Make New Mistakes

“So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life. Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it.”
—Neil Gaiman

We awoke this morning to the rising bell as usual, and groggily got out of bed. (I’m sure somewhere on camp, girls get up with pep and energy, but on the senior line, we place a high value on sleep.) Once we woke up a bit, though, by sharing bits of news for the day at breakfast and playing a stimulating game of Ships and Sailors at morning assembly, we were ready to greet the day.

Today was the first day of a new rotation of activities. On the first day of activities, it’s as though the whole camp is refreshed and reenergized—girls are trying new things, or at least taking activities with new people. It gives campers a sense of variety, and asks them to choose whether they want to continue developing one particular skill or to try something completely new.

IMG_9756-1

While walking around camp, I got to see the benefits of both of these approaches to activities. I first walked in to a dance class full of senior girls, practicing for the upcoming dance show. Some of them had danced before for plays and musicals, while others were laughing about how it would take them quite awhile to learn a chasse. The mood in dance, though, does not distinguish the girls who have danced from those who never have. A counselor teaches in a calm tone, laughing right along with the girls as they try to get the moves at once. They show me the beginning of their dance, and they are all equally excited about the success of their ripple. The girls are equally excited about coming together to do the ripple. As I walked away from the dance class, it hit me how welcoming and inclusive the dance class had been. Dancing, particularly in front of other people, is a vulnerable and intimidating action. Yet here were ten teenagers, making progress together, but mostly feeling totally comfortable and happy trying something new.

I think this exemplifies the philosophy of activities at Rockbrook. We are focused on the process rather than the outcome. In this way, mistakes are not just okay—they are celebrated. When campers make mistakes, it means they have tried something new and challenged what they thought possible. The noncompetitive environment of Rockbrook helps campers feel safe and supported even when they do make a mistake. They feel intrinsically motivated to try new things without outside pressures.
Initially when I came to Rockbrook, I remember being hesitant about this philosophy. Coming from a competitive academic environment and skills-focused surroundings, I wanted my activity to focus on outcome. If a girl could not tie a figure eight knot at the end of climbing, then what was she really learning? Eventually, though, I realized that I missed the point. I think this is typical outside of camp—school and sports are so focused on an objective that we rarely consider the virtues of the process itself. For climbing, even when girls do not reach the top, they are learning to push themselves beyond what they thought their limits were, but also learning that sometimes it is okay to stop. Rockbrook’s philosophy has become so central to my perspective outside of life. Although objectives are still important, I have learned to slow down and consider all that I am learning along the way.

IMG_8175-1

I witnessed this today in climbing, actually. I arrived at climbing toward the end of the period, so Clyde Carter, the head of our outdoors program, was teaching the girls knots as the class was winding down. I saw girls trying to tie the knots, some ropes looking like a scrambled tangle, others coming close but it falling apart as they tried to tighten it. Clyde remarked in his gently humorous way, “They’re doing everything right, except tying the knot.” This was a perfect description of the feeling of following instructions step by step, but still struggling with an objective. There was no pressure to learn the knot, and some campers decided to put the rope away and get out of their harnesses. A couple of them were determined. One stood in front of Clyde and said assertively, “I will get this knot!” He then proceeded to explain it to her again and again until she could tie it.

In addition to creating a safe place to make new mistakes, the noncompetitive environment also encourages campers to be intrinsically motivated, rather than extrinsically motivated. They choose where they want their energy to go, whether it’s tying a knot, finishing mermaid laps, or going on a whitewater-kayaking trip. This gives them the power to set and achieve their own goals, not because they are a part of a team or because they need a good grade, but for the satisfaction of completing a task they choose to care about.

It is easier to make mistakes and to try new things in an environment that is noncompetitive, but it becomes even easier when that environment also does not take itself too seriously. We all had a great evening program that is best described as silly. The evening program was called Jug Band, and we all paid homage to the mountain heritage of Rockbrook. We dressed up in flannels and overalls, fashioned our own instruments out of hairbrushes and water bottles, and headed down to Vesper Rock for an old-fashioned campfire. We sang songs like ‘Mountain Dew,’ ‘Rocky Top,’ and ‘I Love Little Willy,’ while campers told their favorite jokes and counselors performed goofy skits. Everyone laughed and played along to the mountain tunes before the moon lit up the mountains and signaled that it was time for bed.

Unlike any other place I know, Rockbrook gives us subtle freedom and the realization that we should be making mistakes. We should never demand perfection from ourselves because it is only within trying new things, not taking ourselves too seriously, and being gentle with ourselves can we begin to take authentic ownership of our lives. These first session girls have one week of camp left, and we will continue learning these lessons every day that we spend at camp. When we leave, I hope we will continue to make new mistakes. I hope we continue to be brave enough to try new things and have the humility to laugh at ourselves when things do not go as planned. I hope we are able to write a paper on Romeo and Juliet or solve a hard math problem and take time to appreciate the process, not just the grade. I hope we are able to motivate ourselves to practice violin or practice our serves in tennis because we innately want to improve, not just because someone told us to. Ultimately, I hope our lives away from camp flourish because of our lives in camp.

Camp Jug Band

This is Our Camp!

“If I know what I shall find, I do not want to find it. Uncertainty is the salt of life.” –Erwin Chargaff

camper girl

Anyone who has been to Rockbrook knows that there is some degree of certainty at camp: there is a regular schedule, there will definitely be muffin break every day at 10:45 (thank goodness!), and there is always something structured to do. Yet days like today, with nothing out of the ordinary planned, remind me that we all thrive at Rockbrook because when we wake up, none of us know exactly what the day will bring, and that makes each moment of each day exciting.

No one knows exactly what a day outside of camp will bring, either, but what I have noticed recently is that Rockbrook fuels this sense of curiosity and energy by creating a camper-driven environment. Because Rockbrook is set up like this, campers feel free to take initiative and take their spontaneous ideas and turn them into real fun.

This has been exemplified all day long at camp. No one batted an eye when a whole cabin of girls arrived to breakfast decked out in costumes from head to toe, but many of them got great compliments for their senses of style! At the end of breakfast, the girls made an announcement that, as a reward for clearing their table without being asked, two girls got to dress the other girls in their cabin. The girls all loved it and enjoyed parading around in their costumes all morning!

While walking around today, I dropped by KIT, which stands for “Keeping in Touch.” In this activity, girls make stationary, calendars, and boxes—anything that helps them write letters or keep special camp memories. KIT takes place in Goodwill, an historical building that is cozy with soft lighting and red curtains. The environment is relaxed and laid back, as the counselors who teach KIT have made sure that each girl is doing a project she wants to do. Conversation flows easily as the girls who have already spent a week at camp get to know those who just arrived. Everyone is engaged in their craft and content with their choice, happy they got to decide for themselves what to focus their energy on.

When I passed by WHOA, our activity on Wilderness Hiking and Outdoor Adventure, I heard something I do not usually hear casually around camp: The Star Spangled Banner being sung around a fire pit. Curious, I joined in the song, and tried to blend in. As the song ended, girls got up to speak, and I realized quickly that this was a memorial service for the miniature rafts the girls had tried to create. A particularly memorable moment of the speech was, “It was the Titanic of rafts, and that’s probably why it sank.” No one would have thought that a sunken raft would be an avenue for the subtle hilarity that ensued afterward. With a healthy dose of flexibility and an emphasis on process instead of outcome, every small activity can become something exciting and unexpected.

paper crafts at summer camp

This notion of camper ownership extends to every part of the day and every place around camp. Eating in the dining hall is always a little unpredictable because no one ever knows what songs will get sung. The Hi-Ups (the oldest Rockbrook campers) get to choose and lead the songs, but any table can request them! My absolute favorite part of meals, though, are announcements. There are many predictable (and important) announcements about adventurous trip offerings, tie-dye pick-ups, and lost and found. What makes Rockbrook different, though, is that campers take initiative and make their own announcements too. We were treated at dinner to two juniors performing a self-written song on their favorite activity: Nature! Set to “The Shark Song,” a familiar camp tune, the girls replaced the verses with “terrariums”, “Rockbrook Falls”, and “cool counselors”. The girls even made the journal in which they wrote the lyrics down! The rest of the camp gushed at how perfect the announcement was, and broke into excited applause. Not only do campers take ownership of camp, the rest of camp enthusiastically celebrates their initiative because everyone appreciates this spontaneity.

Twilight gave us another avenue to explore as a group of girls chose to venture down to the Rockbrook Garden. Every age group was represented, and it was moving to watch the senior girls helping the younger girls get excited as they walked down the hill together. When we arrived at the garden, Chelsea, the friendly and calm Rockbrook gardener, addressed the campers saying, “Girls, welcome to your garden.” The garden is a plot of land by the land sports field. Chelsea works hard to plant a variety of vegetables, fruits, herbs, and flowers. It is incredibly calming and relaxing to be there during this twilight time, when the day’s heat is finally easing up, when the sun is setting, but there is still gold in the sky, when wind chimes are providing us with gentle sounds, and we get to romp around in what feels like a secret garden. There are rows of fruits, vegetables, and herbs that will eventually find their way into the Rockbrook dining hall! Surrounding the vegetables are beautiful flowers—heaps of sunflowers and daisies of every color. It is nothing short of perfection.

Even better, we got to do so much more than look at it. Girls proceeded to pluck strawberries right off the vine and eat them; others tried kale for the very first time. Some created bundles of lavender and verbena to tuck into their pillows at night, while others picked flowers and fashioned bouquets for their new friends. Chelsea also gave the girls some lettuce to plant in the ground, and many also helped water the plants. Regardless of what they did, I saw so much sheer joy in being able to actively engage in a space like the garden. On the way up the hill, I heard a girl comment that she was somewhat hesitant to come to the garden because she thought it would be a structured lesson about plants. She had no idea she would be allowed to pick anything or try anything, and that most requests she had would be answered with “yes,” and a smile.

After the garden, we headed back up the hill for evening program. Most nights, cabins work together to plan a skit. Though counselors are always nearby, we try not to be too involved—it’s a great opportunity for girls to work together and get as creative as we please! As I was watching a skit whose characters were debating the origin of French Fries (France or the United States…in the end, it was actually Belgium!), I was struck by the originality that stems from campers creating so much of the direction of their camp lives. I realized that, at Rockbrook, the phrase I heard at the garden should be applied more broadly. It’s as though every moment of every day is saying, Girls, welcome to your camp.

Camper Dressing up Fun

Laughing All Day Long

camp forest chapel ceremony

Sundays are some of the best and most relaxing days at camp. We all loved sleeping in for an extra hour and were greeted in the dining hall by donuts and delicious cereal–it’s the little things that make Sundays special. The rest of the day was a little different from the norm, too. We had some time to clean cabins and get into uniforms before going to chapel. The theme was friendship, and girls spoke about how camp has given them some of their best friends. One middler spoke about how, when she left a necklace she had made at the shaving cream fight, one of her camp friends walked back down with her to help her find it. Being together all the time allows girls to rely on each other in ways that seem small, but actually help them to form incredibly close bonds. Chapel left us all feeling uplifted, reflecting on these close and beautiful relationships as the last week of camp starts.

girls cheering at summer camp assemby

Then, we had assembly on the hill. This brought our energy way up, as we learned new songs, announced spirit and manners awards, and had mop awards presented by the Door Fairy, Midget Man, and Mermaid from the Mermaid Club. Part of the fun of camp, which was particularly present today, is the lexicon and jokes everyone here shares. The door fairy, for example, is said to live in every door, and she hates when campers slam the screen doors! If campers slam the door, you’ll frequently hear them apologizing to the door fairy, who is very forgiving.

After a delicious lunch of macaroni and cheese and grapes, we had one of the most highly anticipated all-camp events: Miss RBC! This is a spoof on a beauty pageant, in which all cabins choose a “representative” and then they all plan a talent together.

miss rbc camp costume and talent show

This year, girls had to think quickly to come up with their talents. Many groups performed skits or sang songs. Many of them were jokes that cabins had amongst each other and line (one camp enchored a skit they did for their line about “bun fun,” or a song about how much they love different kinds of buns (hot dog, cinnamon, etc.). Others employed camp-wide jokes (about how Bill Nye the Science Guy is our camp director, Jeff’s, celebrity doppelganger, for example) that were fun to share with everyone. It was a high-energy, high-humor event that kept everyone laughing for a couple of hours. Then, the representatives took turns answering fun questions like, “If you could have one extra hour of camp every day, how would you spend it?” (Eating muffins–a great answer!). It was a day that kept everyone laughing and relaxing after a couple of great and busy weeks at camp!

The winning cabin was Senior 7, and the following was their incredible rap that earned them the title of Miss RBC.

It was in the Blue Ridge Mountains, circa 1921
Nancy Carrier and family said this place looks like fun
She built Goodwill and Curosty, Hobby Nook and More,
Soon RBC was open–There was even a camp store!

All the girls start to arrive
Rockbrook Camp’s Starting to thrive,
RBC will stay alive
Campers continue to strive

All we need are our friendship bracelets
We’re in love with those
And we’ve got lots of camp spirit
Everybody knows (ayy! ayy!)

Lots of camp spirit
Everybody knows
Junior, Middler, Senior lines
We stand straight like dominoes

Wake up early every morning
Gotta do our chores–you know!
Camp Carolina, they can’t mess with us
If they wanted to, these is whities,
These is red ties,

These is Chaco shoes
On the hill with our crazy creeks
This is how we do (ayy! ayy!)
You know this is
How we do

Rockbrook!

girl hold leaf with inchworm