Extra Delightful

Our streak of amazingly perfect weather has continued. As other places are suffering from a heat wave, we are still enjoying low temperatures in the 60s in the morning and 80s in the afternoon. Just down the mountain in south Carolina, it’s more than 10 degrees warmer. It’s no wonder that camps were built here in the mountains. They were a welcome relief from the summer heat back when there was no air conditioning. It’s been particularly nice these past two weeks with sunny skies and low humidity. It’s made being outside extra delightful!

summer kids camp assembly

A month or so ago, I was interviewed by the editor of a local magazine about camp. Now, the article has just been published: “Multiple Benefits of Summer Camp,” by Randee Brown in WNC Business. If you’ve read the Rockbrook blog over the years, you know I have a lot to say on this topic! For example, this article is a good summary of the top ten benefits. In the interview, I tried to convey how camp can be understood as “fun that matters.” Camp is much more than just entertainment or diversion. It’s formative too. The parents with children who go to camp already know this because they see it in how much their kids grow from the experience. Here’s the article if you’d like to take a look.

This past weekend we held an all-camp dance in the gym for our evening activity. The counselors and campers put on fancy clothes and costumes, and with great dance-pop numbers blasting from the sound system, had a great time zooming around arm in arm, jumping up and down to the beat, and joining in more choreographed dance numbers. The counselors had just as much fun as the campers. When folks needed to take a break and cool off —all that dancing can make you sweaty! —there was a good crowd hanging out just outside. A few played gagaball and tetherball too. Everyone really enjoyed being together and celebrating like this.

As we enter the last week of camp, there’s still lots to do and to look forward to. A highlight will be the banquet, but before that, we’ll savor our time together and enjoy the activities. At this point in the session, that’s really what we matters most. It’s being with the people, not doing the specific things, that we are cherishing. This becomes even more true when it’s time for the closing campfire, the Spirit Fire. Again, it’s the friendships formed at camp that really matter because they strengthen each of individually at the same time. Such good stuff!

Rockbrook summer camp girls

First Session Video Glimpse – Part Two

We’re lucky again to have another video produced by Robbie Francis of FrancisFilmworks! Robbie visited camp again this week and spent the day filming, then worked his editing magic, and now we have this wonderful glimpse into camp life this session. The video does a lovely job depicting the mood at camp these days… so much action and so many happy girls!

Click below to watch the video…. and let us know what you think.

Relaxed Silliness

summer camp zipline girl

The Rockbrook zipline course is scenic, progressive in its challenges, and uniquely thrilling. It winds through the forest, with each zipline passing between huge boulders, among the trees, and even in front of a waterfall above the main part of camp (“Stick Biscuit Falls”). The whole zip line course takes about an hour to complete, and consists of three different zips and 3 different challenge bridges. The first zip is slower, easing the girls into the experience, while the last is an eye-popping, you-can’t-help-but-scream, adrenaline blast. It launches from a large rock face and goes almost 450 feet back into camp giving everyone on the hill a clear view of the fun. The girls wear a helmet and climbing harness tethered to a dual-wheel pulley with a steel backup clip. Launching on a zip and trusting the equipment can take some courage, but the immediate payoff is the exhilarating zoom through the air with arms waving triumphantly. We allow all the campers on the zipline course no matter how young. The Juniors love it too! Of course, it’s optional to sign up, but I’d say almost everyone decides to give it a try.

The Curosty cabin is a cozy, true log cabin at camp and is the home of our fiber arts activity. Inside you’ll find girls weaving on all sorts of looms, and on the back porch campers will be knitting, crocheting, and creating needlepoint design projects. Just behind the porch is a wonderful creek cascading its way over smooth boulders and making small pools of water after each drop. That makes this part of camp the perfect place for basket weaving. Soaking reeds becomes easy, and sitting on the rocks working the reeds into a woven basket shape is delightful. The sounds of the running creek, the sun and shade, and the surrounding forest add to the relaxing experience. It’s easy to imagine Rockbrook girls doing exactly that 100 years ago.

We took our cabin photos this week. The campers and counselors dress up in their red and white uniforms for a group photo. Together they decide where in camp they would like their picture taken. Some sit on the hill or the porch of a lodge, while others stand in a creek or arrange themselves near the lake. A popular spot is posing together around a lifeguard chair, for example. We take these photos in time for us to order a printed copy for everyone to receive on the closing day of camp. We also print on the photo the name of each person, making this a great memento for all the cabin groups this summer.

Finally, I wanted to share a couple of outtakes from the cabin photo sessions. Sometimes, these are hilarious and these two are particularly good. So silly, so goofy, so full of fun-loving kid energy, you have to love them. Camp friendships just inspire this kind of relaxed silliness, laughing so hard you just can’t stop. See if they make you smile too.

camp silly cabin group
camp cabin photo outtake

Being Marvelous

It’s pretty easy to spot kids being marvelous around here. It starts first thing in the morning and continues all day, long into the evening. While they bop here and there living their camp lives, being extraordinarily active, friendly, and joyful, they are a delight to encounter. They’re so positive and strong. They’re often talented, and always funny and chatty.

This morning for example, a group of girls and a couple of counselors appeared at the lake before breakfast, around 8am. Believe it or not, they were there to swim! An early morning swim like this we call a “polar bear.” The girls counted down— 3, 2, 1, “PolarBear!” —and jumped into the lake together screaming. With the air temperature about 60 degrees and the water not much warmer, it took real nerve to leap through the misty morning air and into the lake. But these girls were determined, and together they were all pulled along. Impressive!

It’s likewise wonderful to see campers figure things out while at camp. There are a lot of new things to encounter here. From the people they meet to the food they eat, what’s new becomes more familiar and often more easygoing as camp life unfolds. An activity that first feels frustrating, like learning to center a ball of clay on the wheel, can in time lead to a sense of accomplishment. It’s true for their relationships at camp too. With the passing days, the campers get to know each other more and trust each other more, knowing that the people here value who they really are. This makes it increasingly easy to make friends and grow deeper friendships. Especially for the older girls, there’s a “friendship-making muscle” that is happily exercised at camp. That is definitely marvelous.

Another example is how the campers inspire each other to be their best selves. Place kindness at the center of things, and wrap that in silly enthusiastic encouragement, and you’ll see an interesting sort of positivity. The girls are quick to laugh and be silly. They’re often singing together just because it feels good to do it. Even the 16-year-old girls will break out into song without prompting! Today during the surprise ice cream party— the Biltmore Train! —it wasn’t just eating ice cream; it was our entire community celebrating being at camp together. The party is “all you can eat” …as long as your single cone lasts. Eat the ice cream off your cone and head back for another scoop if you like. It’s sweet and messy, and good camp fun.

Finally, it’s marvelous how at this point in the session, the girls seem so comfortable. They’re now familiar with the rhythms of camp life, how to navigate the points of the day, how they like to spend their free time, and how camp feels really good. They simply know what to do and are happy to do it! They know the people and the places around camp better, and easily become part of it all, completely fitting in. Camp is their place, their special place.

As I wandered around on the hill after dinner (during our “twilight” free time), a 12-year-old camper came up to me, looked out across the hill where scores of girls were playing, and said, “Don’t you just love Rockbrook?” I had to stop, astonished by the comment, and look at her carefully before saying, “Yes. Yes, I do. There’s nothing quite like it.” She nodded, and strolled away soaking it all in. Truly marvelous.

camp kids hanging out

Hug a Chicken

The arrival of cabin day is exciting for everyone because it means switching up our schedule for the afternoon and doing something special with our cabin groups. It can also mean an entire age group (Juniors, Middlers, or Seniors) playing a game together, or taking a trip together.

summer camp costume game

The Seniors gathered on the landsports field for a crazy event of relays and games they called “Splash.” Each cabin group played a series of mini-games like a spoon-and-egg (though with ping-pong balls) relay, a challenge to draw a counselor, a wacky “acting” walk relay, and a wild costume relay. You can see in the photos that the costumes were over the top, especially when one person from each group had to put on all of the costumes at once for a final fashion show. Good silly fun! The last event was a challenge to protect a water balloon from breaking by building a protective case of some sort. They were given simple materials like a piece of cardboard, a strip of tape, and a few rubber bands or string, and then told to “design something that will keep your water balloon from breaking.” Working together, the groups came up with very creative solutions.

camper girl hugs a chicken

Three cabins of Juniors took a trip down the road to visit a local flower and berry farm. For these kids, the fun began right away. Just riding on the bus, singing the songs along the way, is enough to get excited. When they arrived at the farm and saw the beautifully tended rows of flowers, they were thrilled to romp about exploring. The farm also has resident bunnies and chickens that the girls could pet and hug. You might think hugging a chicken would be unpleasant, or petting a bunny somehow worrisome, but these girls loved it. They also picked flowers and brought back beautiful bouquets to decorate their dining hall tables. The outing also included a detour over to Dolly’s Dairy Bar, everyone’s favorite ice cream stand. It’s great fun to step up to the window and order your favorite flavor in a cup or cone. Dolly’s has unique flavors named after many of the local area summer camps. A popular choice with the campers is the bright blue “Chosatonga Cheer,” but also the very rich “Rockbrook Chocolate Illusion.”

The Senior girls had another surprise for them after dinner— an evening trip to Sliding Rock! With all six buses and vans loaded, we arrived at the famous spot in the Pisgah National forest where Looking Glass Creek flows over a smooth rock dome. For decades, it’s been a thrill to sit down in the creek at the top and slide down for a “refreshing” dunk at the bottom. Rockbrook has been taking campers there for easily 50 years.

Tonight we arrived with our crew of lifeguards, and almost 90 people who were ready to slide. It can be a little shocking when you first sit down in the water, but the sound of loud rushing water mixed with the cheers of the other girls makes it all too exciting. Soon the water is pushing you down the rock accelerating to the splash pool below. We allow the campers to slide 2 at a time making it even more of a scream-inducing blast.

Then it was a stop at Dolly’s for the Seniors too! Since this ice cream stand is located at the entrance to the Forest, it’s just natural to stop on the way back to camp. So we plan for it! It’s also a nice way to warm up, in a way, after the chill of Sliding Rock. The ice cream acts like a recharge, soon inspiring everyone to sing camp songs… as loud as possible. It’s enthusiastic camp pride, mixed with a little zing from the sugary, creamy goodness of the ice cream. Altogether, it’s a perfect combination to end a wonderful night.

No Rewiring Here

I want to take a moment to discuss something I mentioned a few days ago— the notion that play is important at Rockbrook. In an earlier post, I described how activities at camp stress being playful (noncompetitive), how the culture of camp encourages friendly (kind and silly) relationships that promote play and community, and how the structure of our daily schedule provides significant blocks of free time for self-directed play. I also hinted that play is so fundamental to childhood, we risk our kid’s successful development if we don’t provide play as a regular part of their lives.

A new book by Jonathan Haidt makes this point by linking kids’ play and their mental well-being. The book is The Anxious Generation: How the Great Rewiring of Childhood is Causing an Epidemic of Mental Illness (March, 2024). Haidt is a professor at NYU-Stern and is known for his 2018 best-selling book, The Coddling of the American Mind where he first notes the international trend of rising anxiety and depression among young people. In this new book, he digs deeper into this phenomenon and asks why it is happening.

He asks why, since 2010, have we seen in the U.S the prevalence of teen anxiety increase 134%, depression increase 106%, ADHD up 72%, Anorexia up %100? Why do these increases skew toward Gen Z (those born between the mid-to-late 1990s and the early 2010s) and away from those who are older? His thesis is in the title of the book. He claims that around 2010 we began a “great rewiring of childhood.” More specifically, this is when we, rather thoughtlessly, began moving away from a “play-based childhood” and toward a “phone-based childhood.”

Haidt points to several reasons for the decline of play among children. We have fewer communal spaces for kids. We spend most of our time isolated from other families, in our cars, in our homes. Parenting has become more paranoid as adults trust each other less, harbor (mostly unfounded) worries of abduction, and avoid the uncomfortable and risky aspects of the natural world. This “safetyism” has led us to spend most of our time inside and away from others. Consequently, most Gen-Z young people are having less “life experience,” things like getting a drivers license, having an after-school job, or even a dating relationship. For both parents and kids, a defensive mindset that’s always scanning for dangers is undermining (“destroying”?) our ability to play.

Unfortunately (“tragically”?), there is a ready substitute for play: the smartphone. As I’m sure you know, for most people today, a smartphone is their constant companion —never going anywhere without it— providing ready entertainment at the slightest hint of boredom. Instead of hanging out with friends and doing something together in the real world, our kids are more likely scrolling through social media, playing video games, or watching videos online alone. They’re spending, on average, 7-9 hours per day online, in many cases disrupting their sleep. Grabbing your phone is always easier and “safer” than doing something real with other people, but has our desire for convenience and safety narrowed our kid’s lives to what’s available on a screen?

The consequences of this behavior (“addiction”?) is certainly a worthwhile topic on its own, and there are others who are working to better understand how this phone-based childhood is affecting our developing young people. But Haidt believes it’s making a whole generation of young people more anxious, nervous, and ultimately unhappy. It at least seems clear that, especially for kids and perhaps us adults too, there is opportunity cost whenever we choose to pick up our phones. We could be playing!

Our kids could be exposed to the marvelous wonders of nature. They could be overcoming simple fears— which, by the way, means taking simple risks… like trying a new activity, or sampling a new food, or meeting a stranger. They could be making things, imagining, exploring, discovering what they’ve never experienced before. They could be laughing with friends, helping each other, teaming up to be even greater than they thought possible. They could be dressing up and being silly, singing and dancing, leaping at every chance to feel emotions. They could be finding out more about who they really are and becoming more confident expressing it. They could be having a lot more fun. You can see, moving away from a play-based childhood takes away a lot… All these and more!

There’s a question about what is worse, and what is contributing most to the rise of an “anxious generation.” Is it the decline of free play, and the benefits associated with play. Or is it the rise of time online (social media and screentime) and the costs associated with that? One thing seems certain, and this is Haidt’s main point, it’s a terrible trade to make, the benefits of one for the costs of the other. But that’s where we find ourselves these days, and our kids are suffering for it.

Fortunately, we have camp, the quintessential play-based environment. We have a place like Rockbrook that ditches devices and gets kids back outside, back in the real world doing things. We have a place that’s all about self-directed play and the glorious unpredictability of that. Yes, it’s a place where we might get a scrape or a bruise, but we’re going to do it with people who care about us. And we’ll be alright. We’re going to be stronger, more excited about things generally, and more attuned to what might be possible if we try. We’re going to grow closer to the people around us, not shrink away, afraid of what might happen. We’ll learn that being playful makes life more fun, rich with amazing details. Camp is powerful like this! And that’s why we all love it.

wide-eyed-laughter on rafting trip

Steeped in Pink

Sometimes a theme can make a big difference. Today that theme made many things at camp pink. From what we wore, to the decorations in the dining hall, to what we ate, pink was the dominant color of the day. Everyone was wearing rose-colored glasses, or was it rose colored everything? At times it was a little glamorous and at others a completely carefree lifestyle full of fabulous opportunities. Overall camp felt like a dreamworld. Can you guess the theme? Yes, today was Barbie day! And it was a full-on celebration!

Barbie Muffins

The day started with— surprise! —PINK oatmeal, pink yogurt and raspberries with the usual cereal and granola options. The dining hall was a feast of pink because the counselors and many of the campers were already representing their best Barbie pink outfits and accessories. The HUPS led the dining hall singing Barbie songs. Soon, we all found ourselves adding “Hi, Barbie!” to our greetings and conversations, always with a cheerful upbeat tone.

A highlight of the morning was the surprise muffin flavor. Yep, Barbie Muffins! They were vanilla raspberry muffins with pink sugar on top. They were completely delicious, and of course a big hit with everyone.

The pink continued all day as different Barbies could be spotted enjoying camp activities. We saw a Rockstar Barbie, Spring Bouquet Barbie, Publicity Tour Barbie, a Bridal Barbie, a Western Barbie, and a creative “Weird Barbie.” And of course, there were a few Kens to round out the fabulous crew. It turns out Barbie knows how to rock climb, ride a horse, shoot an arrow, and throw a pot on the potter’s wheel. Who knew? But here at Rockbrook, that’s not too surprising. These Barbies are powerful!

We transformed dinner into an outdoor BARBIE-cue, eating our pasta and hotdog buffet out on the Hill. There were plenty of options to satisfy every Barbie’s taste. A delightful dessert wrapped up the meal: “Barbie dirt.” These were pink pudding cups with Oreo crumbles and a gummy worm in each cup. Eating on the Hill is a cherished Rockbrook tradition. It’s another chance for all of us, all ages, to enjoy simply being together. Tonight in the beautiful golden hour light, amongst all those Barbies, it was whimsical and fun.

After dinner the campers found more Barbie-themed activities. There was a Barbie Fashion Show, a platform for campers to showcase their creative costumes. Another option was to build Barbie Dream Houses for forest fairies. This involved using sticks, moss and (pink!) painted rocks to construct miniature masterpieces. Finally, we held a Barbie Karaoke extravaganza in the dining hall. With a projector to display the lyrics and a sign-up sheet to select songs, the evening became a sing-a-long party. Campers belted out tunes from the Barbie movie alongside hits by Taylor Swift.

It was a great camp day, steeped in pink, and “totally awesome!”

Summer camp teenage Barbies

Colorful Merriment

We follow a different schedule on Sundays at camp. To everyone’s delight, it begins with a later wakeup bell, allowing a little extra rest after the busy week. The girls come to breakfast in their pajamas if they want to, and love finding a box of freshly delivered Krispy Kreme donuts on their table as an added treat. The songs are sung a little quieter as everyone slowly opens up to the day. Back in the cabin, everyone then changes into their camp uniforms readying for the flag raising ceremony and Chapel gathering.

sunday summer camp girls

Everyone looked sharp dressed in their red and white uniforms lining up in the sunshine. The Hi-Up (10th grade) campers serve as the color guard. They file up to the flagpole on the hill and raise both the American flag and a special Rockbrook flag commemorating the camp’s Centennial in 2021. Then, in silence, everyone walks to a special amphitheater in the woods where we hold our chapel programs.

At Rockbrook, what we call “chapel” is not a religious ceremony. Instead, it is a community gathering where we can slow down and reflect a bit on some of the core positive values we share. Each chapel revolves around a theme, and consists of songs, poems, and usually a story read by Sarah. We want all of the campers and staff, no matter what their family religious background to feel comfortable at our “chapel.” The campers themselves select the readings and songs, and Sarah invites campers to speak about what the theme of the gathering means to them. Past themes have been community, generosity, happiness, respect, and friendship, for example. Lately, “chapel” has been understood as an acronym for “Celebration of Happiness, Adventure, Peace, Earth and Love.”

camper girl reading a poem

Today’s theme was “Nature.” A few campers took turns telling the group what Nature meant to them while they are here at camp. Sarah read the children’s book “Outside In” by Deborah Underwood. One junior performed an original song about the beauty of nature. Some seniors mentioned how nice it was to be away from their technology and enjoy time outdoors. One senior particularly stressed the importance of taking care of the environment. They practiced “noticing” too, where everyone paused and tried to notice something amazing in the natural world around them. This is one of the great things about camp— there’s always something remarkable to notice, if you just pause and pay attention.

We devoted the afternoon to an all-camp activity held down on the Carrier House lawn— a fun Renaissance fair. This was an event with multiple activities all happening at once allowing the campers to flit from one to the other however they were inspired. The festivities included a “Wench’s Tavern” that served warm soft pretzels and kettle corn.

summer camp sack race

Campers could make elaborate flower crowns. A “Tomfoolery” station invited girls to juggling, ribbon dancing and hula hooping. We played games: a burlap sack race (“The Burlap Bounce”), cornhole (“The King’s Kernels”), and a hidden table shuffle game with goblets (“Bamboozled”). Campers also scoured the area searching for golden doubloons they could cash in for prizes.

Other activities included visiting a mysterious fortune teller named Madam Brunhilde. She would dispense cryptic advice like “There’s a muffin in your future” or “Beware of fuzzy creatures whose name starts with ‘F’,” a weakly veiled reference to Felix our camp dog. We had an inflatable bungee challenge for those feeling energetic and we organized a human Maypole complete with colorful ribbons. With popular music remixed to a medieval twist playing and a mischievous Jester romping about, it was a scene of colorful merriment.

The whole event was surprisingly more fun when we found ourselves in a steady summer rainstorm. Since there was no thunder or lightning, we carried on and embraced the feeling of being wet while playing. Following our chapel theme, we drew ourselves closer to Nature, laughing and dancing among the raindrops. It was actually glorious! The rain amplified the merriment, making the whole event more delightful. And when the rain subsided and the sun emerged, we felt like it was a true celebration.

People and Play

It’s not hard to imagine that we’re having a great time at camp. If you’ve been tabbing through the daily photo gallery, and if you watched the recent video, it’s clear. The girls— and I’d add also the staff —are having fun in so many ways. You can tell by the smiles, the laughter, and the excited cheers that erupt throughout the day. You can get a sense of it by seeing the sheer variety of things everyone is doing. In a single day, a camper can ride a horse, shoot an arrow, climb a tower, weave, swim, hike, sing, and many other specific activities. But the campers will also tell you that it’s fun to just be at camp. They value the periods of self-directed free time too, just like the activity time. Mealtime is fun, free swim is fun, and even getting ready for bed and waking up in the morning is fun in way.

How can this be? What’s different about camp that makes even ordinary times fun? I have two thoughts.

The first I mentioned earlier. A big reason life at camp is fun is because of the other people here, the other kids and the staff. You might say that without other friendly people at camp, what we do here wouldn’t measure up at all. We wouldn’t have people wanting to return year after year to shoot another arrow, or put on another costume, or sleep in a rustic cabin. Older campers will put it that way. They’ll tell you they come back to be with their friends. They come back for the people. And I think that’s because no matter what they’re doing, it’ll be great, if they have their camp friends to do it with.

summer camp yoga children laughing

To put that a little differently, it’s the relationships we have with each other that make a difference. The camp culture sets the tone for these by valuing kindness, caring, and respect. The Rockbrook community spirit is built on a philosophy of belonging, encouragement and cooperation —all pointing toward developing deeper more meaningful relationships. At camp, we’re not competing and we’re not judging or undermining anyone. Instead, we’re applauding each other for trying things. We’re supporting everyone around us. There’s a positivity to camp that helps everyone feel safe and valued. This encourages openness and a feeling of freedom to enjoy whatever we’re doing. It all comes from the genuine relationships we have with the kind people around us.

There’s another factor too, another characteristic of camp life that serves up so much fun. It’s Rockbrook’s emphasis on play. On the one hand, our daily schedule provides lots of free, unstructured time for the girls to play. Whether on the hill, or by the creek, or floating in the lake, the campers are playing— being social, being active and creative. They have the freedom for real-world play, for making things up, and open self-expression. Here too, having great friends to join makes it even more likely that kids will spontaneously play together if given the freedom (time, space and encouragement) to do so. It’s wonderful to see these Rockbrook girls relish the opportunities to play at camp.

summer camp girls playing tetherball

Rockbrook also promotes play at camp by injecting a little silliness into most things. We know that wearing a goofy hat to dinner makes it more fun. We know that the zanier the dance move, the more fun it will be. When we’re making things, the more imaginative it is the better. We foster exploration and experimentation, excited no matter what the outcome. We’re silly with the rules of the game— tennis with your non-dominant hand, climbing the tower blindfolded, gagaball with more than one ball —all for just the playful fun spirit of it. And when you’re not keeping score or competing (who cares who wins?), the play itself is intrinsically rewarding. This celebration of the silly helps us approach things playfully at Rockbrook.

I should add that the play we enjoy at camp, and the fun we experience while playing, is not just frivolous. There’s mounting evidence that the sort of play that camp provides is a fundamental aspect of childhood that contributes to social, emotional and even cognitive development. Removing the regular opportunity to play is largely detrimental for kids. There’s more to say about that later. For now, let’s appreciate the fun our kids have playing at camp. It’s a really great, and valuable thing.

summer camp dining hall group

First Session Video Glimpse

If you’re not here at Rockbrook, you can only imagine what camp life is like. You can’t feel the wind in your hair flying through the trees on the zipline or the thrill of splashing into the lake shooting down the waterslide, for example. You can’t taste the pumpkin chocolate chip muffins we enjoyed for our mid-morning muffin break, or sing at the top of your lungs about an Austrian who went yodeling. Camp life is just too rich to describe without actually experiencing it.

Fortunately, we can provide a glimpse into the fullness of camp life with video. We’re fortunate to have Robbie Francis of FrancisFilmworks again working with us this summer to produce short videos each session.  He was at camp this past week and now has produced his first edited short of 2024 ready for you to see.

Take a look! We think you’ll really enjoy watching.

P.S. Be sure to have the volume turned up. Hearing camp is amazing!

P.P.S. Did you notice that “share” button? 🙂