It’s the latest highlights video from Robbie Francis of Francis Filmworks. Earlier this week, Robbie spent a day filming at camp, and with more of his careful editing, has again produced a fascinating glimpse into camp life. You’ve seen the photos in our daily online gallery; now see (and hear) camp in motion.
At a little less than 2 minutes, I think you’ll really enjoy watching.
One of the phrases I sometimes use to describe the experience of camp is to say it’s “fun that matters.” The idea is that camp is certainly fun, filled with exciting activities, thrilling adventures, and plenty of silliness, but it’s also educational in the best sense of the word. In addition to all the colorful crafts, tennis and tetherball, horseback riding, ziplining, and playing in the lake, for example, the girls at camp are learning and growing in important ways. Camp is not just entertainment, or a brief diversion, like a trip to an amusement park or watching a movie. It means so much more to the children who experience it. To them, camp is profound; it matters, so much in fact, that they yearn to return each summer.
It’s an interesting question to ask, therefore, how camp matters. If it matters because it’s educational, how is it educational and what are these camp kids learning (while they’re having fun)?
There are so many great answers to this question. Over the years I’ve written about camp life fostering core aspects of who we are as human beings, helping children become more creative, more courageous, more compassionate. I’ve said camp helps kids develop critical “life skills,” becoming better decision makers, communicators, collaborative team members. Watch out because camp kids are going to be confident and capable. They’re going to be excellent friends, more joyful than not, and kind to most everyone they meet. Camp teaches all this and more.
We could say, I believe, that girls love camp because it provides all these opportunities for personal growth. In other words, girls love camp not just because it’s fun, but because they’re also learning! Obviously, they wouldn’t put it like that. If you asked, they’d talk about laughing their heads off with their friends rather than the social and emotional skills they’re exercising in that moment. But I think there’s something to this idea. Yes, camp is fun, but Rockbrook girls love camp because the fun here makes a difference in their personal development.
My other theory about why kids love camp, namely that it satisfies critical childhood needs, aligns with this idea. Maybe nowadays children are having difficulty learning these lessons because modern education can’t adequately teach them about the joys of being silly, the role of compromise in a thriving community, or inspire confidence in them to tackle new challenges, to name a few examples common at camp. I wonder if focusing heavily on (academic, athletic, artistic, etc.) achievement limits what most educational systems are really teaching, and if so, our children need more than just school. They have unmet needs, and unfortunately, can feel uneasy as a result. When something can relieve this uneasiness and fulfill these unmet childhood development needs, it’ bound to feel really good. And since camp life does exactly that, since it’s “a place where they feel the most at ease,” kids love it.
This is how the fun of camp matters. It provides a special kind of learning that’s ordinarily hard to find, and that once fulfilled, makes campers feel the “happiest they’ve ever been.”
If this all makes sense, then it tells us how to help girls love their camp experience. Interestingly, you don’t do that by adding more activity options, toys at the lake, or other “amenities” at camp. Of course all of that is an important context for life at camp, for the fun of what we do and where we do it each day. But no, you inspire a love for camp by making whatever we’re doing more meaningful, more thoroughly tied to satisfying those core human development needs. Instead, do what you can to remove their uneasiness. Help girls feel they belong. Prove to them they are stronger than they think. Show them that kindness, caring and generosity form the roots of true friendship. Give them daily chances to collaborate, to create, to be silly and free from judgment. It helps to feed them a freshly baked muffin every morning and the occasional ice cream cone, but you see what I mean.
Everyday we’re having a lot of fun at Rockbrook, but it’s more than that because something more meaningful sticks with the girls. It’s fun that helps them grow and makes them feel really good too. They love this tight-knit community and their place among the friends around them. Camp is a fun experience that really does matter. And it’s my regular joy to be a part of it.
Just before lunch, I wandered around camp just to see what was happening. I started at the barn, where I encountered five excited equestriennes eager to show me how they had planned out matching their outfits today with their horses’ ear bonnets. Our riding staff noted their excitement for this activity and, after their riding lesson, had helped to make it happen. The campers were very much wanting to have their photo taken of them with their favorite horses. One of the girls told me that she was also getting ready to go on the optional overnight backpacking trip. “I was so excited last night about the plan to dress to match our horses and then to go on the backpacking trip that I just couldn’t sleep!” she told me.
As I continued on my way, I encountered a pottery class in action. Several of the campers had asked to learn how to throw a pot on the wheel. I enjoyed seeing the interest of the other campers, mesmerized in watching these clay vessels come to life on the wheels, as our pottery instructors taught them some critical skills to keep the clay centered and wet in order to carefully maneuver it into the desired shape.
On the hill, I spotted a solitary camper, deep in concentration as she worked to learn a few chords on the ukulele. She had taken a few lessons with Maddie and was choosing to practice on her own, perhaps in anticipation of accompanying some friends later. I think there’s a group ukulele concert in the works for later in the week.
And perhaps my favorite moment came as I was about to cross the stream by Curosty. Several Juniors and Middlers were playing there and one of them asked me if I wanted to go to the restaurant. Not exactly sure what that meant, I of course said “yes.” They took my hand and led me just past the outer layer of rhododendron into a hidden clearing with two massive tree stumps. Apparently the name of the restaurant is either going to be “tween the trunks” or “the branches,” both of which I thought were excellent names. They sat me down on one stump and proceeded to bring me a “surprise drink, taco, salad, falafel, and a ‘Rockbrooky’ for dessert,” all made of objects from nature: flowers, leaves, grass, stones, and mud.
What I loved about each of these moments was how they were camper-driven. These girls were given the space and time to pursue things that interested them. Some were creative activities, some were sporty, and others were free play in nature, but they all had elements where the campers used their imaginations, curiosity, and enthusiasm to make their camp experience unique to them. With friends by their sides, they leaned in and took action themselves. It was a sweet reminder of how we should all move through the world in this way – pursuing our varied interests, inviting others in to share the moment. A wonderful lesson for all of us and a refreshing stroll around camp.
Instead of following our regular afternoon schedule of activity periods, the girls stayed together in their cabin groups and enjoyed different special events planned by their counselors. This is an afternoon we call “Cabin Day.” It’s a long tradition at Rockbrook and is a nice change of pace that allows cabin groups to bond a bit more while doing something unusual. The variety of activities today was impressive, many tailored for the personalities and ages of the groups.
The entire upper line of cabins held a “Block Party.” These Middlers, 5th and 6th graders, were first given a scavenger hunt task that sent them into the upper line cabins looking for a dozen different hidden items. One was to find the name of a camper written inside from 1943! They played music on the line, did face painting and hair braiding while enjoying popsicles too. One funny game was to use their feet to find a squirt gun in a pool of squishy beads, and once found use it to squirt the other players. Pretty silly, but also hilarious fun.
The weather this afternoon was full on summer— bright, almost blinding, sunshine, a little humidity and temperatures around 86 degrees. This led several groups to find one of the many water spots at camp to hang out and cool off. A group of Juniors played in one end of the creek near Curosity, racing small boats they made from Rhododendron leaves and other found bits and pieces. At the other end of the creek, a cabin of Seniors did facial treatments and fairy hair, hanging out, reading with their feet in the cool running water.
Of course a couple of groups headed to the lake to play there, doing tricks off the diving board, and goofing around on the floats and tubes. Another cabin of Juniors hiked to Rockbrook falls, one of the waterfalls on the camp property, to wade in the pool below. Nearby, a cabin took a dip in “the Cove,” a secret forest swimming spot, also on the camp property. It’s a magical place where a creek forms a deep, sandy-bottomed pool after splashing down a small waterfall. With a large rock face on one side and lush forest on the other, it’s a really unique place to take a dip.
A cabin group of Senior girls decided to spend their time sunbathing on the hill after making snow-cones. Still another group headed down to the lower pottery building to draw and paint self portraits, while yet another group had a fairy tea party on the dining hall porch, complete with tea, cookies, fairy hair and beaded bracelet making. Down on the land sports field, two cabins had a wild “color battle” using paint bombs and squirt guns of (washable!) tempura paint.
A few cabins of Juniors took their trip to the Pucker Up Berry farm and later to Dolly’s for ice cream. The beautiful weather made playing with the rabbits and chickens at the farm, exploring its many plants, and assembling cut flower arrangements even more enjoyable.
The big outing happened in the evening when we took all of the second mini session Middlers and Seniors, 90 people in all, to Sliding Rock. This experience of accelerating down a natural waterside and splashing into the pool below never fails to thrill the girls. Since we go in the late evening, the fading light adds to the excitement of the crowd cheering each pair of girls as they sat in the brisk 55-degree water. When we were done sliding and driving our convoy of buses out of the forest, we stopped at Dolly’s for our favorite ice cream treat. Dolly’s ice cream is so good, we take every camper there at least once. It’s become a fixture of everyone’s camp experience that they look forward to each summer. You should definitely plan to stop by on closing day after picking up your daughter. You’ll love it too!
Sometimes the word that best describes life at camp is “intense.” Sure there are moments for quiet relaxation (yea, rest hour!) and easy-going meandering, but throughout our days, there is intensity to what we’re doing at camp. When an activity is exciting, it’s intensely exciting. When an experience is thrilling, it’s powerfully thrilling. There are so many examples of this camp intensity! —Singing in the dining hall, the cold water plunge of the lake, the adventure of zooming through the trees on the zipline, all-day socializing with friends, riding a horse, climbing 50 feet in the air on the Alpine Tower, concentrating on a weaving pattern in Curosty, pulling back your bow ready to shoot an arrow, adding one more element to complete a wacky costume, walking down the line at night with just a flashlight, afternoon thunderstorms, and finding a “spricket” in the shower, all come to mind.
Camp life is intense for several reasons. Living this close to nature is one. It’s simply intense to encounter directly the forces of nature like weather events, insects and other creatures, especially when back home you rarely do so. Another reason is that many of the activities we offer at camp are inherently challenging. They push the campers past what’s comfortable for them. Many camp activities take practice to develop new skills, or require physical strength to overcome obstacles. All of our adventure activities would be examples of this.
Perhaps the biggest reason camp life is intense relates to the emotions we experience here. Yes, camp is emotional, intensely emotional. This is a natural response to life here being so social. Spending this much time with a group of people, being kind to them and receiving genuine kindness, brings us closer together forming deep connections. These relationships amplify everything we’re feeling at camp— even more excited, more joyful, and more enthusiastic. The people around us add spirit to whatever we’re doing. Doing things together like this makes us feel those experiences more wholeheartedly. Being happy at camp means being intensely happy, and the girls love it.
This week, several of our Middler and Senior campers have been treated to some ukulele time. Maddy, one of the instructors from the Mountain School of Strings here in Brevard, has come out a couple of mornings to share her love of ukuleles. She gathered with the girls on the Junior Lodge porch to teach them several basic chords and then to play familiar songs, like a Rockbrook version of “Country Roads” by John Denver and “The Coconut Song,” another camp favorite. The ukuleles are also available to campers to borrow and play together during their free times. It’s wonderful to see campers trying something new and stretching themselves. Even after these short lessons, they’re already sounding pretty good! We look forward to hearing more music around camp.
The whitewater rafting trips we took today on the Nantahala River were certainly intense as well. Perfect sunny weather set the tone for a wonderful fun day on the water for all 75 Middlers and Seniors who chose to go. With 6 or 7 girls in each raft, they laughed and splashed, bumped and paddled their way down the river, enjoying the thrill of the rapids. The girls added a good dose of silliness to the trips, posing for photos, making high-fives with their paddles, and riding the bull until they fell back into the boat or forward into the river. One girl said with a smile, “I fell in 4 times!” Be sure to check out the online photo gallery for many more photos of those trips.
It’s hard not to notice the weather when you essentially live outside like we do at camp. We’re cool in the mornings and hot in the early afternoons, at least until a late afternoon thunderstorm cools everything down again. Today, this pattern matched perfectly with our low of 63 and high of 81 degrees, and a brief shower at 7pm. There’s no need to control the climate or condition the air here. Instead we are immersed in whatever the weather brings, up close to the early morning fog, warming in the sun all day, running through the rain, and filling our lungs with the cool nighttime smells of the forest. There’s plenty of shade at Rockbrook too, from the mature trees all around, to the covered arena at the riding center. Even when other areas are baking in the summer heat, we ordinarily have ideal weather for camp.
Today was no exception, as we launched into a new rotation of camp activities. All of the girls scurried off to their activity areas to begin exploring a new craft, sport or adventure activity. The riding center hosted 5 different lesson groups simultaneously. Boots and saddles were moving! Out in the woods behind the gym, other groups of girls were snapping on different helmets to go climbing on our Alpine Tower. This 50-foot challenge course tower has dozens of routes to the top, each with a different climbing puzzle to solve. The girls were shooting archery, and taking aim down at the riflery range. They were hitting tennis balls on the courts, and cutting wood in the woodshop. Both pottery studios kept girls busy with clay, the Curosty weaving cabin with yarns, and the Hobby Nook cabin with paints and brushes. High above, girls zoomed by on the zipline course screaming with delight.
A day at camp is like that. Groups of girls are doing things together, counselors and instructors by their side, everyone chatting and enjoying each other’s company. They’re active! They’re concentrating and paying attention to new things. They’re challenging themselves physically. They’re exploring their own creativity. They’re outside! They’re smiling and laughing! They’re sharing experiences and building friendships. Taken together, it’s astonishing how much goes on.
Several trips left camp today as well. There was a day hike to a waterfall in the Pisgah Forest where the girls could splash around in the pool below. A group of kayakers ran a section of the French Broad River, and another group hiked to a high-altitude fire tower to catch the amazing view of the Blue Ridge Mountains up there. This week there will be a backpacking trip, whitewater rafting trips, and canoeing overnight trip, and a rock climbing trip as well. There’s adventure in the mix too!
Sunny Days like this also inspire more girls to take advantage of the lake during their free times before lunch and dinner. We open the lake for these “free swim” periods, and while there’s always a few girls who “love the lake,” nice weather bring more of a crowd. The water slide, which is also open during free swim times, is a wild thrill that for some becomes a habit. “I have to ride the slide everyday!” one camper claimed. The new lakeside dock has become a popular sunny hang out spot, just as the many floating tubes are ways to catch some rays at the lake. Some girls will be swimming “Mermaid Laps” (swim enough and win a trip to Dolly’s!), while others do tricks off the diving board. The lake is a social place offering just the right balance of relaxation and active fun.
With this wonderful day at camp, we’re off to a splendid start of the week. The girls are finding their way, learning and growing with each step, all while having a great time together.
Today marked the arrival of the campers attending the second of our July Mini sessions. It was an exciting morning for everyone. Of course the arriving campers were bubbling with anticipation for their camp session to start. After waiting for months, or even a whole year, it was finally the day. The parents too seemed excited, excited for the opportunities awaiting their girls, but also thrilled with the process of meeting everyone in the check-in process. One parent commented on how enthusiastic everyone seemed this morning. That was certainly true as families made their way around the lake and to the top of the driveway where the counselors were jumping and cheering for each arriving camper. I’d say this excitement carried the full session campers too because these arriving mini session girls would be new friends to enjoy camp with. It was a cheerful morning all around!
Arriving at camp can bring with it feelings of nervousness too. As expected— it’s totally normal —there were several girls who looked like there were some butterflies fluttering inside as well. Excited yes, but also a little nervous, even for the returning campers. Sarah and I tried to reassure everyone that once we get started at camp, begin actually doing things, these feelings fade fast. Meeting cabin mates and counselors helps, but it’s also a great relief to realize that what’s cool at Rockbrook is being your true silly self, singing really loud, and being nice to everyone. It doesn’t take long to see how it’s going to be easy to fit in, and have a lot of fun with all these friendly people.
The full-session girls continued with their regular Sunday morning routine, raising the flag and gathering for Chapel. “Togetherness” was the theme presented by the Senior campers. Just before lunch we held a quick assembly in the shade of the huge walnut tree on the hill. It was an opportunity for Sarah to welcome everyone, make a few introductions, and each line to lead everyone singing a couple of camp songs. Felix, the camp dog, also made an appearance.
The highlight of the day awaited us after rest hour. We had a Candy Land Carnival on our grassy landsports field, complete with two large inflatables, games, music, and special food.
The food was a unique sweet treat. We had Jenny’s Mini Donuts, a local food truck specializing in donut-making, at the ready to serve up their treats. Throughout the event, we called each cabin group of girls to visit the pink truck and chose between cinnamon sugar and powdered sugar toppings for their donuts. Each camper received a tray of mini donuts to enjoy as they wandered around the carnival. The donuts were a big hit!
Meanwhile carnival games and inflatables kept everyone moving. Both inflatables involved water elements, and since we had bright sunny summer skies, the afternoon heat made the splashes even more refreshing. One inflatable featured a steep slide into a one-foot-deep pool, while the other offered a side-by-side obstacle course where two people raced to reach the pool at the end. The challenge of the course added an extra layer of excitement, and participating with a partner made it even more enjoyable, both for the participants and the spectators. A crowd of girls gathered around each inflatable, cheering on the participants as they splashed into the pools below.
Among the candy-themed games was a life-sized Candy Land game spread across the grass. Teams of girls took turns “rolling” a giant inflatable die and advancing along a colorful trail made of rubber mats. Similar to the board game, certain squares had special effects when a team landed on them. For instance, landing on Gramma Nutt’s square meant going back five squares, whereas landing on Missy Lolly’s square rewarded everyone with a lollipop. The first team to reach the end of the trail also won a small candy treat.
Another game challenged the girls to toss inflated donuts onto a cone, which turned out to be trickier than it initially seemed. Fortunately, the girls could try as many times as they wanted until they successfully landed a toss. Similarly, one game involved tossing beanbags at a target, aiming to get the beanbag through a small hole. Another game involved a crazy challenge of unwrapping a wad of plastic wrap that had layers of small candies embedded in it. The challenge came from having to use your feet instead of your hands to unwrap it!
Throughout the event, the girls sang and danced along to lively pop music, including a few candy-related songs. Hits like “I Want Candy” by Bow Wow Wow and “Lollipop” by the Chordettes made appearances, creating a joyful and energetic atmosphere.
With superb summer weather, dozens of new friends, lively music, tasty treats, and active games to play, it was a fantastic way to spend the afternoon and an even better welcome for the new session girls.
Robbie Francis of FrancisFilmworks visited camp again and has produced another short video for us. He spent another day filming, worked his editing magic, and now we have this new wonderful snapshot of camp life. The video does a beautiful job of depicting the mood at camp this session… so much action and so many happy girls!
Click below to watch the video…. and let us know what you think.
It struck me again today about how special it feels at camp right now. Today is the first day between our two July mini sessions, that time of the summer when only the 4-week second session girls are here. It feels special for a number of reasons. First, because the July Mini 1 session girls have left, it’s smaller; we have only 140 campers instead of 220. This makes activity classes more intimate, trip logistics easier with fewer campers going, and generally everything slows down a notch or two. A bigger difference though is that these full session girls have by now relaxed and fully embraced camp life. For most of them, this is not their first year at Rockbrook, so they also have a deep understanding of what it is. They know its rhythms, the freedom and opportunities, the familiar patterns to their days. They instinctively know what to do and where to go. Camp is easy for them. And this makes it even more meaningful because it feels like it’s their camp, their special place where they can play, be goofy, dig deeper into their interests, and feel even stronger waves of confidence everyday.
Even more significant, however, is the warmth of friendship glowing among these girls. Spending this much time together has brought them closer. They’re talking together more casually, laughing together more frequently, and helping each other more spontaneously. They’re being sweet to each other, easily kind and positive about the people around them. Everywhere you look there are pairs, threes or groups of girls enjoying each other’s company.
It’s wonderful to see girls hugging more, walking arm and arm, sharing chairs just so they can sit close together. These girls love each other, and also this camp (yes, in that order, I’d say), in surprising and marvelous ways. That’s what’s extra special about camp right now— it’s a palpable expression of what camp is all about.
All of the regular camp activities are still happening too. The zipline course for example, saw groups flying through the trees all day. This is a unique course built among the huge rocks up behind the main part of camp. It includes three zip lines and three challenging bridges to traverse, making it both challenging and thrilling at the same time. The first zip sends the girls right in front of Stick Biscuit Falls, the waterfall you can see from the back of the camp office building. The final zip is the longest and fastest ride of the course. 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 pottery studios at camp— there are two: upper and lower —are always fun places to visit. Pottery is a popular activity option, so they are ordinarily filled with girls busily shaping clay, some rolling it into coils or flattening it into slabs, maybe extruding it through a press, or carving designs into a more finished piece. Off to one side, there’ll be girls sitting at the potter’s wheels, like today when all the wheels where spinning. It takes some practice to get the hang of throwing on the wheel, but everyone can learn to center their clay, and pull up a bowl or pot of some kind. It’s very satisfying to finally get it. With some drying and glazing and then some time in the kiln, they’ll have beautiful works to show.
Finally, this was a special day for all of the Taylor Swift fans out there, and here at camp, that means just about everyone. Today she released the re-recording of her 2010 Speak Now album. In response to a dispute with her original record label, Taylor Swift is re-recording her early albums, and this is the 3rd in that series. It includes new “Taylor’s Versions” of the original songs plus previously unreleased songs written when she was working on the album originally, songs “From the Vault.” To celebrate, we held a Taylor Swift dance party in the gym during the evening twilight time. We played all the songs form the Vault on the new Speak Now, plus a few of our favorite original cuts. This lasted only about 45 minutes, but it was a fun way to keep our “Swifties” satisfied.
Camp life is a good life these days. You might even call it a great life!
Just down the road from Rockbrook is a wonderful family farm called the Pucker Up Berry Farm, also known as the “PUB Farm.” It’s owned and cared for by our friends Wendy and Eric Manner. The farm specializes in high antioxidant fruits and berries like elderberries, blueberries and blackberries. It also grows all sorts of flowers and vegetables.
The Rockbrook Juniors take a trip to the PUB Farm during their session of camp. It’s a chance to learn about the plants and animals there and to enjoy the environment. Counselor Lauren Plowden went with a recent group and wrote this account.
“When my campers heard the announcement that we would be skipping rest hour and taking a trip off campus, screams filled the room. As a Junior Counselor at RBC, I have the privilege of taking my cabin to Pucker Up Berry Farm.
This farm is located at the bottom of Becky Mountain and is home to lots of chickens, bunnies, exotic wildflowers, and berry orchards. It’s essential that our campers have the opportunity to explore nature in ways they maybe wouldn’t be able to at home. At the farm, campers can choose to hold the animals such as bunnies or chickens, sample some growing blueberries and enjoy the wildlife the heart of the wooded mountain has to offer.
Every child has the chance to build their own bouquet of wildflowers which we then bring back to camp and use as centerpieces in our dining hall. Bouquet making is a wonderful part of the trip and allows me and the juniors to dive into creativity, colors, and gardening.
My favorite part of the trip was exploring nature with my awesome campers in Junior 5 and seeing them try new things. Of course this trip wouldn’t be complete without a trip to Dolly’s Dairy Bar. We filled our stomachs up with yummy ice cream and sang camp songs all the way home on our hot 80 degree July day. Days at camp are never the same and you never quite know what surprises are in store for our campers!”