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.

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

barn camp girls

Magically Gratifying

easy life for kids at camp

Today I had an interesting conversation with one of our staff Education Interns about the different ways she saw life at camp supporting the social and emotional needs of the girls here. New to Rockbrook this summer (She is not a former camper or counselor.), she has been struck by how most everyone at camp has such an easy going attitude, happily engaging the different camp activities, but also content to just be at Rockbrook, no matter what the day would bring.  The girls sign up for their own set of activities, but they don’t seem too obsessed with doing any particular thing.  Sure there are accomplishments to strive toward— bullseyes in archery and riflery, reaching the top of the Alpine Tower while blind folded, throwing a pot on the potters wheel, making a powerful overhand serve in tennis, weaving a particular shaped basket, for example —and there are favorite trips to join (like rafting), but it almost seems like the girls could be doing anything and still tell you “I love camp.” She said, “It just feels good to be here,” no matter what we’re doing.

kid throwing on the potter's wheel
challenge tower climbing kid

Being someone interested in Social Emotional Learning (SEL), she explained this feeling in those terms. She said Rockbrook’s “friendly community helps girls improve their relationship skills and be more self aware.” It’s true; “how we define our community is key to how it feels to be here,” I added. We agreed that being a part of a “relationship-based community” like Rockbrook, one dedicated to the core values of kindness, caring and generosity, is what “feels good.” The community provides an important context, one that fulfills our social and emotional needs, and hence is magically gratifying (what the girls will call “fun”) no matter what we’re doing.

This is exactly the point of this internship. We believe children at camp can learn to “respond to emotional triggers, engage with diversity, manage conflict, and make responsible decisions” when they join a community like Rockbrook. Our daily experience provides opportunities to practice “self-awareness, self-management, social-awareness, and relationship skills.”  Life at camp is ripe with moments where these skills are exercised.

We also talked about why girls are so “loyal to Rockbrook,” why they so often want to return to camp summer after summer.  Here too, we pointed to the easy feeling of being at camp, the authentic relationships of friendship we have here, and ultimately to the special community where we know we belong. Again, it’s not so much what they get to do, the crafts or adventure for example, that makes the girls yearn to return. It’s the social and emotional context that encourages the deep relationships with the other people at camp. We could change many of Rockbrook’s activity offerings and I suspect most girls would still love camp and still say it’s “fun.”

Lastly, we talked about how we might integrate aspects of camp life in the outside world, say in an elementary school classroom, so as to enhance SEL. Integrating SEL into educational settings is a thriving area of study, but from our experience at camp, we thought it crucial to begin with a culture of kindness, to build a collaborative community that encourages empathy, decision making, and belonging. Taking time to establish this kind of community, we thought, could be crucial for learning, just as it’s the foundation of what makes camp a place girls love.

Once again we were reminded of the power of camp. In these ways, it is educational in the best sense of the word, more so even than most traditional school settings. I find it remarkable too that kids love this kind of learning.  They yearn for it.  They need it.  And fortunately for your Rockbrook girls, they have it.

casual comfortable camp kids

A Rainy, Sunny, Silly Night

Riflery is another activity that has been a part of Rockbrook since its founding almost 100 years ago. Learning the safety protocols and techniques for target shooting was a camp skill of sorts, something everyone learned, just like hiking, swimming and weaving, for example. Even today, most campers enjoy making their way down to the shooting range to fire our .22 caliber rifles. The girls shoot prone, aiming at their targets 50 feet away. The goal, of course, is to center their shots and hit a bullseye, being accurate with 5 shots per round. Getting all five shots within the concentric rings of the target is really good shooting. Every center shot earns the shooter a place in the bullseye club and her name announced in the dining hall.

beads necklace

Take a look at these painted ceramic beads, strung as a necklace and proudly worn around camp. They represent several ways this camper has been recognized as exemplary. The counselors nominate campers for these beads, and they are announced during the weekly assemblies. The one that says “Bend-A-Back” is awarded to campers who are seen helping another person around camp, or assisting the camp in some way, like picking up a stray piece of trash. “Ps & Qs” recognizes a camper for outstanding manners, usually in the dining hall. The central bead with the cardinal on it is especially meaningful. It’s the “Spirit” bead and it is given to those campers who are simply great Rockbrook Girls showing their love and enthusiasm for camp.

sliding rock children

Tonight we took our full session Seniors to Sliding Rock. We started out with a fun picnic of hotdogs, watermelon and chips up in the forest, and afterwards made our way to the natural water slide to give everyone a chance to take the plunge. It’s a huge thrill for the girls to sit down in the chilly water at the top and scream as they make the slide down to the pool at the bottom. Just as we all finished our first slide down the rock, it began to rain, so we made a quick dash back to the buses and vans. Fortunately, everyone had a chance to slide at least once before the rain. Of course, a stop at Dolly’s Dairy Bar completed our night with a delicious cone of ice cream. After they finished eating, the girls had a wonderful time singing camp songs to all the other Dolly’s customers. To everyone’s surprise on the way home, we spotted a complete rainbow in the sky over Brevard. It was a rainy, sunny, silly night in the mountains of North Carolina.  So fun!

girls camp uniforms

Caring Not Coddling


You may have heard the term “snowplow parent” by now, for example in the wake of the recent college admissions scandal that revealed certain parents were essentially bribing colleges and universities to admit their children. The term refers to well-meaning moms and dads taking too far their desire to help and guide their kids, and, like a snow plow, clearing away obstacles that might impede their path to success. This impulse to protect kids from struggle, to shield them from failure, to rescue them from anything frustrating or uncomfortable is apparently increasingly common, especially among more affluent parents who have the means to accomplish these goals. After all, parents “want the best” for their kids. We want to “give them every advantage” we can. Since the moment they were born, we parents have felt it’s our duty to assist and guide our children.

In their 2018 book, “The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure,” Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt address what they describe as an increasingly prevalent “culture of safetyism” that leads to “fearful parenting” and stymied educational settings. While mostly concerned with events on college campuses, the book traces problems back to parenting and assumptions we parents hold regarding the experience of hardship, the infallibility of personal feelings, and the belief that “life is a battle between good people and evil people,” between us and them. Lukianoff and Haidt suggest these ideas lead to our coddling of kids, and yes to us becoming snowplows eagerly removing all forms of adversity for them.

The danger is that this form of safety-driven parenting, especially when established by these three ideas, ultimately hampers our kids’ development. Solving every problem for them (in some cases far into adulthood), swooping in to the rescue, “infantilizes them, emotionalizes them, and tribalizes them,” as Andrew Sullivan put it.  It robs them of opportunities to learn from experience, creating fragile, nervous, helpless young people who never grow up to be strong and independent.

I bring all of this up not to sling parent-shaming mud around, but rather to bring our attention to the dangers of being too focused on making our kids’ lives perfectly comfortable, safe, convenient, and entertaining.  This may sound strange coming from a summer camp director since we regularly work to create exactly this kind of experience for kids. We make sure camp is super fun. At the same time though, life at camp is so different from everything at home— different food, activities, relationships, and the general outdoor environment —it inevitably includes regular moments of challenge, struggle and adversity. And there are bound to be disagreements, even hurt feelings, in this kind of close-knit community.  Like life in the outside world, for both children and adults, we occasionally experience setbacks, at times feel frustrated, and perhaps wish things were different than they are.

whitewater rafting boat cheering

Most importantly though, there are no parents at camp, nobody to plow the road, to coddle, or smooth all the bumps from the path. Instead we have a supportive community of people that encourages girls to try things on their own, that allows a measured degree of freedom to explore, and that carefully guides us without fear of failure. Camp girls learn that they can handle these moments. They don’t have to wait for help. They don’t need someone to “pave the jungle.” On their own and away from mom and dad, camp girls cultivate a greater ability to tolerate discomfort. Without worrying, they grow more confident, build a sense of grit, and a habit of resilience.

In this way, I think life at camp is both incredibly fun and powerfully educational. Camp girls have daily experiences that prove they are competent and capable. They learn that they can address moments of hardship, confidently move beyond what’s comfortable, and make strides despite challenges.  Sending your daughter to camp is the opposite of coddling.  It’s trusting that she’ll be able, with perseverance and the support of the caring camp community, to meet the occasional challenge, tolerate moments of discomfort, and grow in the process.  No plow necessary!

cute girls dressed as animals

3rd Time’s the Charm

After a warm welcome from counselors on opening day, our campers were eager to dive into all the action of camp! Today everyone began their first rotation of activities. Twice a week, campers get to select what activities they would like to take for the following three day rotation. Over the course of a full session, a camper could try every single one of our 22 activities. While that makes it seem like camp is jam-packed and busy, our daily schedule actually has free time built in throughout the day. Free swims and twilights allow the campers to have extra time at the lake, time with their friends, or just a chance to shower! We want our campers to learn and experience new things at Rockbrook, dive deep into the camp community, but also have the time and space to explore on their own.

When campers take activities, they get to have time with campers and counselors from other cabins. All our cabin counselors teach along with a few specialists, who help with some more technical activities. For example, pottery, curosty (weaving), and folklore (mountain crafts) have specialists because these crafts require more skill, experience, and safety precautions. Campers are able to form relationships both in and out of the cabin because our counselors teach activities. Plus, the girls get to learn more specialized, unique crafts they may not learn at home thanks to our talented activity specialists.

upside down climbing girl
Hanging out at the alpine tower.

In addition to signing up for archery, jewelry making, and swimming, campers can audition for the play and take play practice as an activity. If you have been following the blog so far this summer, you already know the play this year is the Little Mermaid! The play is one of the most eagerly awaited events at camp, because the campers and play directors work all session towards their performance on the final day. Today, auditions began at 2nd free swim in the Hillside Lodge, and campers were lining up on the porch waiting for their chance to try out. At camp, anyone who tries out for the play gets a part—all you have to do is sing a song of your choice! The more the merrier is how we see it at camp; especially with the Little Mermaid, you can never have too many fish!

Our first full day of camp ended with excitement in the dining hall. After announcements, we played a round of Spin the Wheel! On the wall near the door to the kitchen in a white board wheel on which there are written various prizes. If a camper or counselor is lucky enough to be the last one standing after several elimination rounds (i.e. stay standing if you are wearing a friendship bracelet), then they may spin the wheel. Today, Senior 4 won Dress a Director, so tomorrow they will announce which director they want to dress up and when. Spin the Wheel is just one of the many fun surprises awaiting us this 3rd session. As they say, 3rd time’s the charm!

To conclude our blog, please enjoy this haiku from our Waterfront Director, Audrey:

First full day at camp 

Play auditions—sing a song!

Spin the wheel, spin the…

teen girl friends at camp
Enjoying free time with friends and flowers.

Answering Questions

Today we all felt the thrill of opening a new session of camp. The Rockbrook cabin counselors, specialist activity instructors, and directors all assembled for the third time this summer to welcome a new bunch of enthusiastic girls to the “heart of a wooded mountain.” It was a gorgeous morning, cool and foggy, when we opened the gate for cars to make their way up the gravel driveway, and the check-in process to begin unfolding. Once again, there was more eagerness than uncertainty, more excitement than apprehension, on the girls’ faces when they arrived for their session. These girls weren’t hesitating though; they were ready to jump right into life at camp. As the sun warmed up the morning, and the last few parents made their way back to the parking area, we could finally get things started, our patient anticipation finally satisfied. Camp!

Girls dressed as twins at summer camp
laughing swimming girls

The rest of the day we started answering questions, all kinds of questions. Already, we learned where our cabin was located, who were the other girls in our cabin (a mix of old and new friends!), and who our counselors would be for the next few weeks. At the assembly on the hill, we met this session’s line heads, directors, Hi-Ups, and camp dog Felix. We learned, or had our memories clarified, about the camp song, what to do when we hear the camp bell or the lightning warning horn.

At lunch, we had our dining hall questions answered: Where does our cabin sit? What can we find on the salad bars? Where are the vegetarian and gluten-free options, the peanut butter and jelly station, the extra fruit, and supply of milk? What happens when the Hi-Ups ring their bell and begin singing a funny camp song? Who makes the announcements at the end of the meal, and what is that wheel on the wall? How do we clean our tables and take care of the dishes at the end of meals?

Our afternoon was filled with tours of the camp, a chance for everyone to take a dip in the lake to demonstrate their swimming ability, and an assembly in the gym for a series of counselor skits presenting the different activities available at camp this session. We found out how refreshingly cool the lake feels, where the activities meet around camp, and which staff members will be teaching the various activities. It was exciting to learn, for example, that the camp musical this session will be the Little Mermaid and that auditions for specific parts would begin on Monday.

Parents may have questions too— How do I send my daughter an email? Where can I see the daily photos of camp? What do I do if I receive a troubling letter about her feeling homesick at times? All of these questions (and more!) are answered in the parents section of our Web site, but you can always give our office a call to talk with someone too.

It’s been a great opening day, the girls already adjusting to the rhythms of camp. All of this energy ready to launch, we’re set for an excellent few weeks!

sunny day swimming at camp