So Many Fun Options

two summer camp girl friends

The recent streak of days with perfect summertime weather continued today as we woke to a foggy cool morning. As the camp begins to stir and the girls make their way to the dining hall for breakfast, it’s common to wear long pants and a sweatshirt or fleece. The temperature today was about 64 when we woke, so it felt great to cozy up like that. Then as the sun burned off the fog, we soon felt warm and comfortable under bright blue skies and clear sunshine. The temperature climbed to about 83, but with relatively low humidity it again felt really good to be outside. Since we essentially spend all of our time outside —even the cabins are open-air, screened buildings— this kind of weather is inspiring. It makes everything we’re doing pop with more vibrant colors, perhaps a little more pep, and an extraordinary freshness. Yes, it was ideal camp weather.

“Cinnamon Apple” was the surprise muffin flavor today. The bakers in the kitchen start about 7am to be ready for this mid-morning snack. Mixing, scooping, and baking 300 individual muffins takes some time. Having a freshly baked treat like this, though, is definitely a highlight of most everyone’s morning.  The muffins are so delicious, it’s challenging to have to limit yourself to just one!

cool tetherball fashion girl

Rockbrook girls know that wearing a costume adds to whatever we’re doing, making things funnier and more fun. That’s why we’ll occasionally declare a costume theme for the day, like today’s “Under the Sea” theme. It was fun to see how the girls and staff members interpreted that theme. They mixed things up with beach attire (Hawaiian shirts, sunglasses, hats), shark and octopus hats, seaweed skirts, and colorful coral leggings. The Hi-Ups and several counselors decorated the dining hall with streamers and painted banners, and an “ocean-related” playlist of music was queued up for all three meals.

There have been a flurry of adventure trips going out this week too. We went rafting on Tuesday, but today Clyde took an excited bunch of girls out to Looking Glass Rock in the Pisgah Forest for an all-day rock climbing adventure. They left early in the morning to reach the south side of the rock face in time to jump on a couple of popular climbs, one called “B52” and another called “Fly By.” Leland and Sarah took a few advanced kayakers to run the rapids of section nine on the French Broad River north of Asheville. Meanwhile, Jayne and Sam offered an overnight camping and canoeing trip on a different section of the French Broad.  All of these trips were offered to the girls as options they could choose, switching up their schedule as they like. So many options all on the same day!

shaving cream fighter

We presented another fun option to the girls during dinner when we announced that tonight’s twilight activity would be a shaving cream fight and slip-n-slide held down on the grassy sports field. This is an event of exuberant play. Girls of all ages, and counselors too, dress in their swimsuits, arm themselves with cans of white foam, and proceed to spray wildly being as mischievous as possible splattering unsuspecting friends. Soon, there are wild hairstyles, messages written on bellies, and even some girls completely covered in shaving cream. As you might expect, this makes the slip-n-slide an extra slick ride. Be sure to visit the photo gallery to see some of the wild messy fun of the evening.

It’s been another full camp day, one with plenty of adventure, creativity, and fun with friends. We couldn’t have asked for a better combination of cheerful campers, enthusiastic staff members, weather and camp activities. Life is very good here at Rockbrook!

3rd Session Video Note – Part Two

We’ve got one last highlights video to share!

It’s the latest from Robbie Francis of Go Swan Filmworks. Earlier this week, Robbie spent a day filming at camp, and with his skilled editing, has provided another fascinating glimpse into camp life.

Spend two minutes watching, and you’ll be amazed.

Click here for the video. Or see below.

Making a Difference

Hey there! My name is Emily Schmitt and this is my eighth summer at Rockbrook! Six of those years have been as a camper and I’m now in my second year on staff, this year being my first as a full counselor. Last year, I lived the CIT (counselor in training) life and was not sure what to expect this summer because I’d be filling a role completely new to me.

pair of girls on sliding rock NC

I’m on the Middler line, leading a group of girls either going into sixth or seventh grade— so a very transformative period in their lives to say the least. I started coming to camp at this age. I was about to start sixth grade and though I remember a lot about my camper years, details of my activities and the small minutia of camp life have faded from my memory. The main thing I remember clear as day are all the interactions I had with my counselors. They were my world when I was at camp. I was so obsessed that even after my second senior year I made one of my counselor’s names my computer password!  Yeah, I was that obsessed.

I was here for second session this summer and now that we’re officially in third session, which happens to be the session I attended as a camper, I’m getting daily confirmations of the impact that I’m making on my campers— something that surprises me every time it happens. Recently, we had Jugband, where the whole camp gathers together and we sing old camp songs, make silly jokes, put on our best southern accent, and use anything around us as an instrument. I took on the persona of ‘May,’ short for “Mayonnaise,” and soon after my campers started to copy me, and in the back of my mind I knew it was because they were following my lead.

camp life counselor and camper

I’m teaching tennis and riflery this session, and though I am experienced down on the riflery range, tennis is something I am less proficient in, although I’ve played casually before. This was rather daunting for me, but I knew if I was enthusiastic, then the girls would be too. So, when we were signing up for activities, I explained to my girls that I was doing something that made me slightly uncomfortable, but I was going to do it with all I had and encouraged them to follow suit. Many of my campers signed up for new activities like climbing and gymnastics, and I even got one of my girls to sign up for tennis! Another example was during our Animal Planet themed dinner, when I started singing along to the songs that were playing over the speaker.  Soon my whole table chimed in, and we were all singing along to “The Circle of Life” from The Lion King.

It’s in the small ways that I know I’m making a difference in these girls lives, like when one of them will randomly give me a hug or they’ll call out my name as I’m walking down the hill, just to wave. Back when I was a camper, I didn’t know or realize that the small interactions I had with my counselors meant as much to them as it did to me. These girls are the reason I love this job and the reason I hope to come back for many more years to help create the magic of Rockbrook and make this place as special for my campers as it was for me when I was growing up.

— Emily Schmitt

Parking the Helicopter

There’s probably no need to discuss the concept of “helicopter parenting” with camp families. Odds are good they already know how some parents can be “overprotective” or have an “excessive interest” in what their children are doing. Like a helicopter constantly hovering above, parenting can become excessive if children aren’t allowed to branch out on their own to try things without mom or dad always quick to swoop in to the rescue. It can be difficult for parents to “let go” like this. Camp parents, though, are presumably different. After all, they are choosing to “let go,” to send their children away into an environment where they will make many decisions for themselves, confront regular challenges on their own, probably struggle, and perhaps even fail at times. The independence gained, along with the feelings of confidence on competence that come with it, are valuable assets as a child grows up. I’d recommend reading How to Raise an Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haims to better understand this modern phenomenon.  I can also recommend her 14-minute TED talk if you are really interested.

climbing girl dressed in blue

This is not to say camp parents are completely immune to helicoptering influences. We can’t really help but wonder how our girls are doing when they’re away at camp. Are they eating right? Are they remembering to take a shower? Brush their hair? Wear a clean shirt everyday? Are they having a good time? That’s the big one, right? Camps like Rockbrook understand this impulse and realize that all parents, to one degree or another, need some kind of reassurance that their kids are OK when they are away. That’s why, for example, we have our cabin counselors write letters to parents updating them.  It’s also why we maintain a daily photo gallery, and post the occasional videos during each camp session.

At the same time, checking the photo gallery can become an obsession for some parents, multiple times a day, combing through every photo for even a glimpse of their child. From afar, this form of helicoptering interest seems harmless enough as long as the child at camp is unaware of it, and the parent can resist the instinct to reach out and help in some way. We don’t want the photo gallery to energize the parental snowplow, so to speak.

One form of this helicoptering goes too far, however, and when parents fall into this trap, their child’s experience at camp often suffers. So let me warn you so you can, I hope, resist the urge to over-parent your child’s camp experience like this. The trap is to establish some hand gesture, like a “thumbs up,” that you tell your child to flash when their photo is being taken as a coded signal home about how camp is going. Akin to a “pick up deal” where a parent promises to “come get you if you’re homesick,” this kind of messaging might seem innocuous, but can be a real burden for the camper. It effectively is removing her from the moment, distracting her from the people and activity around her with thoughts of evaluation rather than true participation. When sending your daughter to camp, it’s simply best not to tether her to home in this way, and instead to send her off by reassuring her that you are confident in her ability to handle life at camp independently.

I’m sure you know that camp is the ideal place to practice this independent self-efficacy, and this is one of its main benefits. Oddly if we’re not careful, our parental instincts can undermine the opportunity for our girls to grow while away at camp. Some camps are so concerned by this signal phenomenon, they have banned campers from making signalling gestures and instructed their photographers to delete photos that appear to have them. My hope is that Rockbrook parents will see the problems associated with all of this, park their helicopter for a few weeks, and trust that their children and our staff at camp can work through any problems that may arise, and together ultimately create a rich, rewarding, and enjoyable camp experience.

two best camp friends

Meanwhile, we’ll continue to enjoy camp!  Your girls and their friends will splash and scream with delight rafting the Nantahala River.  They’ll climb the Alpine Tower and Castle Rock.  They’ll swim and float in the Rockbrook lake, tie increasingly elaborate friendship bracelets, shoot more arrows, and sing even louder songs. They’ll be surprised by hidden talents and creativity. They’ll find kindness and caring permeating their days, a refreshing tech-free, authenticity to what they’re doing and with whom they’re doing it. Surrounded by the beauty of these wooded mountains, they’ll explore and be amazed by what they find in the natural world. They’ll laugh harder than they have ever laughed before. They’ll learn a lot about themselves, and be proud of who they are and what they can do. They’ll make more fond memories and best friends than you can count. They’ll be at camp.

Building Community: Challenges and Relationships

Now that we are into the second week of 3rd session, the CITs and Hi-Ups have had some time to get used to their new roles at camp. As part of the Leadership Ladder, these girls are transitioning from campers to counselors. Part of this transition is extra training throughout the session. This training comes in the form of hands-on experience helping counselors in activities, setting for and cleaning up meals, and spending time with campers. In addition, they participate in training periods led by our Directors and Leadership team on topics such as cabin logistics, learning Rockbrook history, and and behavior management.

Recently, I got the chance to talk with both Hi-Ups and CITs about the activity philosophy at Rockbrook. While walking around camp observing the various activities, we discussed why we do activity sign ups and activities in our particular way. Hi-Ups and CITs all had thoughtful answers to any question posed to them. They took the time to reflect on their own experience as campers, and then start to think about activities at Rockbrook from a counselor perspective. Their maturity, insight, and understanding of our philosophy was impressive!

First, we discussed the concept of “Challenge by Choice.” During the sign up process, campers can challenge themselves or be encouraged by their counselors to try a new activity. Sometimes this is a nerve-wracking moment for campers, who may think: “none of my cabin mates signed up for dance,” “I’ve never been a good swimmer,” or “what if I’m not good at embroidery?” We hope that through these moments campers can learn to be independent and be willing to choose their own adventures. During activities, the challenge is more obvious in some than in others. Increasing your accuracy in archery, reaching the top of the alpine tower, or perfecting your serve in tennis are clear goals campers can strive towards. The craft activities can also be challenging, however, especially if you’ve never thrown on a pottery wheel or used a large floor loom before. In these activities the challenge is more subtle, and can be seen more through the process rather than the finished piece. The counselors facilitate the challenges in appropriate ways so that each camper has her own experience. Seeing other campers trying new things and the constant environment of encouragement and support allows girls to branch out of their comfort zones.

Second, we discussed the relationships that are able to flourish at camp. Taking activities is just one of the ways that the social and emotional needs of campers are supported at camp. The Hi-Ups and CITs all commented on the benefits of signing up alone for activities in addition to signing up with a group of your cabin mates. On one hand, campers get to make new friends amongst their age group. On the other, they get to become closer with the other girls in their cabin. One Hi-Up mentioned how she would be too nervous to sign up for tennis by herself, but if she signed up with a friend, she would be more willing to take that risk and try something new. Either way, campers get to make new friends through their shared triumphs, failures, and laughter in activities. Plus, they are able to meet counselors from other lines, who may inspire them to sign up for an activity they otherwise wouldn’t take.

Through activities, campers and counselors of different age groups get to interact in a low-pressure, high-encouragement environment. Pottery, yoga, jewelry making, play rehearsal, horseback riding—these are just the channel through which our community is created. This safe, supportive space for genuine relationship-building is what makes camp unique, and is why campers come back year after year to see the friends and counselors who have impacted them along the way.


—Jenna Lilly

A Huge Helping of Goofy

camp child parent

Today we welcomed another group of eager, excited girls to Rockbrook as we opened the August Mini session. There’s something really special about driving into Rockbrook, early in the morning at the start of a camp session. It’s a reveal of sorts. The gravel driveway slowly winds up the hill from the main road, and then suddenly there’s cool stuff to see: the archery field to the left, the lake to the right with the green and blue water slide on the far end, stacks of colorful kayaks and canoes, and at the crest the hill, a mob of cheering enthusiastic counselors. It feels like you’ve entered another world, and in many ways you have. So many things are inviting and intriguing right away, but it’s obvious also that the people here are good folks. The returning campers already know it, but the energy of camp— friendly, supportive, adventurous, with a huge helping of goofy —is definitely special. These campers have been waiting all year (and all summer) to experience this energetic fun, so finally we can all start. Finally!

flag raising at camp

While these new girls were arriving, the full session campers began their day like other Sunday mornings with a late breakfast (egg and sausage burritos, yogurts, cereals, and freshly delivered Krispy Kreme doughnuts), our traditional flag raising ceremony (led by the 10-grade campers), and chapel program (this time discussing the theme of “Gratitude”). Afterwards, these girls also had a “choice period,” an opportunity to sign up for a hiking trip to Castle Rock or Rockbrook Falls, a flower picking expedition in the garden, or time in the jewelry-making activity area.

The first event involving the whole camp was an “assembly on the hill,” as we call it. This gathering under the walnut tree on the hill is a chance for everyone to sing a few songs, watch a skit or two, meet the various directors at camp, and hear announcements. The Hi-Ups led everyone in learning a canoeing song, complete with hand motions. The Line Heads awarded, “bend-a-back,” camp spirit, and manners beads, and also announced which cabins would be recognized for having the highest overall inspection scores (winning the “mop award”). For the benefit of the new campers primarily, Sarah also reminded everyone of the boundaries of camp and how our lightning warning system works. Rick’s amazing homemade mac-n-cheese for lunch fueled us up for the swimming demonstrations, quick camp tours, and cabin meetings that came afterwards in the early afternoon.

science camp girls

The main event of the day was an all-camp festival that tapped into different science-related activities, experiments, challenges and games. We held the event right in the center of camp with the different activity stations positioned about, and counselors and Hi-Ups staffing each spot. One challenge was to make a working parachute from a large coffee filter. Another was to build different organic molecules using toothpicks and tiny marshmallows. At a different station, the girls were challenged to build a boat (or anything that floats) using aluminum foil and popsicle sticks. Another group made green sticky “Oobleck” with corn starch and white glue.

A particularly fun challenge was to use only rubber bands to crack open a watermelon. The girls would stretch rubber bands, one by one, around the middle of the melon, gradually adding more pressure. As a couple of cracks began to form after approximately 200 bands wrapped the melon, the group of girls huddled around screamed with delight when the melon suddenly exploded into bits leaving a sticky ball of rubber bands behind.

Of course, a “mad science” event would be incomplete without eccentric costumes— wild teased hair (or wigs!), lab coats, safety goggles, beakers and lab notebooks. Snacks and music helped keep the mood festive while the girls zipped among the activity options. The event was a nice opportunity to play outside together, be a little silly, and perhaps learn a little science along the way.

Tomorrow, we’ll have all the activities filled with enthusiastic campers, ready to give everything a try. It will be a full day of action.  Stay tuned!

laughing camp girls

3rd Session Video Note

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

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

Click here for the video. Or see below.

Sensational Living

camp girls emerging from water slide

Many of the inventions of modern society are made, in part, to shield us from the natural sensory experiences of the world. Our climate-controlled homes keep us from having to bundle up on a particularly chilly morning, our insulated cars keep us from experiencing the smells (good and bad) of the city as we commute to work, our many electronic screens train our eyes to stay focused on them, so we end up hardly seeing what happens right in front of us. A hot meal is delivered to us by the click of a button on an app, our headphones keep us from having to engage with others on a crowded elevator. We are “comfortable.”

These inventions are not, on their face, bad. Many have incredible value when it comes to meeting basic needs in an increasingly stressful world where our time is at a premium. And, of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking advantage of some of the luxuries available when you want them. However, as they slowly but surely become accepted as the new normal in our society, the gap between ourselves and the natural world to which we belong also inevitably widens.

catching tadpoles at summer camp

At camp, as we intentionally move away from many of the comforts we may take for granted in our lives at home, we begin to gain a new awareness for our senses. Colors quite literally appear brighter and more vivid once our eyes adjust to life without a flickering screen two feet from our faces half the day. Uneven terrain starts to feel comfortable and familiar under our feet after we trek up and down the Rockbrook hill enough times. Dolly’s Ice Cream starts to take on a whole new taste….. well, who are we kidding? Dolly’s always tastes amazing!

Admittedly, even at Rockbrook today we have more modern comforts in place than our great-grandmothers did in 1921. (Nowhere can this be seen more clearly the look on a camper’s face who has just stepped in to the air-conditioned office to ask a question). But, in a world increasingly committed to sanitizing and streamlining our existence for the sake of convenience and efficiency, camp gets us back in touch with the physical world and reminds us of our innate connection to it. Instead of grabbing a bite “because it’s lunchtime,” lunchtime happens because we’re genuinely hungry and ready to eat. Instead of going to sleep “because it’s bedtime,” by the end of the day we’ve used all our energy and are ready to rest. This re-framing allows for a more authentic connection and understanding of ourselves and our place in the world.

Our senses can be the source of many of our greatest discomforts, but also our greatest pleasures. If you aren’t willing to catch a whiff of a skunk every once and a while, you may never get to inhale that first whiff of campfire smoke or fresh mountain air on top of Castle Rock. In our opinion, it’s a trade-off well worth making.

—Alyssa Calloway

camp girls at the horse barn