Positively Euphoric

summer girls camp

Arriving at camp late in summer, as did our August Mini Session campers today, is a unique blend of excitement and relief. You could see it on their faces as they drove up the driveway this morning, and as they first met their counselor— bright, wide grins despite a twinge of nerves, and almost a feeling of liberation from the agony of waiting for camp all summer. So much waiting! Finally, these girls have arrived and we can get started with camp, all the friends, different activities, and fun surprises of life at Rockbrook.

Once the arriving girls got settled in their cabins, they joined the full session campers rotating through a sampling of camp activities. Tying friendship bracelets, playing tennis or gaga ball, hiking to Rockbrook Falls, picking flowers in the RBC garden, and making a wind chime or headband— there were plenty of ways to get busy right away… meeting people while learning about camp.

Burgers (beef and vegetarian) and fries, plus fresh cut cantaloupe and salad for lunch settled us down just as it filled us up. Rest hour then gave the new girls a chance for a quick camp tour, a stop at the lake for a swimming demonstration, and time for a cabin meeting before the main event of the afternoon.

Pie Throwing Girl
Inflatable Water Slide

And it was fantastic! With counselors and help from the Hi-Ups (our 10th grade campers), we threw an all-camp carnival right in the center of camp complete with different snacks, group games, fun dance music, silly challenges, and small prizes for everyone. With camp completely full of girls now, we created lots of options to give everyone plenty to do. Blue skies and a few light clouds floated by above while the girls spent to next two hours wandering from game to game, stopping to snack, dance and play as they liked.

Water balloon sling shot
Snow cone girls

Setting the tone right away was our favorite DJ Dawg back again to pump great dance music across the hill. For snacks (probably the second most important element at a party!), we had coolers of lemonade, a popcorn popper popping nonstop, and a very popular snow cone station. It was a hot afternoon, so we made several water events available too: a 35-foot tall inflatable water slide, a “dunk booth” beanbag challenge, loads of water guns, and a sprinkler to run through if the girls got too hot. Another game had the girls launch water balloons using a slingshot contraption. A second inflatable was an obstacle course that pitted two girls against each other as they crawled, climbed and scrambled through… while laughing hysterically.  There was an area where the girls played Pin the Tail on the Donkey, another where they “fished” for rubber ducks from a pool, and another that challenged them to eat a doughnut or apple tied to a string. We had yard checkers, a giant game of Jenga, a ball toss game, and a corn hole game. There was a giant bubble station, three staff member offering face painting, balloon animals being tied, and two brave Hi-Ups running a “pie” (whipped cream on a pie tin) throwing station.  Apparently, you smell like cheese after being splattered thoroughly with whipped cream. Another messy game that the girls loved was Twister, only made more difficult with the help of shaving cream and a little body paint on each spot. Messy and fun.

Messy twister game
Giant Jenga game outside

In every direction on the hill there where happy girls entertained by the games, enjoying dancing, cooling off, getting a little messy, and having an excellent time at camp. It was pretty hard to take it all in! Looking around, it was clear at least that this was a great way to open up the session. It got everyone involved, the full session girls meeting and playing with the mini session campers, and helped set the tone (positively euphoric) for the coming week.

There was about an hour of free time before dinner that allowed the girls to take a shower and clean up. Later, everyone signed up for their first set of activities so in the morning we can launch right into action.  We’re just getting started and looking forward to the coming week!

photo props girls at camp

The Excitement Was Everywhere

camp girl group cabin
camp girls signing

“Good Morning, all you Rockbrook Girls” and welcome (welcome back) to camp! Today, as we opened our third session of the 2016 season, we were so excited to greet the girls and their families arriving at camp. The excitement was everywhere as the girls smiled and waved from inside their parents’ cars, jumped out to hug an old camp friend, or just marveled at the wave of enthusiasm coming from the waiting counselors. It was a morning of meeting friendly people, learning names (made much easier by the wood chip name tags everyone was wearing), and settling into the cabins. As the girls arrived, pockets of activity sprung up on the hill. Some bunk mates, quick friends, decided to take a hike together to Rockbrook Falls, and others to Castle Rock. Some played tennis, and others tetherball. Just wandering around in the sunshine, being part of the welcoming, was fun for most everyone. The whole morning felt wonderful, in many ways pleasantly familiar, yet also poised with anticipation for what we all know will be a great time together. It may have been a record, but by about 11:30am all the campers had arrived and the parents had departed leaving us to get started.

An assembly under the huge walnut tree on the hill is the perfect way to do that. With crazy creek chairs unfolded, Sarah and the Hi-Ups (10th grade campers) led everyone in several camp songs and the line songs. She introduced the directors and the head counselors who assist each age group. More than a first introduction to the people and organization of camp, it was a brief, official welcome to the mountains.

Lunch was a guaranteed crowd-pleaser: Rick’s secret-recipe macaroni and cheese, steamed peas, and fresh fruit salad. Of course, there were the two super-stocked salad bars and peanut butter and jelly stations to round things off as well, but bowl after bowl of the mac-n-cheese seemed to roll out of the kitchen as the girls went back for seconds, and even a third helping.

Girl writing her name inside camp cabin

Cabin meetings after lunch, during what’s normally our “rest hour,” gave the girls a chance to learn about the daily chores in the cabin like sweeping and emptying the trash, and to discuss a few of the all-cabin rules like respecting each others belongings, for example. This was also a chance for everyone to “sign” the inside of their cabin by writing their name somewhere on the rafters or bunk beds. That’s a Rockbrook tradition that reaches back into the 1950’s. Originally, I think the girls used shoe polish to sign their name and date. Now it’s usually a small name written in pen, but we’ve also seen “John Hancock” style signatures in multiple colors of paint. Later in August, we are hosting almost 200 Alumnae at Rockbrook for a reunion celebrating our 95th year, and I suspect many of the women attending will spend some time searching for their name that they wrote as a girl at camp.

It was time to cool off with some swimming after that. As the age groups took tours around the camp learning the different activity areas and the names of the many buildings (“Where’s Hobby Nook?), they changed into swimsuits and rotated coming down to the lake to demonstrate their swimming ability for our team of lifeguards. This “swim demo” requires the girls to swim out into the deep part of the lake about 50 feet, return using a back stroke, and then tread water for a full minute. Considering the temperature of our stream-fed lake (chilly!), this can sometimes be a challenge, but almost everyone was able to complete the demo and receive a pink swim bracelet and white swim tag identifying our strong swimmers. The whole scene was more festive and fun than you might expect since we were also serving lemonade and playing Reggae music. Pretty soon, we were laughing and enjoying ourselves, nodding our heads to the music, having a grand summer time.

swimming lifegaurds camp skit

It’s another long tradition at Rockbrook that the girls select their activities after they arrive at camp. We believe they thrive when given this kind of choice and enjoy the flexibility that comes with switching the schedule halfway through the week to try a set of new options. To orient everyone to those options, we spent some time this afternoon watching the counselors present songs and skits (usually a bit of both) about the amazing activities they have planned. The number of opportunities can be a little confusing, so the skits help the campers know what’s new, learn where each activity meets, and see which counselors will be the instructors. The climbers showed off the climbing wall. The lifeguards performed a skit about the toys and games available at the lake everyday. The fiber arts staff showed a few of the cool weaving and sewing projects the campers can learn, and there was an impassioned song devoted to tennis, volleyball and gagaball. After dinner, the campers will sign up for their first set of in-camp activities. Knowing the options and where everything happens, they are now ready to make better choices for this rotation. We’ll also announce the first out-of-camp trips tonight, making it even more difficult to decide! But deciding: that’s part of the fun.

We’re all excited to get started. The counselors and special activity instructors are ready and eager to get these girls busy creating, riding, climbing and so much more. Looking around, it’s pretty clear that the girls are ready too. Let’s begin!

Swim Girl Campers

Building Leaders

Teaching the Basics

At Rockbrook, our primary focus is always to give childen the time of their lives in a fun, crazy, safe, and exciting environment. Our objective is to give girls the chance to let loose and get a little crazy, and create memories that will last them well into adulthood.

Full Costume

We do have another objective, though—one that is woven into much of our programming, often in subtle ways, but at times more explicitly. We know that the girls playing in our camp today will not be children forever. There will come a time when these girls will be populating boardrooms, operating rooms, courtrooms, art studios, sports arenas, Houses of Congress, and maybe even the White House. Much of what we do here is geared toward helping them to become the strong, positive leaders that they will need to be in the years to come.

Though, officially, our leadership program does not begin until the summer after ninth grade, we encourage all of our campers to be independent thinkers from the moment they step onto camp on their very first day. One of the most important ways that we foster this independence is by allowing our campers to choose their own activities every three days. No counselors, no directors, and no parents can tell them which activities to choose—only the campers, be they seven or fifteen, can make that decision. We urge them to choose activities based not on what their friends are choosing, but rather on what they are interested in, what they are excited about, and what activities might challenge them. Through this process, campers can learn the immense satisfaction that comes from crafting an experience that is wholly and completely their own.

Never Too Small
Working Hard

What’s more, our campers put together and perform skits nearly every night with their cabins. Returning campers look forward to these skits every summer—they are fun, goofy, and often hilarious ways to top off the day. Planning the skits, though, is not without its challenges. Skit-planning requires girls to think creatively, to determine how every girl in the cabin can contribute to the performance, to pool their resources (usually costumes) and use them in a way that benefits everyone, and to make sure that everyone is on board and happy with the process.

On top of all of that, the girls aren’t planning the skits under the direction of a counselor. The counselors wait in the lodge, and leave the planning, from beginning to end, to the girls. Throughout the session, the campers get plenty of practice in learning to solve disagreements in mature ways that benefit the cabin as a whole, without the interference of an adult. To help this process along, particularly for the younger girls, campers might be assigned days to be the “skit director.” On this night, they are the leader of the skit-planning, and it is up to them to make the tough decisions and make sure that every girl’s voice is being heard.

Yes, it can sometimes be messy—as learning new skills frequently is—but our campers often leave here at the end of the session with a better understanding of how to be a great leader of a team, and, sometimes more importantly, how to be a productive member of a team.

When campers reach 9th and 10th grade, they begin to take on more responsibilities around camp. They shoulder the responsibility of planning an elaborate Banquet as CA’s, then take on the myriad duties of a Hi-Up, many of which are vital to the smooth running of camp. Some girls are always nervous to take on this leadership role at camp. What they might not realize, is that they have been preparing to be leaders, at camp and elsewhere, since the moment their parents dropped them off on their very first day.

HUP Pals

Burst of Energy

Arriving Campers

One of the best things about opening up camp for a new session, as we did today, is the extraordinary burst of energy it includes. Take the enthusiasm from the counselors, the pent up excitement from the campers, in fact everyone’s eagerness (and yes a few jitters) to get started, pack it all into a short amount of time, and you have something phenomenal. Today, it felt even better as the absolutely perfect, cool and sunny weather cheered everyone even more. With most of the campers dressed in their blue RBC t-shirt, wood chip name tag proudly strung around their necks, the celebration of camp started almost immediately. It was an excellent morning to open the second session of Rockbrook.

Camp Swim Test Girl Jumping

After lunch, which featured Rick’s homemade (“fancy,” as one camper enthusiastically put it) macaroni and cheese, all the campers changed into their swimsuits and set off together with their bunk mates, towels in hand, to the waterfront to learn about the important safety rules associated with our lake and to perform their “swim demonstrations.” Chelsea, our waterfront director, introduced each group to lake, how to use the buddy tag system for example, and explained what it takes to complete the “swim demo” successfully (swimming out about 50 feet, back another 50 feet using a backstroke, and treading water for 60 seconds). If a girl can demonstrate these swimming skills confidently, she can then participate in any of the aquatics activities at camp (canoeing, rafting, kayaking, swimming in the deep end of the lake). If someone struggles, we limit her use of the lake to the shallow end and ask that she wear a life jacket until she retakes the swim demo and does well.

It’s been a long tradition at Rockbrook for the campers to select their own activity schedule after arriving at camp. This is different from other camps that ask families (parents and children together) to complete a pre-camp form listing available options. Over the years we’ve found there are real benefits to our system. First of all, by trusting the girls to make their own personalized schedule, by giving them that independence, they take on a subtle form of responsibility. They realize that, like all adult decision making, the freedom to choose means neglecting something else in the very moment of selecting something. Decisions are consequential; “You can’t do everything.” So twice a week here at camp, the girls carefully weigh their options and consider, for example, Tennis vs. Climbing, Yoga vs. Needlecraft, Dance vs. Pottery, Archery vs. Horseback Riding, and so forth.

WHOA Activity Instruction

Late this afternoon, we began helping the girls make their activity selection decisions by orienting them to the options. This was a fun blending of activity skits and a camp tour where groups of campers rotated throughout the camp stopping at all of the activity areas to learn what happens there, to meet the staff members, perhaps see a skit, examples of the crafts made, or a demonstration of the activity itself. For example, Janette and Mary Kate, the activity instructors for “WHOA,” which, as you can see here, stands for Wilderness, Hiking, Outdoor Adventure, presented a skit where they played the “Bellas” from Pitch Perfect going on a camping trip. They enacted pitching a “perfect” tent (crazy creek chair), built a campfire, and proved their “grit” with s’more’s in their “fire pit” —all a cappella. Armed with all these details about what each activity at Rockbrook has to offer, the girls were set to choose their first set of activities after dinner. Tomorrow, we’ll hit the ground running, ready to swim, ride, climb, shoot, sing and create. We’re ready!

Beginning the Bustle

Girls excited for camp

“I am so ready to bust out of this car!” That’s the way one girl put it when she arrived at camp this morning. “She’s been talking about Rockbrook non-stop for the last week,” one parent explained. And, “She woke up at 4am this morning,” said another. It’s true; some strikingly pent up excitement arrived (and was released!) at camp today as 155 campers opened our third session. Every session has excited campers arriving, but this seemed extraordinary. Perhaps, it’s because these girls have been waiting most of the summer for this moment, or they’ve been following along on the web site, or they simply know how much fun they’re about to have. Whatever the reason, these third session girls are pumped! All morning as everyone arrived, we heard squeals of camp friends reuniting, enthusiastic cheers from counselors greeting their campers, and maybe a few grunts as heavy trunks were hauled up the hill and down the lines to the cabins. The whole morning was a hustle and bustle with campers and their families moving in, girls playing group games in the Hillside Lodge, groups taking hikes to Rockbrook Falls, and new cabin mates making friendship bracelets together on the hill.  All this excitement and all this action made the morning really fun and festive.

Rick and his fantastic kitchen crew settled us down a bit with a yummy lunch of his homemade macaroni and cheese, steamed green beans, and fresh fruit salad… comfort food for the first meal. At the beginning of the meal, Sarah took a minute to explain where to find the vegetarian, gluten- and dairy-free options, the peanut butter and jelly station, cartons of milk to drink, and the two salad bars. During the meal, it took about 5 minutes for a song to break out, the first of many that will erupt at every meal in the dining hall. With all the camp songs being sung around here, it’s no surprise that girls will find themselves singing them at other times throughout the year.  They’ll be eating lunch at school and suddenly have an urge to yell out “Rockbrook request! The Coconut Song!”

Girl swimming at summer camp

With bright sun shining overhead, we broke into age groups for the afternoon rotating between camp tours of the different activity areas, cabin and line meetings, and swimming demonstrations. We ask everyone at camp who wants to swim (or go whitewater rafting, canoeing or kayaking) to demonstrate their ability in our lake.  It is a mountain-stream-fed lake which, very different from a warm, clear swimming pool, is quite cold and often a little intimidating for young girls used to shallow water. Consequently, it can be a shock to jump in, swim out 50 feet, back another 50 feet using a back stroke, and tread water for 1 full minute, as our demonstration/test requires. For even experienced swimmers, it takes a solid effort to overcome the cold without a struggle. Still, you would be proud of your girls for they all did very well, with only 3 needing to retake the test later. If someone struggles to complete the full swimming demonstration, we still encourage her to come and enjoy the lake, but we require that she wear a life vest and stay in the shallow area. To keep everyone safe at the waterfront, our American Camp Association accreditation requires these kinds of proven protocols.

Camp Counselor Skit with costumes

Later in the afternoon, the whole camp assembled in the gym to learn more about the different activities offered this session by enjoying a program of skits performed by the activity instructors. This is a chance for the campers to meet the different instructors and hear more about what goes on at strange sounding activities like the “Alpine Tower, “Curosty,” “WHOA,” for example (Climbing, Fiber Arts, and Adventure/hiking). For the counselors, it’s a chance to dress up, maybe sing and dance a little, and show everyone what fun it is just to be at camp. In addition to these skits, we sang activity songs, line (age group) songs, and did a whole lot of cheering to make this a fun hour.

We’re just getting started. The bustle is just beginning, but I can already tell we’ve got excellent counselors and super excited campers ready to make this a great session. Stay tuned!

Independence Through Choice

Although girls naturally foster a sense of self-esteem and independence merely by being away from home at a sleep-away camp, Rockbrook goes out of its way to create the camp structure that best allows for girls’ growth and autonomy. One of the best ways Rockbrook allows for the self-direction and experimentation necessary to create a sense of independence is by giving girls the opportunity to design their own camp experience.

Girls camp knitters

One aspect of Rockbrook that sets us apart from other camps is that rather than sending our campers to pre-assigned activities, we ask them to choose which activities they’d like to take themselves. Twice a week, counselors go from cabin to cabin with clipboards displaying the choices for each of the four activity periods. Each camper gets to pick the four activities she desires, and her counselor fills them out on an activity schedule card.

Girls Camp Bead Craft

Girls, especially teenage girls, can often struggle with making decisions and expressing assertiveness. Rather than making the intimidating choice to express an opinion, they might instead opt to feign indecisiveness. This can be attributed to a variety of social pressures girls might feel; they could be worrying about making a decision that might upset others, or that making a choice could reflect poorly on them, making them look “dumb” or “weird.” Since each and every girl is asked to choose her own activities, free from the influences of family and friend groups from home, Rockbrook’s system of activity choice allows girls to enjoy the empowerment that comes from designing their own camp experience in a way that also preserves them from the anxieties created by peer pressure.

Girls horse camp

Although sometimes campers do not at first get to take their “ideal” schedule because an activity has been filled to maximum capacity, we go out of our way to ensure that each girl takes her most desired activity at least once by the end of the session. On Fridays we offer an extra “choice activity” to accommodate for the girls who have not yet had an opportunity to take some of the more popular activities here at camp.

In addition to picking their own regular daily activities, girls can also choose to sign up for special activities such as overnight backpacking trips, day hikes, and kayaking and white water rafting trips to nearby rivers.

One of the benefits of staying for a longer session at camp, such as our 4-week session, is that we have more time to fill with these special trips and activity sessions that girls can pick-and-choose from to create their own unique camp experience. For example, this session we have offered an unprecedented daily “roll clinic” to help aspiring kayakers learn how to “roll” their kayak back into an upright position if it flips over. We have also had special hikes to Quentin Falls, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and other nearby areas.

By not only offering a wide variety of exciting activities that girls are unable to do at home, but also allowing girls to choose for themselves which of those activities they would like to try, Rockbrook really does set itself apart as a “place where girls can grow.”

—Haley Hudler

Girls confident campers

All Together

moving camp trunk by wagon

The excitement around here exploded today as we welcomed our June Mini Session campers to Rockbrook. Ninety Four girls, about half of who are new to camp, joined the full session girls who arrived last week bringing the camp to completely full. After a few stops to see the medical team (pediatrician, nurses, and “head check” specialists) and office folks, and after taking some time to peruse the latest RBC gear, the new girls and their counselors could begin moving into their cabins. “Top bunk or bottom bunk?” and “Where should I keep my trunk?” are the most immediate questions to answer, but it doesn’t take long to make beds, arrange a stuffed animal or two, or maybe hang a small photo or poster to make these old (many almost 100 year-old) cabins feel cozy. Meeting your new cabin mates is another fun part of this process. It feels so good to have everyone here at last. Now the dining hall will be extra loud when everyone is singing, the activity classes will include more friends to talk with, the free swim periods (one before lunch and another before dinner) at the lake will be more of an event.

Camp girls cheering

A little after noon, everyone gathered on the grassy hill at the center of camp, and under the shade of the big walnut tree heard Sarah, the other directors and the Line Heads (counselors in charge of each age group) introduce themselves and announce the plans for the rest of the day. The Hi-Up campers (10th graders) led everyone in several songs, and then we gathered into groups to take State photographs. It was fun to see that Florida and Georgia were the two largest groups, the there were girls and counselors representing many other states, like Massachusetts, Colorado and even California. Lunch was fantastic. Rick had for us, his homemade barbeque chicken (or tempeh), a cheese grits casserole, and fresh steamed broccoli, as well as our deluxe salad bars which he stocked with other vegetables, fruits and sandwhich spreads. This was true comfort food, perfect for our first full meal together. And, it was devoured!

Campers making bracelets on the porch

A brief note about technology at camp… As you know, we strive to teach our campers the value of slowing down a little, reconnecting to the natural world and to the people around us. We believe that “unplugging,” taking a break from the flicker of television, phone, and computer screens, really helps girls get more out of camp. This can be a little difficult at first, especially it seems for the teenagers (I once saw a camper actually kiss her iPhone as she said “goodbye” to it on opening day.) but it only takes a day or two of camp life, of experiencing the satisfying feeling of it, to realize that fully engaging the world is so much better than the virtual abstractions technology offers. That’s a great lesson.

Camp kids smiling before swim test

We were fortunate to be able to hold our swimming demonstrations for the new campers after lunch and before the weather turned on us. There were only a couple of cabins who couldn’t squeeze in their demos before the rain, and we’ll take care of theirs tomorrow. We also were able to have our afternoon scavenger hunt that sent the girls all over the camp to visit a dozen or so activity areas and to meet the instructors. There were skits and games to perform at each station, and at some, snacks like fruit and goldfish kept everyone energized. This was all in preparation for the girls signing up for their first set of scheduled activities later in the evening, and for tomorrow’s action.

Keep those cards, letters and emails coming!  We love mail at camp!