates

There’s simply a degree of the unknown to this experience, questions from both campers and their parents that must remain unanswered until it begins to unfold. “Will I like the other girls in my cabin, and will they like me?” “Will she eat enough and sleep enough?” “Will I be strong enough to climb the tower or shoot a bow and arrow?” “Has she packed everything she’ll need?” So many questions! Uncertainty is baked into the whole experience of camp by virtue of it being so different from what’s familiar at home.

While it may be a little scary, arriving at camp is also the beginning of a great adventure, one filled with rich opportunities and new experiences. It’s guaranteed to include meeting amazing people, encountering unique natural beauty, and trying all sorts of new activities. Each day will bring exciting freedoms, and new responsibilities.

All of this means arriving at camp, and afterwards being at camp, takes some courage… again on the part of both parents and campers. It takes a willingness to lean into the experience and overpower those jitters. It takes some confidence and patience to work through things that are unfamiliar and uncertain. It takes an openness to explore and trust that there are answers to all these questions and things will be OK.

sleepaway camp group

The good news is that Rockbrook is exactly the sort of place to inspire this courage. There’s a special power at camp that bolsters and energizes your girls’ best qualities making them more adventurous, more confident and capable. In this camp environment, they can be their “best selves,” as many tend to put it. They can be more courageous because they are immersed in a positive community built upon values of kindness, caring and generosity. At Rockbrook, camp begins with the people and the relationships we form between each other. Right from the start, you feel included, respected, and supported when you arrive a camp. There’s encouragement and shared success around every corner, and reasons to laugh and cheer woven into most things. It’s this special character of the camp community that makes all of this possible.

You’ll see; those jitters will fade. As we get busy at camp, you’ll see it in the campers’ faces as they tackle new challenges and find themselves surrounded by friends. As we cooperate and communicate, striving to understand each others’ personal cares and concerns, we’ll discover new strengths more powerful than those initial uncertainties.

So welcome to camp! We’ve got lots in store, and a host of great folks to do it with. Tomorrow we’ll jump right in, feet first. The water might be chilly, but your girls have totally got this!

sleepaway camper girls

Shaving Cream Fight!

Take a look at these photos. Obviously, they are of the shaving cream fights we had on Sunday afternoon. We had three, one for each age group neighborhood— the Juniors, the Middlers, and the Seniors. On a sunny summer afternoon, romping around in your swimsuit with friends, sprinklers and water hoses going, is always a lot of fun. Add in cans of plain shaving cream, and you have a hilarious good time.

Camp friends shaving cream
girls smeared in shaving cream

Calling this a “fight” isn’t exactly accurate. There’s no aggressive behavior, no goal of conquest. There are no teams or score kept to be announced in the end. For that matter, there’s no defined way for a shaving cream fight to end.

So what is it? Well, it requires only a few things: a grassy field, cans of shaving cream, and a group of fun-loving friends who are comfortable with each other and are willing to get messy. High tempo dance music is optional, but recommended.

It doesn’t take long for a shaving cream fight to begin. Without any prompting in fact, the girls know exactly what to do; squirt the white slippery foam on someone. Splatter the stuff on anyone nearby. Squirt some in your hand and plop it right on her head. Get as much shaving cream on everyone else as possible, even if they try to run away. Chase after them, and spray! Rub it all over their backs. Launch globs into their hair and help them create the most fabulous hairdo they’ve ever experienced.

Of course, as you chase, you’re being chased. As you spray shaving cream, it’s being sprayed on you too. Soon everyone is covered, slippery, and looking pretty silly. Most importantly, everyone is also laughing hysterically. The feeling of being covering in shaving cream, seeing your friends’ reactions, and watching the chaos of it all, are uniquely funny. Outside of camp, you’ll never see girls having this kind of deep, affirming fun, the kind of laughter that makes you pause to take a breath. A shaving cream fight like this taps into the the most genuine of celebratory joy.

girls camp slip and slide fun

With all these slippery kids, what’s more natural than sliding down a wet sheet of plastic? At camp, that’s completely natural! The gentle slope nearby our grassy landsports field makes a great place to spread out the slide. Soon the girls were taking turns sliding two at time. Run, launch, and slide on your belly. It’s a fun challenge to stay upright, but flipping and flopping as you slide is a fine way to go.

An afternoon shaving cream fight like this proves once again that these camp girls know how to have a good time with each other. The shaving cream, water hoses, and sheet of plastic didn’t make it great. Those bits served as a catalyst of sorts for the girls themselves to create the fun. Their positive relationship with each other, the trust and goodwill already proven through days of common experience, made that fun a possibility. You can imagine a group of random people who didn’t know each other would have a hard time having fun in a shaving cream fight. Especially adults! There’s no way that could happen. A camp shaving cream fight is inherently more genuine than what could happen among any other group of people.

Perhaps that’s true about a lot of things at Rockbrook— the authenticity of our relationships, each of us living and showing our real selves, makes us enjoy ourselves more. Knowing each other this well, relaxing into who we really are because we sense this community is here to support and encourage us, opens up a quality of experience that’s just out of reach ordinarily. I do think that’s part of what makes camp life so special and enjoyable for your girls, and truly for everyone here at Rockbrook. Blame on the culture of camp, but there are real effects… even in something as simple as a shaving cream fight.

girls with shaving cream in their hair

More Mindful

One of my favorite things to do during camp is to wander into an activity area and hang out with the girls. As they busily shape their clay, twist and tie white t-shirts prepping them for dyes, or struggle to find the next climbing hold on the tower, they are funny and chatty with each other. Laughter punctuates their conversations. Support and encouragement flow between them. Their instincts are so positive, so cheerful, their friendships so relaxed and natural. It’s a special experience just to witness it. Even better, I’ve found it rejuvenating to join in, if not to do the activity, then to join the conversation.

teen equestrian girl and horse

For example, today I hung out with a couple of 8th graders while they worked on their embroidery projects. It was right before dinner during the 2nd block of “free swim” free time. While I didn’t grab a needle and thread myself, we had a great conversation about how camp was going. I asked them what they thought made camp so special. For them, what do they like about life at Rockbrook (one of my favorite things to think about and ask campers about)? These two girls have been coming to camp for about 5 years each, and were here for the main 4-week session, so they would have a solid perspective to offer. I was expecting them to say how they loved the variety of activities (they did), and enjoyed the food (they did, enthusiastically!), and appreciated their counselors (“easily the best counselors I’ve ever had. I love them so much,” they told me). These clearly are important components of what makes camp life great. But after thinking about it a bit more, one of them said something extraordinarily insightful.

two cute camp girls

She said, “Being at camp makes me more mindful of things.” By “more,” she meant compared to being at home interacting with her school friends. “When I’m here I pay attention to more things, and appreciate more things,” she explained. When I asked her why that was the case, what it was about life at camp that made her more mindful, she said, “It probably has to do with not having my phone, but I think it’s also that there’s more time to slow down and notice things.”

Wow! That is so true! I think this insightful young person put her finger on one of the most important aspects of camp life— that it provides an environment that encourages us, campers and staff alike, to be more mindful. It inspires us to pay attention to the world around us, to the people, to nature, and to who we really are. So many of the important benefits of camp, I suspect, can be traced to this.

The core experience of making friends at camp, of forging a strong mutual relationship with someone who really knows you and really cares about you, grows from being mindful of each other. The success girls feel when making decisions independently, dozens of decisions each day, builds from paying attention to the details of the environment. Developing social skills depends on an awareness of others, their feelings, expectations, and needs. Tapping into the wonders and beauty of nature requires our mindful attention. To have fun, in some ways, means being attentive to the activity itself, unaware of how your skills compare, or the final score of the game.

blond child hold up wrist with bracelets

I think she is right, also, that the slower pace of camp, along with it being “screen-free,” are important conditions that make us more mindful at camp. Instead of charging full speed ahead, striving to “get ahead,” in the outside world, camp provides free time to “notice and appreciate” more of what’s right next to us. Moving too fast always means skimming over things, as being hectic is the enemy of being mindful. Life at camp is a welcome relief from all that. With less urgency in the mix, camp provides this kind of special permission to notice.

And yes, having instant, easy access to a smartphone is obviously a distraction. The lure of passive entertainment and the thrill of social media trends dull our sensitivity to the nuances around us. That’s surely a recipe for diminished relationships of all kinds. When campers can’t default to their devices whenever things slow down, or become “awkward” for some reason, they are more inclined to pay attention to, and engage with, what’s around them. Ditching their smartphones makes their lives more rich.

girl eating ice cream cone

Could this be the reason everything seems better at camp— the friendships deeper, the food more delicious, our sense of self more confident, our feelings of gratitude and love more genuine and widespread? Maybe so. Maybe taking a break from the frantic pace of ordinarily life, with all its demands and distractions, is what makes camp life feel so good. Camp is a haven from all that, a safe place to pay attention, enrich your experience, and make connections that might not otherwise form. I think that’s what this needle crafting young person meant. Girls love Rockbrook for all sorts of reasons, but I think its ability to inspire mindfulness is an important part of that positive feeling.

Isn’t that amazing?! Thank goodness for camp! It’s giving your girls firsthand experience of this approach to life. It’s showing them that paying attention is both important and rewarding. It’s demonstrating how to enrich their relationships with just about everything, people and activities alike. Camp is allowing them live these insights and perhaps later at home, to be a little more mindful.

camp girls playing gaga ball