Robbie Francis of FrancisFilmworks worked his filming and editing magic again this week to produce another short video for us. He spent the day last Thursday filming, and now we have this wonderful glimpse into life at camp. The video does a great job of depicting the mood of camp… so much action and so many happy girls!
Tonight we witnessed how these Rockbrook girls know how to let loose! After dinner and signing up for next week’s activities, we had an all-camp shaving cream fight and slip-n-slide dance party down on the grassy sports field. It has a gently sloping area for the long sheet of plastic, a couple of water hoses to keep it slick, and a large area for everyone to romp around in.
First we piled up about 150 cans of shaving cream (not menthol!). We lay out the slip-n-slide plastic and soaped it up a bit. We got a water sprinkler going. We set up our sound system. Add a bunch of excited camp girls, and you have a shaving cream fight!
They came dressed in their swimsuits and wearing their water shoes. They tossed their towels in a pile, grabbed a can of shaving cream and were off!
Some first sprayed a little of the foam on themselves, as if testing the can. But most immediately began chasing someone else, can outstretched ready to fire away. Of course, that’s exactly the point, emptying every can of shaving cream on everyone there. Frolic with the foam! Squirt it, slather it, and smear it everywhere and on everyone.
Yes, there’s running to get away from an attacking friend, but really, everyone realizes its fun to slow down just enough to be caught and splattered with the white slippery stuff.
The mood is complete hilarity, laughter turned up as high as it will go. Laughing perhaps as hard as they have ever laughed. There’s a mischievous twinkle in their eyes as they sneak up on people with a handful of shaving cream, ready to strike. There’s also a sly grin as the girls enjoy themselves, since getting this messy is ordinarily “not allowed” at home.
And messy it is! Unavoidably so. In about 5 minutes, there’s white foam everywhere— no person unscathed. Getting the shaving cream in your hair is part of the fun. Friends help each other with that goal, and soon there are mohawk styles, helmets of foam, twists and random blobs decorating almost everyone’s head. Some of the littlest girls made it a goal to cover every inch of themselves with shaving cream, while some of the oldest girls want to draw on each other and pose for a group photo.
Throughout this “fight,” the girls would take turns sliding down that sheet of plastic. All that shaving cream covering them made the ride fast and easy. Yes, messy here too, as the water and foam sprayed up during each slide. Some of the girls really loved the slip-n-slide, taking ride after ride.
Even though we made participating in all of this optional, this was one of the largest shaving cream fights I can remember. It was most popular with the Middlers and Juniors, but there were plenty of Senior girls enjoying the event as well. All-ages fun!
As the sun was setting and the many cans of foamed had been emptied, a few girls took their last ride down the slip-n-slide as others began hosing off. The temperature was dropping and these girls needed a warm shower.
Letting loose like this with your friends feels really good. It’s all smiles from the girls because I think it taps into a basic urge to be completely silly and experience a moment free from regular decorum. It’s the messiness of it all. We can’t be messy like this ordinarily, so when we can, it’s hilarious and fun. There’s really no other feeling quite like a shaving cream fight at camp.
The other night I had a conversation with our current CITs, the “counselors in training” who help at camp each session. There are 7 of them this session and they are all 17 years old. These are folks who have been at camp for many years, growing up at Rockbrook, and now are ready to take their first step toward being a counselor, working directly with children. It’s fun to hear how they are liking the experience. I often just ask, “how are you finding it?” or “what’s been surprising about life as a CIT?”
One CIT answered, “I love how my campers are so real. They are so open and genuinely themselves.” Such a great description of what happens at camp! I think she meant, “compared to others I know,” these young kids are living a more authentic life. Compared to older people, these camp girls are more free to simply be kids, to not worry about things generally, and to romp through their day enthusiastically ready for anything.
I think this CIT was surprised by this because it was a new experience for her to spend this much time getting to know a group of younger children. Instead of kids, her world of high school students and adults seems less authentic, less open, less comfortable being OK with just being. It was interesting that this CIT admired her girls for this. She thought they were awesome! And I think, wished she could be that way too.
So how do these young campers do it? How do they live at this level? Do they have some kind of hidden strength? Some degree of moxie? Or, do they lack a certain maturity, seasoned insight into life, or assumptions about what is “correct” that most others possess? Or, can we attribute it to the environment of camp, the social landscape and culture they enjoy here?
We can probably assume all of these play a role for these kids.
They certainly do have inner strengths— a sense of curiosity toward the natural world, a playful energetic attitude that seems easy to apply, an inherent trust shown to everyone around them. Kids have a special power to laugh at almost anything. They can be entertained by almost anything, and be fascinated by the most “ordinary” things. Young children in particular are generally accepting and can make friends quickly and easily, happily able to join any group of other kids doing something together.
As we get older though, other tendencies take over. We begin to understand that praise and reward come from meeting certain standards and thus we feel some pressure to do that. We become aware of social expectations. We compare ourselves to others, making judgments about our self-worth. We learn what’s proper in various circumstances. We develop habits where convenience and comfort are the highest ideals. Each of these aspects of being an adult, it seems, work against the authenticity that CIT found remarkable about her campers. Kids have the joy of being themselves and ignoring most of this… while they’re kids.
I think the camp environment plays a role too, and helps even the older campers here tap back into their childhood spirit. Our camp culture provides a real sense of freedom to be your true self without too much social pressure, attention to “perfection,” or worry about being accepted. So much of the day at camp is self directed, girls have more opportunities to follow their own interests and explore everything camp has to offer. We encourage silliness, joyful experimentation, and giving things a try just for the fun of it. The girls can sense that Rockbrook is a place that applauds creativity, self-expression, and positive relationships. We’re not competing with each other or making comparisons to assign value. Instead, it’s a place that celebrates no matter what the outcome… no matter the winner or the weather.
When the power went out yesterday during a truly giant thunderstorm, first there were screams of surprise but then plenty of delightful laughter. We hunkered down in the dining hall, sang songs, and made a dash back to the cabins for an extended rest hour waiting for the storm to pass. Some of the adults were scrambling to make sure the generator was working properly (thankfully it was), but the kids were in the moment and having fun.
Rockbrook is a place to put aside some of the assumptions, concerns and habits of being a “grownup,” and to experience the freedom to unearth more essential ways of being your true self… your sense of wonder and joy, your compassion, and your optimism. It’s place for kids to be kids.
Of course, the older we get, the more difficult that can be, and we might not be capable of fully embracing the openness of childhood. Worry has a way of wiggling in. But camp has a special ability to move us closer to that childhood truth. It can provide an enticing glimpse into living life more authentically.
Perhaps, that’s another reason why we all love being at camp. I think it is.
It’s hard to beat a summertime trip to Sliding Rock. If you haven’t heard of the place, it’s a spot in the Pisgah National Forest where Looking Glass Creek flows over a sloping outcropping of granite. Over eons, as the creek has cascaded over the rock and splashed into a pool below, its surface has been worn (mostly) smooth. Fun seeking humans at some point discovered that a person could sit down at the top of the rock and have the force of the moving water send them accelerating down the rock ending in a splash at the bottom. The ride is 60 feet long!
Tonight we took a big group of Middlers and Seniors to Sliding Rock so that everyone could experience this classic summertime activity here in the mountains of North Carolina. Like last week, we loaded 6 buses and vans, filled them with 6 lifeguards and all their equipment (e.g. rescue tubes and a backboard), 18 counselors and the rest of the seats with campers. We again arrived “after hours” when the area is officially “closed.” This helps avoid the crowds common during the day and allows us to essentially “take over” the place with our own staff and procedures. Plus, when we show up, it’s quite a sight. We end up making a long line of excited girls, clapping and cheering for their friends as they slide two by two.
The sound of this crowd, plus the roar of what is essentially a waterfall, makes being there intensely exciting. There’s also the temperature of the water, which is typical of the mountain streams around here. It’s what some describe as “refreshing” and others as “shockingly cold.” Either way, the water provides an energizing jolt that seems to launch each ride into a scream inducing thrill.
Needless to say, the girls love Sliding Rock! Even the senior girls who have come to camp for years are excited to brave the slide again. It might be a little scary, and it’s definitely kind of chilly, but the overall feeling is not to be missed. One camper said she looks forward to sliding every year. Most of the girls want to slide multiple times, hopping right back in line after swimming out of the pool. In fact, if it wasn’t for the fading light of the evening, we’d slide for hours. But after everyone slid 3 or so times, it was too dark to continue.
But that wasn’t the end of our evening. There was one more stop to make, one that also has become a highlight for just about every girl who attends Rockbrook— a stop at Dolly’s Dairy Bar. The girls literally run from the buses to join the line to select their flavor. Dolly’s has unique combination flavors named after many of the area summer camps. For example there is “Gwynn Valley Vortex,” “High Rocks Arctic Slide,” and “Rockbrook Chocolate Illusion.” There is one flavor, “Chosatonga Cheer,” that has an intense blue color, so intense that it leaves your teeth and lips a distinctly blue tint. It’s fun to eat and apparently delicious too!
This was a night of great camp fun— singing camp songs in the bus, catching the adventure of sliding rock, and enjoying a yummy sweet ice cream treat. And all with loads of laughs and good vibes from dozens of friends. Such genuine exuberance! It can’t be beat.
Let’s take a quick look at whitewater rafting, because today was a rafting day for a big group of campers and counselors. Rafting at Rockbrook is a big deal. It’s easily the most popular outdoor adventure activity we offer. The Forest Service restricts us to girls who are 5th grade and older (our Middlers and Seniors), but almost everyone eligible chooses to go. Fortunately, Rockbrook has a permit to raft the Nantahala river (the only girls camp to have one!), so we can send everyone who wants to go, use our own guides and equipment, and schedule the trips at our convenience. We’ve been running whitewater rafting trips since the 1980s.
You can tell from these photos of todays trips that the girls have a complete blast rafting. They’re screaming and laughing with delight. They’re doing silly poses for the camera, making “high fives” with their paddles, for example. They’re sweating a bit from paddling, but also chilled by the splashing and spraying of the whitewater. They’re playful, silly and enthusiastic, especially when the weather is hot and sunny like it was today.
The best part of these trips, I’d say, is the real camaraderie that happens in each boat. For the entire 2-hour trip on the water, the girls are working together, chatting and sometimes singing together, and laughing hysterically whenever someone falls in (or out!) of the boat. As the boats get bounced around in the rapids, the passengers do too. One minute things are calm and scenic, and the next, someone is sprawled in the bottom of the boat with legs flailing, or is bobbing in the 53-degree river water clambering to get back into the raft. With these bright and upbeat attitudes, it’s hilarious and exciting at the same time.
The finale of the trip is the last rapid on the river, the Nantahala Falls. This is a fast, class-III, double-drop rapid that is powerful enough to toss people out of their boats, and is always an exciting thrill. You can see that in these photos (click one to see a larger version). Making it through the falls tends to bring out cheers and celebration from each boat. “Yeah! We made it!” Like all great adventures, there’s a risk that something might go wrong (being tossed, in this case), so when it doesn’t, it’s a true feeling of success.
Rafting is another great example of how the girls at Rockbrook make whatever they are doing better because they genuinely enjoy each others company. Being positive and friendly from the start, being supportive and mutually encouraging, they’re just primed to have a fantastic time. Give them plenty of snacks, and it’s almost automatic! These Rockbrook girls are good friends having an extraordinarily great time. Pretty cool.
What is a parent’s role in raising confident and successful children? What matters in a child’s life that helps them grow up and find satisfaction as an adult? What can we parents do to encourage the habits, character and understandings that children need as they face challenges later in life? We all want our kids to be successful grownups, but is there something specific we can do to give them the best odds?
These are the questions asked by Margot Machol Bisnow in her recent article, “I talked to 70 parents who raised highly successful kids—here are the 4 hard parenting rules that make them different.” The whole article is online here. In her research for writing a book about “raising an entrepreneur,” Bisnow identified several trends in how successful entrepreneurs were raised as kids. Their parents provided certain experiences that made a difference for these kids as adults.
When I spotted the article it was clear that summer camp, certainly at Rockbrook, aligns perfectly with all four of these “parenting rules.” Our camp philosophy and culture inspire these same experiences, which we hope encourages the girls here to grow and be more confident later in life.
Here are Bisnow’s 4 “rules.”
1. Give kids extreme independence
Kids need to practice acting independently. When faced with choices, we want our kids to make good decisions on their own, without the guidance of authority figures like parents and teachers. Camp is great for this! The kindness and support kids find in the camp community bolsters their confidence to act independently. Everyone here is making independent decisions, and finding encouragement to give things a go. And with “success” at camp being defined more as process than a particular “win,” there’s less fear of failure and a more joyful approach toward new experiences.
2. Actively Nurture Compassion
Bisnow suggests compassion is a character trait that correlates with being a successful adult. This means being aware of how those around you are feeling, and responding positively with a desire to help. It means being tuned into the needs of others. This kind of compassion goes a long way, and at camp, it’s the core of our community. Here at Rockbrook, we are all focused on caring for each other, pitching in to help, and being friendly to everyone. We work to keep others in mind when we make decisions. We strive to include people, and to be generous with our selves. This air of compassion at camp is one the main reasons it feels so good, so freeing, to be here.
3. Welcome failure early and often
Most adults don’t do well if they focus too much on avoiding failure, or on removing personal feelings of discomfort or frustration. Life is bound to present occasional setbacks, and often great opportunities include an obvious amount risk. But if we are to grow, we need the courage to accept those risks and to lean into challenges rather than to retreat to the comfortable and the familiar. Here too, camp teaches this lesson everyday by presenting girls with chances to go beyond what they’re familiar with. Everyone here is expanding their “comfort zone” by trying new things and meeting the challenges that presents. In this kind of caring community, “failure” is not even a concern. Instead, we’re resilient. We embrace the possibility that we might not “get it perfectly,” and just keep moving ahead.
4. Let go of control and lead by following
Kids need space to explore who they really are. They need the freedom to reveal their passions and talents. They need to be trusted to understand themselves without too much outside pressure to be a certain thing. Camp is the perfect environment for this too. It’s supportive and actively accepting. We celebrate different interests and applaud every kind of creativity. Simply sending your girls to camp, letting them go, allows them to tap into this authenticity and to know they are still valued. This is a really empowering step on their path toward being strong, confident and well adjusted.
All four of these impulses are woven into our daily life at Rockbrook. It’s the type of community we have here—rooted in kindness and generosity —that makes this possible. It’s this safe and supportive environment that is ideal for kids to build these character traits, to grow personally and socially stronger, and to experience first-hand that being a little brave pays off. Of course the girls love how all this feels too. They’re eager to experience it and grow in these ways. At least partly, it’s what’s “fun” about camp.
And all of this happens away from their parents, which is the other crucial component here. Practicing these four “rules” can sometimes be hard at home (hard on the parents!), but at camp, they’re easy.
So is there something we parents can do to help our kids be more successful later in life? Is there a way to inspire them to be more independent, compassionate, resilient, and true to their authentic self? There is. You can send them to camp.
Today we opened our June mini session and welcomed 77 campers to Rockbrook to begin their 2-week session. It was an exciting morning for everyone, certainly for the girls arriving because they were finally starting their time at camp, but also for the current full session campers and staff already here because they now had a new group of friends to meet and play with while at camp.
About half of the girls arriving today were brand new to camp, and about half are on the Junior Line (grades K-4). You could feel everyone’s jittery excitement as the cars pulled up at each stop in our drive-thru check-in process. I imagine the girls were feeling a unique combination of nerves, almost intolerable anticipation, but also deep-down eagerness.
Meeting your counselors and the other girls in your cabin amplify these feelings, but the best way to harness this energy is to get started doing things. So that’s what we do. The first job, after quick introductions, is to set up the cabin, making beds, arranging trunks, etc. But then it’s time to tour the camp, and get a sense of the different activity areas, the dining hall, and other landmarks like the stone lodges, the tennis courts, the gym, and the lake for example.
A quick assembly of the whole camp on the grassy hill gave everyone a chance to sing a few songs, meet the Directors, Line Heads, and the Hi-Ups, and catch a glimpse of the mountain view in the distance.
For lunch, Rick and his fantastic kitchen crew prepared a camp classic: tacos. With bowls of homemade guacamole, salsa, lettuce, cheese, tomatoes, refried black beans, and ground beef, as well as stacks of crunchy taco shells, it really hit the spot. And since the weather was perfectly sunny and breezy, we turned it into a picnic and ate outside on the hill.
After lunch, during rest hour, the mini session campers who just arrived changed into their swimsuits and walked down to the lake to learn about our swimming “Tag System” and to demonstrate their swimming ability. They took turns jumping off the dock, swimming and treading water to prove how comfortable they are in the water. There are three different colors of tags based on swimming ability, each indicating which part of the lake is best for that person (deeper for strong swimmers, and perhaps wearing a life jacket for beginner swimmers). Everyone who wants to cool off in the Rockbrook lake can do that in some way or another.
We had another all-camp special event in the afternoon— a festival of sorts focused on the theme of “animals.” We called it “Petting Zoo.” And if you saw the farm animals on hand, you can see why! The girls were able to feed a calf, a baby pig, a couple of goats, and chickens. There were many animal-rated other activities too: hobby horse races, animal costume bingo, making felt animal headbands, a flamingo ring toss game, face painting, and a huge limbo line. Of course, there were animal crackers as a snack, and with many of the girls dressed in different animal costumes, we had an afternoon menagerie!
Saturday at camp is mostly a day of regular activities. “Regular” means a schedule of two periods that meet in the morning and two in the afternoon. These are the time slots when the girls rotate through the different activity options available around camp. Woven between these slots are blocks of free time when a game of tetherball, or reading your book, or taking a shower is what feels right. Two of these free time blocks are “Free Swim” periods when the lake is open, giving girls a daily opportunity to cool off even if they did not take swimming as one of their activities.
After dinner on Saturdays, we always plan a special event. We usually keep it a surprise, and like all great camp gatherings, we integrate a theme that inspires a genre of costumes.
Tonight it was two-part event. The first for an all camp scavenger hunt, where the girls roamed about the camp in their cabin groups looking for gold coins. This “Gold Rush” was challenging! The coins were carefully hidden, sometimes under bushes, behind trees, and even in the creek. Also hidden has a special “Golden Nugget” that if found was worth a unique prize itself.
Also roaming about were counselors who acted as “Bandits” intent on stealing the gold a cabin group had gathered. The bandit would approach a group and demand its gold. The group could keep its gold if it could answer a riddle or sing a particular song that the bandit named. “What’s the 14th word of ‘Oh I was born’?” (“toot” is the answer.) Or an easier one, “What’s the first name of the woman who founded Rockbrook?” (“Nancy”). Avoiding the bandits and finding as much gold as possible— that was the game. The prize for the most gold and finding the golden nugget was a trip to Dolly’s later in the session.
The second part of the event was a “Hootin’ and Hollerin’ Square Dance” held down on the Rockbrook House lawn. This large, flat, grassy area is perfect of a large group dance. The girls had a great time learning a few moves like a do-so-do, the Virginia slide, and version of the Boot Scootin’ Boogie.
The girls came dressed for a county dance with lots of denim, flannel shirts, bandannas and boots. We saw a few pigtails and western hats too.
The Hi-Ups enjoyed leading the dances, picking out the music to be played, and setting the silly, fun tone of the whole event. A highlight was the huge line of girls, hand-in-hand, “winding the clock,” spiraling inward toward the center of circle.
Outdoor dancing with your friends on a warm summer evening. Clapping along to the music, smiling and laughing at the awkwardness of it all. Suddenly feeling free to let go a little… what could be better? And what a great example of the joy camp inspires.
It’s always difficult to describe camp life to those who haven’t experienced it. Of course, we try all the time —by writing blog posts and posting hundreds of photos to our online gallery— but the experience is far too rich, complex and emotional to convey like that.
Fortunately, we have some video as well. We’re happy to say Robbie Francis of FrancisFilmworks is again working with us this summer to produce short videos each session. He came to camp on Thursday and now has his first edited short of 2022 ready for you to see.
Take a look! You will love it.
P.S. Be sure to have the volume turned up. Hearing camp is amazing!
Looking around camp, it’s hard not to be impressed. If you step into any activity area, you’ll find campers and counselors busy with the task at hand. It can be something simple like selecting colors of paint for a painting project. It can be girls showing incredible concentration and focus while aiming their rifle down range. During muffin break, there’ll be easy conversation and laughter bubbling up from genuine, unfiltered friendships. High up on the Alpine Tower, girls will be grunting a bit as they pull themselves up through a strenuous climbing move. There’s determination too— swimming laps in the lake, centering clay on the potter’s wheel, and serving tennis balls over the net. It’s all pretty astonishing.
I’m a little used to it (and really privileged to see it every year!), but I bet you’ve never experienced anything like this. There simply aren’t very many places designed to allow girls to develop their competence and demonstrate accomplishment like they do at camp. Rockbrook is a place where they get to explore, to practice and learn new things. It’s a place with opportunities to be creative, to be physical (even sporty!), and to be outdoorsy. Perhaps most importantly, camp is place to become more socially competent, to succeed at making friends, to relax into knowing you can be good friends with a diverse range of people.
In some ways, this is what we do all day at camp; we prove to girls that they are successful. But it’s not an “everybody’s a winner,” “blue ribbons for all” sort of thing. Instead we create the conditions where we’re not competing against each other, but instead are approaching everything without a fear of failure or judgment. Rockbrook’s culture is rooted in a joyful enthusiasm that inspires experimentation. We provide steady encouragement to support girls when they doubt their abilities, or are worried about if something they do will be “any good.” We’re not measuring anything, or giving out a grade of any kind. Around here, success comes from simply doing things, from taking that first step. And from what naturally follows as a second step, and so on. The outcome we’re seeking is not a final result, but rather a process that leads in a good direction.
The examples are endless. There are first steps everywhere at camp: close encounters with nature, communication between horse and rider, new pieces of art imagined, singing with friends on stage, or inventing a silly dance for a cabin skit. Simply navigating all of the daily decisions of camp life while away from parents —being good on her own— is a significant accomplishment. Just imagine the power of feeling good about all of this! It’s a feeling that motivates the girls to do even more, and to be proud of themselves.
The result for your Rockbrook girls is a growing positive self-esteem. In this environment infused with daily feelings of success and accomplishment, the girls strengthen their belief in themselves. Surrounded by people who care about them and who like them for who they really are, they know they are valued no matter how something they try turns out. This support from the community provides a freedom to explore how each of them is worthwhile. In this way, simply being at camp is a powerful boost for girls.