Enthusiasm for Adventure

I’ve been away the last few days taking our 10th grade campers, those we call “Hi-Ups,” on a 3-day adventure trip. The Hi-Ups are the girls who help manage the dining hall at camp, setting tables and clearing dirty dishes to rack them and send them to the dishwashers in the kitchen. With close to 300 people eating in the dining hall at any particular meal, there are a lot of dishes, flatware, and serving bowls to handle… three times a day. Hi-Ups work hard! The Hi-Ups have their own special cabin “high up” in the camp, have a few extra privileges and more freedom to enjoy their favorite parts of camp. Toward the end of their session, they take a break on “the 3-day.”

camp blindfold climbing

The exact details of this trip is a secret, making it a fun surprise for the girls going. I can’t say much about it other than it’s both exciting and relaxing. It includes swimming, hiking, camping, and climbing. At different times the girls are laughing, singing, and lounging, and they’re feeling elated, maybe a little scared, and exhilarated. They come face to face with incredible beauty and real physical challenges. Part of the trip is truly thrilling. We always end up a little scratched, maybe with a bruise or two, and solidly tired from the whole experience. And the girls, absolutely LOVE it. If you’re the parent of a Hi-Up, I hope you’ll hear some stories of the adventure.

I’m always amazed by the enthusiasm for adventure Rockbrook girls have. This Hi-Up trip proves it many times over, but there are countless examples punctuating everyone’s regular life at camp. Tying into a rope and climbing a tower blindfolded, zooming through the trees tethered to a zip line pulley, sliding down a 60-ft natural waterslide— all are examples that come to mind. Camping in the woods, paddling a whitewater kayak or canoe through moving water, and balancing high on a tiny rock ledge are also good examples. The girls at camp are taking full advantage of these opportunities. They almost seem to crave the thrills, the exhilarating fun they provide.

Why this appetite, though? Sure, these activities are “fun” or a “blast,” but is there something else that makes them more attractive while your girls are at camp? I think there is.

summer camp hammock nest

As I mentioned, I think the Rockbrook community makes girls more courageous because it provides unconditional support and genuine encouragement. Camp folks aren’t competing or judging each other based on abilities or ranked results. Instead, everyone at camp is facing challenges, trusting their abilities as they try new things, and finding supportive friends along the way. Together, there’s an energy at camp that spins up and toward adventure, a kind of collective power bolstering us to dive in. When those around you are excited to go rock climbing, you might be too. When the whole camp is spraying themselves with shaving cream and launching themselves down a sheet of plastic, it suddenly seems like exactly the right thing to do. In this kind of community, it soon becomes clear how it doesn’t really matter if you climb to the top of the rock, so it’s more fun to give it a try. It’s fun no matter what the outcome.

kids taking care of horse

Maybe we can put it like this; “kids are more adventurous when they’re part of a supportive community.” They’re less likely to let uncertainty stop them from pursuing a goal. The community makes things safer, more focused on what’s positive about a new experience, and less concerned about winning or perfection. This kind of camp community makes it easier for young people to keep a “growth mindset” that pursues novel challenges, and thereby to keep learning, expanding their experiences, and deepening who they are.

I may be repeating myself here, but camp is great in this way. It has a unique power to be fun but also truly formative by proving to girls that challenging experiences, adventures, are positive things. Instead of stepping back, go after opportunities to challenge yourself. There are surprising rewards for those who try. At camp, your girls are not just learning to climb or paddle (that’s kinda not the point), they’re nurturing an aspect of their personality that tells them “I can do it.” “I can get better at this.” That’s a habit I think we want all of our kids to develop.

And finally, I would say the kind of supportive community we have at camp is something we should strive to create in our schools as well. After all, we want all children to develop this approach to adventure, toward experiences that are new and challenging. We want them to seek out opportunities to explore, feel confident to experiment, and know they’re OK no matter how they “perform.” It’s the process of learning and growing that matters. I’ve seen a focus on community make a big difference at camp. Camp girls are stronger. They’re more confident and courageous. They can do so many amazing things. And they’re happy and excited doing them. I wish every child could become like that. Don’t you?

crazy hair summer camp teens

Second Session Highlights Video – Part 3

We have another short video for you! Robbie Francis of FrancisFilmworks spent a day at camp earlier this week filming and now he’s put together a wonderful glimpse into life this session. Robbie has a real talent for capturing the special moments at camp— the girls happily doing their activities, bopping around camp, and just enjoying each others company.

The video shows lots of laughter, moments of concentration and accomplishment, and so many, many smiles.

Take a look! We think you’ll enjoy these 2 minutes immensely.

Biltmore Train

It’s long been a theme of mine to point out how camp is different from life at home. It obviously is. After all, that’s why you send your girls. You want them to have the sort of unique experiences camp provides— opportunities to explore, worry-free time with friends, a break from technology, more fun, etc. There’s no doubt that what girls do at camp, what they get at camp, how they feel at camp, is different than their lives at home. We love that Rockbrook provides a strong sense of community, regular moments of adventure and creativity, genuine kindness practiced and received, constant face-to-face communication, and all in a beautiful setting and among really great people. It’s worth identifying these differences because I believe they are what make camp not only delightful and often surprising, but also inherently educational and formative. How a particular difference makes a difference is usually interesting to consider.

ice cream summer camp staff
ice cream cone girl

So I’m always on the look out for ways that camp life differs from the “real world.” A good example happened today after lunch when we surprised the girls with the “Biltmore Train.” This is a special event that’s become a tradition of sorts at Rockbrook, something that many of the returning campers look forward to each year. Its name is derived from the Biltmore Estate, the property near Asheville built by George Vanderbilt between 1889 and 1895. The estate originally included a working farm, and a commercial dairy that would deliver milk products to local businesses. On a regular basis, a truck from the Biltmore Dairy would come to Rockbrook to bring milk products, in particular, ice cream. These trucks were decorated with a train motif, probably as a nod to the Vanderbilt family’s ties to the railroad business in America. It soon became a tradition for Rockbrook girls to meet the truck/train as it pulled into camp, and enjoy a cone of Biltmore ice cream right there on the spot.

The Biltmore dairy has since closed (It has a become a winery and tourist destination.), but we still celebrate the memory by holding an all-camp ice cream party once per session. But there’s a twist. The girls are allowed to have “unlimited” scoops of ice cream, but they only get one cone. Their strategy is to carefully (and quickly!) eat the ice cream out of the cone, and get back in line for a refill. Eat ice cream, not cone, and repeat… making a train! With each trip though, the cone begins to disintegrate, ultimately becoming a soggy blob incapable of holding any more ice cream. For the determined, it’s possible to end up with four or even five scoops. There’s a rumor that someone once ate 15 scoops, but I think that’s impossible.

summer camp ice cream party
ice cream eating campers

Today’s Biltmore Train after lunch was exciting and fun. We had three stations set up, each with three different tubs of different flavors. This shortened the lines, and spread out the significant work our counselors did hand scooping all those cones. In the sunny and warm afternoon, the girls had a blast refilling their cones, chatting and laughing. As the cones softened, they also got a little messy, hands and faces becoming stained and sticky. But that too was part of the fun.

I asked a couple of campers if they were enjoying the event, and one said, “Oh yeah, I love ice cream!” Another, older camper said, “yes, but I’m only getting 2 scoops. That’s enough for me. You might wish for unlimited ice cream, but when you get it, it’s too much.”

How insightful! A big part of the fun of the Biltmore Train is the chance to eat multiple scoops of ice cream. Different from home where parents wisely put a limit on such a sugary treat, the campers can have their wishes for more come true at camp. But with those wishes come the consequences of getting messy and perhaps having a stomach ache. Too much of a good thing, and it can easily become bad. Or at least uncomfortable!

The Biltmore Train event is another opportunity at camp for the girls to make their own decisions, in this case how much ice cream to eat. It’s strange and exciting in its excess, but at the same time a little serious because it can end up making you feel bad if you go too far. It’s a decision of degree, of “how much” rather than “yes or no.”

It’s great to see the girls play with this decision, and to gain some experience that will help them down the road, both in knowing how much ice cream is too much, and in knowing that some decisions are matters of degree. I suspect most of the campers don’t appreciate this aspect of the Biltmore Train at camp, but it appears that some do… sticky faces and all.

summer camp kids making heart

Eagerly Every Day

First, we have a camper service announcement: Please send more mail.

Send more mail to camp

As these campers are happy to spell the word “mail,” and to provide explicit instructions, “send me some,” everyone at camp thinks about receiving mail at least once a day. Everyone has a mailbox, and after lunch each day, we all head to the dining hall porch. Hundreds of heads bend down and peer into the grid of small wooden boxes mounted on the wall, each hoping someone has sent them something. Since everyone is checking their mail at the same time, it feels good for the girls to have something—an email, a postcard, or an envelop containing a proper letter —waiting in this box. And sadly, it feels a bit disappointing to find it empty.

Unfortunately, our local Post Office can easily become overwhelmed in the summer with 14 summer camps suddenly boosting the volume of mail it handles. Delays are practically guaranteed. But don’t let that discourage you! Use First Class postage and get something out. In addition, take some time and send your girls an email. It’s a free service that we hope you’ll utilize because we know how much it means to the girls here. We hope you can make some time to send some mail soon! Every day!

Today was twin day at camp. In addition to celebrating the actual twins attending camp at the moment (I think there are four sets, currently), this theme for the day encouraged the girls to pick a friend and dress similarly. Matching t-shirts and hair styles were the most common way to identify your camp twin. In some ways, it’s easy to find a twin at camp. There are lots of other girls your age, and odds are, you’ve got some Rockbrook gear in common. Wear this year’s sweatshirt, put your hair in a ponytail, and boom! Instant twins! Even triplets!

challenge course climbing pair

Here’s a photo that might need some explanation. It’s two girls about 25 feet up in the air on our climbing challenge tower. Known as an “Alpine Tower,” this log structure forms two pyramids, one inverted on the other. It’s designed to have multiple climbers ascending at the same time, all trying to reach a platform 50 feet above the ground. There are different climbing elements and obstacles on the tower’s 3 sides, each requiring the climbers to lean, balance and pull up in different ways. This photo shows two girls leaning on each other’s hands while balancing on two poles that diverge as the girls step to their left. The goal is to make it to the end without falling. Of course, the girls are always on belay as soon as they leave the ground, so falling means being held up by a harness and rope. Reaching the ends takes balance, strength and nerve. It feels very unnatural to lean like that, especially when high in the air. But that’s the challenge! And these girls did it!

summer camp learning canoeing

Canoeing is one of those outdoor activities that can stick with a person and be something she enjoys the rest of her life. It’s been an activity at Rockbrook since day one, with generations of camp girls learning their strokes on our small in-camp lake and then venturing out for trips onto lakes and rivers nearby. Even for the youngest girls, the Juniors, can learn to paddle a canoe, keep it moving in a straight line and turning it on command. The girls who choose paddling as one of their activities work with the paddling instructors and do just that. Some of the canoeing trips are overnight trips where the girls pack camping gear in their canoes as well. This week a group paddled a section of the French Broad river closer to Asheville, spending the night before finishing their paddle the next day. Camping and canoeing together. An extra adventure!

By rope and by paddle, we’re seeing Rockbrook girls seize opportunities for adventure. They’re backpacking and hiking too, hitting the trails to explore and camp. They’re sliding down mountain streams to plunge into a chilly pool, and they’re flying through the trees on the camp zip line. Encountering adventure at camp is almost expected. Like opportunities to relax, to laugh and sing, and to enjoy the company of really good friends, it’s just what we do at Rockbrook. Eagerly and every day.

female summer camp pals

Anything But Ordinary

When you hear the morning bell at Rockbrook, you can picture parts of your day right away. You probably know what activities you’re going to take, you know at what times you’ll eat, and you’ll pull yourself awake knowing that rest hour is coming in the middle part of the day. You’ll probably have a suspicion that you’ll laugh a lot during the day, that someone will do something kind for you, that you’ll go to sleep at night with a different camp song stuck in your head.

cute camp swim girls
camp tetherball buddies

But for all that you do know as you start thinking about today, there’s also a rush of excitement realizing there’s so much you do not know about the day, and it’s rife with possibility. There is a novelty and liveliness about each day that makes getting up that much easier, as you anticipate all of the paths the day might take.

Today was dotted with these unexpected moments. It happens when you hear the music start mid-breakfast and a flash mob suddenly begins, dancing in step to carefully choreographed dances and keeping it secret from the rest of us until just the moment when we’re least expecting it. The dining hall goes wild, delighted by the impressive entertainment that has made this meal extra joyful.

You go to your first activity and you throw some clay on the wheel. It’s harder than you imagined, but you find it calming all the while. After, news is traveling up and down the hill quickly about the muffin flavor. You’re somewhat used to this, but there is a unique enthusiasm in the way that people tell you: mint chocolate chip! A camp favorite, and something you look forward to throughout the year. As you wait in the muffin line, you realize that your shoes are exactly the same as the person in front of you. You start talking about the colors and why you chose them, and you have an inkling that a new friendship has been formed. You step back and think about how this happens so much here–some of the best friends of your life may not have been made because they were your bunkmate, but just as a happy accident of playing next to each other in the creek or sitting next to each other in the lodge. Making friends is easier here, maybe because you’re away from your phone and you’re engaged in more conversations, maybe because people are just a little gentler here, softer, wanting to be your friend, too, and maybe this will help you realize that you can make friends easier away from camp, too.

zipline summer camp group

It was just announced that your cabin is zip lining for second period, and before you know it, you’re soaring through the trees, the sound of the zipline intermingling with the rush of the nearby waterfall. When you’re nervous about crossing a bridge to get to the next zip line, your best friend reassures you that you can do it, and that confidence and care warms you from the inside out.

You go to lunch and after, you have a note in your mailbox that’s written by a kind stranger saying simply, “You’re Awesome!” and you think about how special this place is that someone would be thoughtful enough to write this. After rest hour, you have cabin day, and your cabin is doing an egg drop. You and your cabinmates have never thought so hard about how to keep a little egg from breaking, but you work to construct the best parachute that you can come up with. Using bubble wrap, sparkly pipe cleaners, and string, you fashion the best protection you can for your little egg before dropping it off the balcony of a lodge. Yours is safe in the landing, no yoke visible, and you feel a rush of victory that comes from a mission well accomplished.

camp egg drop group

As dinner approaches, you are enthralled by the rush of energy that the dining hall is filled with tonight, delighted when the Hi-Ups bring back the Banana Song and you sing “Go Bananas!” loudly while dancing around in a circle. You spend a few minutes at twilight rolling down the hill with your friends, a cabinmate’s idea that just looks fun, and then you sing your favorite camp songs while waiting for evening program to begin.

The day ends with you watching the splendor of a dramatic sunset lighting up the sky, surrounded by the deep blues of clouds, the orange and pink shining through. And you think about how well-lived this day was, and know that there none of your others will be just like it. Maybe it was a normal day at camp for you–a routine you anticipated, a predictable structure. And yet when you look back on it, it was special. Today brought you closer to friends, it made you feel more connected to the Rockbrook community, there were delights you never could have anticipated and wouldn’t trade for anything. Because at Rockbrook, you realize, there simply aren’t ordinary days.

girl summer camp crafts

Permission to Relax

Let’s take a quick look at camp “free time.” If you’ve seen the Rockbrook daily schedule, you’ll notice there are three main blocks when the girls are not scheduled to be at a certain activity, meal, or age group gathering— “First Free Swim” right before lunch, “Second Free Swim” right before dinner, and “Twilight” right after dinner. The idea behind all this free time is to avoid over scheduling the campers’ days (something that’s pretty common the rest of the year) and to provide them with even more opportunities to decide for themselves how to fill their days. We think it adds significantly to that great feeling of freedom the girls love about camp.

summer camp running club

How the campers spend their free time is fascinating. It varies widely. They have the whole camp at their disposal, and while certain activities that require skilled instruction or special supervision for safety reasons are closed, many areas are open. So we provide lots of options, but don’t require any particular thing. For example, the girls can finish craft projects in one the many craft areas if they like. They can visit the tennis courts to practice serving or the gym to shoot some hoops, and of course the lake is staffed for those who might want to swim or cool off with a ride down the waterslide.

There are a couple of organized clubs that meet during the First Free Swim. One is the “Rockbrook Runners” running club. Anyone interested can meet at Hiker’s Rock near the dining hall and join the group as they head out on a 2-mile loop through the woods of camp. Some folks run, and others walk. It’s a gathering of all age groups and abilities. For those dedicated runners, logging 26 miles (13 for mini session campers) earns them a spot in the “Marathon Club.”

Another club meets at the lake for a different form of exercise— swimming laps. Here too, the goal is for anyone interested to swim a certain number of laps and be inducted into the “Mermaid Club.” There are different amounts of laps that each age group needs to swim to be deemed a “mermaid,” but when they complete the number, the lifeguards announce their name in the dining hall. This is true for all of the various club achievements; we recognize members during the announcements that follow a meal.

It’s also common for campers to use these free swim periods to meet up with friends from different cabins or even different age groups. They’ll meet at one of the tetherball courts, the gagaball pit, or the new nine square in the air court. The youngest girls have fun during free time playing in the creek by Curosty. They’ll take their shoes off and wade in the water, rearranging rocks to make waterfalls and currents. Others will grab their crazy creek chairs and sit on the hill reading. It’s the same for the many red rocking chairs on all the porches at camp; they’re great places to relax and read a book.

During the after-dinner “twilight” time, we always schedule some kind of optional activity. It varies from playing a huge game of dodgeball in the gym to a hula hooping contest on the hill. Last night, a couple of counselors led a session of joke telling, essentially a group stand up comedy show. The counselors take turns leading these twilight activities, so you never know what will be announced at dinner.

Perhaps the best thing, however, to do with this free time is to take advantage of the freedom and simply do nothing. Yep, it’s nice for these campers to give themselves permission to just relax with no expectations of productivity or progress. Some of the older girls love this. They take showers, hang out and talk, and just soak in the vibe of camp… completely at their leisure. Like that resort vacation where you spend all day at the pool ignoring other amenities and activities, these girls enjoy just being at camp with their friends. That’s the core experience for them, and it’s made even better somehow during their free time. For them, it might be “free,” but that makes even more valuable.

small camp girls in costume

How to Help Kids Develop Courage

You’re probably not surprised, but my answer points to camp. I believe life at summer camp, especially at a place like Rockbrook, provides unique experiences that show kids how to approach things more courageously. It gives them daily opportunities to act bravely and to develop the confidence to be courageous in the future.

A conversation with a longtime camper yesterday evening got me thinking along these lines. At one point she came right out and said it. She said, “I’m always more confident and brave when I get back from camp.” Isn’t that great!? She continued, “at camp, I figure out how to be my best self, even though that’s hard at home.” Wow! Doubly great!

I do think Rockbrook’s unique culture and setting is ideal for developing positive character traits. Thinking of that motto, to be “kind, silly and brave,” camp provides a special form of encouragement, and loads of role models, for everyone here to practice and realize their kindness, silliness, and bravery.

We already know that camp teaches kindness, and practicing being kind is a practical strategy for being happier. The spirit of the Rockbrook community is rooted in this emphasis on kindness, caring and generosity. It’s the starting point for almost everything we do. Be kind! We also know that being silly, again something central to Rockbrook, helps us feel more comfortable being true to ourselves. At camp, there’s applause for your zany costume, cheers for the outrageous character you invented for a skit, and unrestrained affirmation for “you being you” all day long. Be silly!

But to complete the phrase— “Be kind, Be silly, Be brave” —what can we say about camp teaching kids to be brave? How does camp inspire children to develop courage?

Most explicitly, we are encouraging our kids to be brave simply by sending them to camp. We’re placing them in a new environment where they are, on their own, doing new things. It takes courage for a child to leave the safety and familiarity of home, mom’s food, comfortable private spaces, and nowadays for teenagers, the security of their personal smartphones. Camp is so utterly different from life at home, it’s by definition challenging and can easily be uncertain and scary. There are bound to be social challenges at camp too, lots of unfamiliar people to encounter and learn to be friends with. But at camp, all of this is completely normal, expected and encouraged. It’s supposed to be different from home in these ways; and that’s what makes it great!

Simply being here proves to girls, they can do it. Even when they are feeling scared, they can overcome challenges on their own. They can makes friends even when they don’t know anyone. They can try that homemade quinoa salad (it might be good!). They can entertain themselves by being creative even without their smartphones. They can share a room with nine other people, help clean up common spaces, and be interested in how other people are doing. They can sign up for a painting class even if they’re a little afraid they’re “no good at art.” They can let themselves be silly performing a skit in front of 100 people. Kids are courageous by simply being at camp. They prove their bravery by living their camp life.

summer camp rock climbing
Camp Whitewater Kayaking

This is also true with respect to many of the activities at camp. They take courage just to give them a try! Take rock climbing. Not only is it physically demanding to pull yourself up a steep rock face using just your feet and fingers, it’s scary to be up that high in the air. You have to be brave to overpower your fear of heights with concentration and determination. We can point to whitewater kayaking in a similar way. It takes nerve to strap into a tiny boat, and using just your skills and a paddle, face the power of moving whitewater. The risk of capsizing is constant, but here too, camp girls are facing it bravely. Every adventure activity requires courage since the outcome always includes some degree of uncertainty. Through these activities girls learn to tap into their courageous spirit when needed.

The art activities at camp teach another important lesson about courage. The girls learn that being “perfect” is not the goal, that “messing up” is OK because what’s most important is the process of doing. Art at camp is done for “the fun of it,” for the joy of creative expression, and for the guaranteed novelty of the experience. There’s really no way to “fail,” so camp art projects do wonders to lessen any “fear of failure” a child might harbor. It still takes courage to pick up a paint brush, since again, there’s no telling how your efforts to paint will turn out. But making that decision to try is the most important step.

It’s also important that camp is a place where children make their own decisions. Throughout their day, they are faced with choices, and after considering what different options entail, live with the consequences of what they decide. This agency is truly empowering and a great source of self confidence. Making decisions independently, and having them turn out fine, gives kids real life evidence that even in times of uncertainty, they can be brave and make a choice. They can lean in rather than shy away. Choosing what activities to take, weighing how to spend their free time, deciding to stand up for themselves in a difficult social encounter, making the leap to help someone, consciously just taking care of things— these are all camp experiences where girls show their bravery and prove they’re powerful.

In all these ways, kids are brave at camp. Different perhaps from at home, here they find themselves in situations that require courage and still, they act. They face their fears and tackle adventure. They learn that it’s OK to make mistakes and try again. They make countless decisions for themselves moving through a complex social landscape.

So what is it about camp that helps kids do all this? Yes, they’re acting bravely while here, but what’s special about camp life that gives them this nerve?

Here again, I think we can point to the camp community and its values as the source of this power to inspire bravery. It starts with a very explicit ethic to be nice, to be friendly, supportive and accepting. Rockbrook is also a place free from competition, and instead champions enthusiastic cooperation, genuine communication and joyful participation. Essentially, the camp community stands behind everyone here making the consequences of being brave (of doing uncertain things) less worrisome. There’s less to be afraid of when we’re not competing, when creativity is valued over perfection, and when we have friends by our side. Kids are brave at camp because we’re all being brave together, proving to each other that everything’s fine.

But when this kind of community support is missing, as it tends to be outside of camp, it’s of course more difficult to be brave. There’s simply more trepidation in the real world of competition, prejudice, and pressures to perform. Our hope though is that, like the camper who told me she’s more courageous right after camp, all of your girls too will have strengthened their nerve while they’re at Rockbrook. We hope they’ll remember all the new things they’ve accomplished, all the challenges they’ve overcome, and all the decisions they’ve made successfully— all on their own, independently from their parents. Seeing your girls be this brave at camp, you’d be very proud. Seeing their courage at home, even more so.

Real Camp Friends

A Parade of Smiles

Arriving at camp, as our 2nd July mini session campers did today, is always exciting. For this particular session, it was exciting for the campers arriving, after all they’ve been waiting a long time for this day, but it’s also exciting for all of us already at camp because we’ll be seeing old friends returning to camp as well as plenty of new people to meet.

carrying trunk on camp move in day
two camp counselors

The evidence for this was written on so many faces this morning. It was literally a parade of smiles… smiling parents as they saw the enthusiasm of the Rockbrook staff, smiling campers as they began to pick up the friendly vibe of camp, and smiling counselors eager to meet their newly arrived campers. The counselors really look forward to meeting their campers. After only seeing their profile photos, it’s so much better to finally meet the girls and begin to understand their personalities.

Of course, the arriving campers are looking forward to everything. They are eager to meet their cabin mates, even if that can also be a little nerve wracking for some. Entering any new social setting carries a little uncertainty, but it doesn’t take long for girls to realize that people at camp are nice. They’re kind, and want to be your friend, so that calms any nervousness that might be bubbling up.

Our drive thru check-in process worked smoothly, with most families only waiting short while to make their way through all the stations. Thank you for your patience!

By noon, everyone had arrived and the girls were busy setting up their cabins and getting to know each other. Meanwhile, the full session campers had gone to chapel, where the Senior girls led everyone in a program on the theme of “Nature.” Being at camp means immersing yourself in nature, getting to feel its forces, and personally experiencing its nuances. Camp is a place where nature is a daily participant, rather than something we shield ourselves from. How that affects us, and what that might mean, are interesting questions to think about. And what better place to do that than camp?

As we sat to eat Rick’s famous comfort food lunch— homemade mac-n-cheese, sautéed veggies, and fresh blueberries and blackberries —the weather turned a little rainy, and it looked like the forecast was intermittent rain for the rest of the day.

camp girls swimming towels

This delayed our swimming demonstrations a bit, but we were still able to fit most of them in between rainy spells. These “swim demos” are a way for campers to show our waterfront staff how comfortable they are in the water, swimming and treading water without difficulty. Doing that earns everyone a colored tag for the tag board, which is a system we use to keep a tally of swimmers when the lake is open. It was still a little misty throughout the “demos,” so the chilly lake water was even more surprising for the girls. But the crowd was just as encouraging and the lifeguards just as supportive of everyone taking their mountain dip. I’m sure those dry towels felt really good afterwards!

Our afternoon activity was an all-camp event we held in the gym (again, to avoid the rain of the day)— a reptile show. This was a fascinating close encounter with several different snakes, a tortoise (a 50-year-old red footed tortoise named Rex), and a detailed presentation of “ophiology,” the study of snakes.

surprised camp girl touching a snake

What did we learn? Mostly, that snakes are really cool! The campers learned the difference between a poisonous snake (don’t eat it or touch it) and a venomous snake (don’t let it bite you). They learned that snakes are often misunderstood. They’re not “slimy,” and they won’t attack human beings unless threatened or provoked. We heard that some snakes will play dead if near a predator, and others will run away. The girls were able to see, and touch! if they were so brave, a 4-ft long boa constrictor from Columbia, a 5-ft long grey banded rat snake, an eastern hog nosed snake, and a yellow rat snake named Josie that looked like an over-ripe banana. Girls had questions too. “Is it true that you can tell the age of a rattlesnake by its rattle?” No. “Have you ever been bit by a snake?” Yes, but it wasn’t venomous so it wasn’t bad. “Can I touch?” Yes, please do!

Our hope is that the girls are now a little more informed about snakes, more curious about them, and possibly less frightened by them. At camp, we caution the girls to stay away from any snake they might see, and to alert a counselor. If the snake is venomous, we have a special tool one of the directors can use to catch it, and remove it from camp. We won’t kill a snake, just release it somewhere farther away from the people at camp. After today’s presentation, I think the girls do have a new respect and admiration for snakes, but also an understanding about being cautious around them.

Life Lessons, Silly String and Llamas

A couple of camper dads sent me a link to an article in the Wall Street Journal about summer camp. It’s an interesting memoir of sorts by Rich Cohen entitled, “The Life Lessons of Summer Camp: The Enduring Frontier.” The article is behind a paywall requiring a subscription to read it, but I thought a couple of the points it makes are worth highlighting, mostly because they apply to Rockbrook as well. I really appreciate the fondness he has for his years at camp, and the long lasting impact those years have had on him as an adult. He claims, “Everything important I know, I learned at camp.”

summer camp girl woodworker

He’s not talking about the things he learned in his activities, like how to shoot archery or roll a kayak. He means more important things like being a stronger person, being independent enough to solve his own problems, and confident enough to “face new situations, read hierarchies, make my way among strangers, [and be] able to adapt.”

I’d say similar things for the girls at Rockbrook. As an adult, they might be able to remember how to weave on a loom or shape a wooden cutting board, but what’s important is their learning to be a good friend through kindness, to be more independent and confident when facing new things, and to be more comfortable being who they really are. There are many of these deeper lessons learned at camp.

Cohen’s article also summarizes the history of summer camps in America from its earliest example, the camp established in 1861 by Frederick Gunn, through the many camps established in the early 1900s devoted to “character building” and time outdoors closer to nature. Camps have of course changed over the years— shorter sessions, better food, and way more photos being taken —but the core experience of camp remains the same.

“[Camp is] still not home. It’s still no parents. It’s still new people. It’s still the woods. It’s still the world. It’s still 15 bodies in a bunk, stiff beds, wool blankets, no TV, rank odor, fungus, bugs, pranks, bed-wetters, summer friends, dark nights and star-filled skies. It’s still your best chance of getting them away from the phones and screens. It’s still paradisiacal and green. And it’s still what we need— now more than ever.”

silly string attacking director

“Spin the wheel! Spin the wheel!” That’s a shout we hear now and then in the dining hall. It’s a call for us to play a game that selects a lucky person to come forward and spin a “prize wheel” we have mounted on the wall. Somewhat like the wheel that was spun on the old game show “The Price is Right,” when the wheel is spun, a clicker lands on a space indicating a particular “prize.” For us, it might be “free toothbrush,” “joyride on the golf cart,” or the most coveted, “trip to Dolly’s.” This past week a Senior cabin won “Mystery” on their spin of the wheel. What was the mystery prize? Spraying me with silly string! Yes, apparently that is big fun for these campers to each empty a can of silly string on me, spraying me as I sat in a chair. Other campers and staff watched and cheered as the sticky string built up all over me. Like so many things at camp, it was fun and funny, a little bit messy, and something everyone enjoyed. I bet it’s also something we’ll all remember for a long time!

The other surprise of the day was a visit from six fascinating furry creatures— llamas! We met this visiting herd down at the land sports field where we learned each llama’s name and a little bit about their temperament. We took the llamas for a walk, pet them, and fed them some hay. The girls also ran with the llamas, racing them across the grassy field. It was great fun to be this close to them, to even give them a hug. Of course, we took lots of photos trying to capture how excited the girls were about the experience. After all, how often do you get to hang out with llama? It was an unexpected thrill for most everyone.

llama sitting with girls

Second Session Highlights Video – Part Two

We have the next example of Robbie Francis of FrancisFilmworks working his filming and editing magic. Robbie was here earlier this week filming, and now we have this wonderful glimpse into life at camp. We love seeing the sweet mood of camp… so much action, so much friendship, and so many happy girls!

My favorite part is the camper yelling “I love camp!” as she flies down the zipline.

Take a look, and let us know what you think.

P.S. If you missed last week’s video, here it is.