A Huge Helping of Goofy

camp child parentToday we welcomed another group of eager, excited girls to Rockbrook as we opened the August Mini session. There’s something really special about driving into Rockbrook, early in the morning at the start of a camp session. It’s a reveal of sorts. The gravel driveway slowly winds up the hill from the main road, and then suddenly there’s cool stuff to see: the archery field to the left, the lake to the right with the green and blue water slide on the far end, stacks of colorful kayaks and canoes, and at the crest the hill, a mob of cheering enthusiastic counselors. It feels like you’ve entered another world, and in many ways you have. So many things are inviting and intriguing right away, but it’s obvious also that the people here are good folks. The returning campers already know it, but the energy of camp— friendly, supportive, adventurous, with a huge helping of goofy —is definitely special. These campers have been waiting all year (and all summer) to experience this energetic fun, so finally we can all start. Finally!

flag raising at campWhile these new girls were arriving, the full session campers began their day like other Sunday mornings with a late breakfast (egg and sausage burritos, yogurts, cereals, and freshly delivered Krispy Kreme doughnuts), our traditional flag raising ceremony (led by the 10-grade campers), and chapel program (this time discussing the theme of “Gratitude”). Afterwards, these girls also had a “choice period,” an opportunity to sign up for a hiking trip to Castle Rock or Rockbrook Falls, a flower picking expedition in the garden, or time in the jewelry-making activity area.

The first event involving the whole camp was an “assembly on the hill,” as we call it. This gathering under the walnut tree on the hill is a chance for everyone to sing a few songs, watch a skit or two, meet the various directors at camp, and hear announcements. The Hi-Ups led everyone in learning a canoeing song, complete with hand motions. The Line Heads awarded, “bend-a-back,” camp spirit, and manners beads, and also announced which cabins would be recognized for having the highest overall inspection scores (winning the “mop award”). For the benefit of the new campers primarily, Sarah also reminded everyone of the boundaries of camp and how our lightning warning system works. Rick’s amazing homemade mac-n-cheese for lunch fueled us up for the swimming demonstrations, quick camp tours, and cabin meetings that came afterwards in the early afternoon.

science camp girls The main event of the day was an all-camp festival that tapped into different science-related activities, experiments, challenges and games. We held the event right in the center of camp with the different activity stations positioned about, and counselors and Hi-Ups staffing each spot. One challenge was to make a working parachute from a large coffee filter. Another was to build different organic molecules using toothpicks and tiny marshmallows. At a different station, the girls were challenged to build a boat (or anything that floats) using aluminum foil and popsicle sticks. Another group made green sticky “Oobleck” with corn starch and white glue.

A particularly fun challenge was to use only rubber bands to crack open a watermelon. The girls would stretch rubber bands, one by one, around the middle of the melon, gradually adding more pressure. As a couple of cracks began to form after approximately 200 bands wrapped the melon, the group of girls huddled around screamed with delight when the melon suddenly exploded into bits leaving a sticky ball of rubber bands behind.

Of course, a “mad science” event would be incomplete without eccentric costumes— wild teased hair (or wigs!), lab coats, safety goggles, beakers and lab notebooks. Snacks and music helped keep the mood festive while the girls zipped among the activity options. The event was a nice opportunity to play outside together, be a little silly, and perhaps learn a little science along the way.

Tomorrow, we’ll have all the activities filled with enthusiastic campers, ready to give everything a try. It will be a full day of action.  Stay tuned!

laughing camp girls

Answering Questions

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

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

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

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

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

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

sunny day swimming at camp

Hustle and Bustle

Bright sunny weather is such a nice backdrop for opening a session of camp, as it was today when we welcomed slightly more than 200 girls to begin Rockbrook’s second main session. It added to the enthusiasm of the day, to the cheers from the counselors as cars drove up into camp, to smiles from everyone as the check in process unfolded smoothly.

Camp Trunk MovingWith this many people involved— the campers, their parents, and almost 100 staff members —the whole morning was quite a show of hustle and bustle. While some carried trunks, others set up their bunk. Some girls played tetherball, while others were introduced to the art of making a friendship bracelet. The morning included relaxed conversation too, as parents and campers reconnected with friends from last summer. The weather also just makes everything at camp look more inviting, more beautiful. Several parents commented that camp was looking “really good.” The flowers tucked in here and there, the massive boulders, old-growth trees, stone lodges, grassy hill, gurgling creeks —everything seemed to really pop in the bright sunshine.

We received a similar comment last week from two important visitors to Rockbrook. They too marveled at the woodsy feel of camp, the gently cared-for natural beauty of our setting, and the happy community of girls they met. These visitors were conducting an inspection of sorts, an on-site check that Rockbrook is meeting almost 300 health, safety, and program quality standards for summer camps as defined by the American Camp Association. As you may know, Rockbrook is accredited by the ACA, and has been for 30 years now. These periodic “visits” are part of the process to retain that accreditation, which by the way only about 17% of the camps in America have achieved. I’m happy to report that the inspection/visit this summer went extremely well, and after reviewing all of our policies and procedures, and examining every area of camp from the kitchen to the climbing tower, Rockbrook earned the highest marks.

Girl Camp AssemblyOnce everyone arrived today, we launched right into a few orientation activities. The whole camp assembled on the hill under the walnut tree to hear Sarah welcome everyone to camp, meet the leadership staff, and sing a few camp songs. Rick’s homemade mac-n-cheese, and fresh fruit (plus the super-stocked salad bars) made a tasty, comfortable lunch before the girls went back to their cabins for rest hour. But instead of resting, today they played name games, talked about cabin and camp safety rules, and learned more about the rhythms of camp life. During the swimming demonstrations where we check everyone’s swimming ability at the lake, the warm sunshine was a nice addition to the chilly water. We had fun music playing at the lake, all the directors helping, and a mob of lifeguards encouraging each girl as they jumped in. Later in the gym, we introduced all the girls to the different activities at camp, all the crafts, sports, and adventure things to do while they are here. The counselors teaching each activity took turns performing a skit or song about what they do, and with costumes and a dose of silliness, it was an entertaining hour. There was time to tour camp before dinner, which was another camp classic: grilled burgers, burger fixings, homemade french fries, and blackberry cobbler for dessert.

Tomorrow we will all scatter throughout the camp and get started making, climbing, shooting zipping, riding and playing in so many ways. Stay tuned. It’s gonna be great!

Camp Girl Swimmers

Starting Something New

true camp friends

It’s the start of something new! It’s a new season of summer camp at Rockbrook, and we couldn’t be more excited! Today was the day that all of us— staff members, campers, parents, and camp directors —have been waiting for, and beginning about 8:30 this morning that wait was over as we opened the gate and the campers began arriving for the first session of 2019. Our staff members seemed like they were about to pop with eagerness and enthusiasm because for the last week we have been training, talking about camp life, learning about activities and other camp rhythms. The training week was wonderful fun and everyone finished up with even greater bubbling anticipation for having campers back with us. As girls and their families arrived throughout the morning, making the usual stops in the dining hall to check in with the nurses, office folks, and “hair specialists,” the camp took on the special energy we all love.

camp community assembly

Rain early in the morning happily turned into an occasional drizzle, but that didn’t seem to bother us.  Soon the tetherball was swinging, girls were beginning their first friendship bracelet, arranging their cabins, rocking in the porch rockers, and everyone could marvel at the beauty of the rich green forest that makes up Rockbrook. Several parents commented on how stunning the camp looks— just the right points of color blending with the trees, rocks and native plants… all made somehow more rich with the rain. As wisps of cloud rolled northward, we all gathered on the hill for an assembly, singing a few songs, meeting key staff members, and hearing a brief introduction to camp from Sarah. It took no time for the whole camp to be standing, clapping and singing together. Finally, it felt like camp.

Rick prepared his signature opening day lunch, mac-n-cheese, and once again it was a huge hit.  The crusty top, blend of 4 different cheeses all warm and gooey with the macaroni— it was particularly delicious. On a cool, misty day like today, it really hit the spot.  Happily, the rain mostly held off for the afternoon (even with an occasional blip of sunshine!) as each age group made their way to the lake for our swim demonstrations, brief tours around the camp, cabin meetings, and activity skits in the gym. Despite a very wet start of the day, the weather didn’t force us to change our opening day plans.

A new season at Rockbrook always means new things around camp, and while some won’t be very noticeable, others will be really fun for the campers. Mostly hidden from view this year are things like 4 different roofs, new skylights in the kitchen, several underground (very important!) pipes, electrical wiring of an activity building, road grading, tree removal, and a huge backup generator to protect us if we lose power. More interesting and fun improvements this year are a complete renovation of a camper cabin (floor, rafters, roof, electrical wiring and lights, shelves, screens, and an added porch out the back!), new wooden tennis court fencing with the addition of three pickleball courts, and a new hammock campsite set up in a very unusual location on the camp property (more about that in a future post).

So welcome to Rockbrook everyone. It’s a pleasure to welcome so many girls back to camp and to meet new staff members and campers alike. We have wonderful plans for the session, but no matter what, we’ve also already seen the spirit of Rockbrook begin to shape the caring community so many of us love. Things are certainly damp as the rains came again this evening, but our eagerness to be here together and to enjoy camp life is as bright as can be.

camp friends assembly

Phenomenal First-Day Vibe

girls campersSometimes writing these blog posts about Rockbrook, I feel like I’m preaching to the choir, like most of the folks reading already believe. They already know there’s something special that happens at camp, that girls love it for all kinds of reasons, and that the social-emotional learning embedded in camp life is priceless for growing children.  But still, for the sake of those unfamiliar, let me preach a minute.

Today, as we opened our second session of camp, it was clear that this group of girls was already on their way to having a great time. There was certainly plenty of excitement and bubbling anticipation for their camp session to finally begin, but there was also a surprisingly immediate comfort, even contentment apparent when the cabin groups found each other. Maybe the amazing weather had something to do with it— sunny, breezy and warm —or perhaps the easy, relaxed pace of the opening day process, but right away everyone seemed to have a set of friends to run off with.  They were off for a quick tetherball game, the scavenger hunt around camp, adding beads to their name tags, and exploring the creek by Curosty. The cabin groupings, which are carefully assigned by Sarah, encourage that too, making sure new and returning campers alike felt included and welcomed by the grouping. Everyone will tell you that camp is mostly about the people, the friendships and positive relationships fostered between everyone here, so it was very gratifying to see how quickly the campers were bonding.

girl camp kidsThe first all-camp event provided more opportunities for this. Just before lunch, we gathered under the big walnut tree on the hill (which provides a beautiful, long-distance view of the Blue Ridge Mountains) to meet some of the key people at camp, to learn and sing a few camp songs, and to be welcomed to Rockbrook by Sarah. The girls sat in their Crazy Creek chairs, sometimes laying them flat to share the seat, while the Hi-Ups led songs. One celebrity made his first appearance too, Felix the camp dog. You’re bound to see photos of him in the online gallery now and then, but he’s an abstract caramel/cream colored, one-year-old Australian Labradoodle with a very sweet disposition. He’s always happy to have a quick scratch on the back, even by six or eight hands at the same time!

The swimming demonstrations where the lifeguards assigned swim tags to everyone, the camp tours where the girls found the location of each activity (for example, the Alpine Climbing Tower and the Nature Nook, which are both hidden in the woods on opposite sides of camp), the activity skits where the instructors staged silly “commercials” about their plans for the session, the cabin meetings where the girls learned a few important safety rules for camp, and the evening program of name games and signing up for activities —filled the remainder of our day, all contributing to that phenomenal first-day vibe.

Tomorrow we’ll launch into all the activities, get out of camp for some adventure trips, clap and sing over some fantastic scratch-made meals, and continue banking experiences that define this unique community.  It really is true; “There’s no place like camp.”  We’re all excited to dig in, and show what that means!

teen campers

Limbo at the Lake

girls at rockbrook camp

It was a joy today to welcome our June Mini session campers to Rockbrook. As the girls arrived throughout the morning, it seemed like everyone was excited: the wide-eyed anticipation of the new campers, the enthusiasm of returning campers to see their friends, and the welcoming spirit of the full-session girls already here. With the jumping mob of counselors dressing in their red staff uniform shirts and the bright sunshine of the morning, the whole scene was festive and fun. We jumped right into our swim demonstrations for the arriving girls while the current campers rotated through a few choice activities.

During the all-camp assembly on the hill, it became clear how welcoming and community-minded these Rockbrook girls are. In minutes, the whole camp was singing the line songs, laughing at the counselor skits, and cheering for cabins that won the “mop awards.” New and returning, full- and mini-session, young and old, everyone was happily contributing to the Rockbrook Spirit. These are really great girls, friendly and encouraging. They’re definitely going to have a lot of fun together this session.

water bucket dunking machinegirl holding watermelon near the lakecamp girl doing limboThe big event of the day brought everyone together for a Polynesian Luau, a dress-up lake party, for games, snacks, crafts, music and dancing.

Chase, our Program Director, planned more than a dozen different activities for the girls, and enlisted the Hi-Ups and senior girls to help with each station. This was a brilliant way for the older girls to have fun at the event, take on a little responsibility, and interact with the younger campers. They all had on great costumes too— grass hula skirts, Hawaiian shirts, lei necklaces, face painting and hats.

The games included a version of bowling were the girls rolled real coconuts toward a set of empty tin cans. There was a beanbag tossing game akin to skee-ball that won a prize for anyone who racked up enough points. The youngest girls could “fish” for prizes using a clothespin on the end of string and pole. The prizes for these games were small lollypops, and some RBC sunglasses, stickers, and jump ropes.

The funniest event was the “bucket dunk” set up at the edge of the lake.  Combined with a corn hole game, the girls took turns tossing a beanbag toward the corn hole for a chance to pull the dunking string. If they made it, they got to soak someone sitting below the bucket of water. There was no shortage of volunteers to sit in the chair, and plenty of girls to play the game as bucket after bucket was dumped to the cheers of everyone watching.

In the lake, teams of four girls challenged other teams to swim a greased watermelon back and forth between two points. There was cheering from all sides as each swimmer pushed their fruit along, briefly losing it under water until it floated up for another slippery nudge. Nearby, a long line of girls looped around under a horizontal bar doing the limbo. As the bar was lowered and it became more difficult to slide under with their backs toward the ground, only a few girls remained.

The more crafty girls gravitated to the “grass” skirts being made from colorful ribbons, and the table where they were decorating headbands with flowers they made from tissue paper and string.

Meanwhile, everyone enjoyed playing with the many beach balls and hula hoops, as they snacked on fresh fruit kabobs (pineapple, grapes, watermelon, and cantaloupe) and unlimited snow cones. The Luau and beach-themed music kept everyone dancing in the warm afternoon sun.

Our camp photographs Karin, Abby and Hannah captured most of the event, so be sure to visit the online photo gallery too see more.  You’ll get a sense of how much the girls really had a blast with each other.

campers first day at rockbrook

Like We Never Left Off

Summer Camp Girls Arrive

Maybe it’s a sign of anticipation, or something related to being busy with preparations, or perhaps simply our craving for camp life, but as we opened Rockbrook today for the 2018 season, we all couldn’t help but feel a surge of excitement and enthusiasm. There have been plenty of camp-related projects occupying our time over the past year— facility improvements (new bathhouse for the lower line, for example), program development, new camp puppy training, and hard work assembling a fantastic camp staff for the summer. But there’s nothing like having camp filled with people again. It felt absolutely great to finally have campers and their families join us creating the community of camp.

So welcome everyone to Rockbrook! And such a wonderful opening day it was. The cars arrived at a steady pace throughout the morning to the cheers of the eager counselors on the hill. The lush gardens and colorful containers glistened in the sun from the recent rains. The check-in sequence in the dining hall seemed smooth and relaxed, everyone happy and at ease all morning long. Returning campers reunited with camp friends as new girls slipped right into cabin groups. Soon there were groups for girls just walking about, immersing themselves in camp, visiting the lodges, marveling at the rushing creeks, and likewise beaming with excitement.

first summer camp assemblyBy about noon, all but a few campers had arrived and we were ready for our first assembly on the hill under the walnut tree that looks out across the mountains. The weather was still beautiful and sunny with a light occasional breeze, making the camp songs we sung seem even more lively. Sarah introduced the directors, line heads and other special staff members, and the Hi-Up campers said hello by teaching everyone a new song. A fun highlight was when Felix made his appearance. Felix is our 10-month old Australian Labradoodle who has the enviable job of being the camp dog. We’ve been training him since he was 8 weeks old, and while he’s still getting used to camp, he’s already enjoying all the attention he’s getting from the girls. I’m sure you’ll see photos of him throughout the summer.

Everyday, in fact, you’ll find newly posted photos in our online photo gallery. You have to login to your parent account to view them, but you can send a login invitation to friends and family members once logged in. You should check the gallery often because I think you’ll really enjoy seeing what we’re up to at camp.

It’s become a popular Rockbrook tradition to serve Rick’s homemade Mac-n-Cheese for the first lunch. Today we continued that tradition with hot trays of bubbling cheeses with a crunchy breadcrumb topping, peas and watermelon plus our super-stocked salad bars that included other fruits and vegetables. The gluten-free and vegan version seemed popular too. Delicious comfort food for everyone.

The lake became our focus after lunch as we invited all the campers to demonstrate their swimming ability and receive a swim bracelet and buddy tag that qualifies them to sign up of paddling trips (whitewater rafting!) and enjoy free swim times each day. It’s a simple test that assures the lifeguards that girls can be comfortable in the water and can tread water for a minute without struggling. We paused the demonstrations for a passing thunderstorm between the Middler and Senior groups, but easily finished up everyone, and now the tag board if full of colorful plastic discs.

Activity skits in the gym introduced everyone to the activity instructors we have this summer, and announced several of the new craft projects available. Set to pretty silly songs, and at times with dance moves and plenty of costumes, we all enjoyed a fun variety show for about an hour.

It’s been a marvelous opening day, full of songs, laughter and girls already relaxing into the spirit of camp. It’s like we never left off from last summer. The fun and friendship has started right back up. Amazing!

camp swim buddies

Happily Leaping

Girl Campers Outside
Girl Campers arriving

The first sign is the red and white balloons floating at the entrance, and the second is the smiling Hi-Up campers greeting you partway up the driveway. Then at the top the hill, when you see the mob of cheering counselors dressed in their staff uniforms, it’s clear something special is happening, something VERY exciting. It’s the opening day of camp! …in this case, for the mini session campers arriving to join the full session girls who have been at Rockbrook for two weeks now. For everyone— new and returning campers, and all of us already at camp —this is an exciting day. It means camp can finally begin for these girls arriving, reuniting with camp friends from last summer, and equally, it means we all have a renewed chance to make new friends in this active outdoor environment.

It was particularly cool and foggy first thing this morning, with the Dew Point (62 degrees) almost equal to the temperature (62.5), and, according to our camp weather station, with 99% humidity, the fog was really thick.  It was the perfect morning to wear long sleeves, or, as one camper decided, to wrap yourself in a blanket at breakfast. When the sun popped over the hill, miraculously burning off the fog, we were treated to a perfectly warm, bright summer day ideal for exploring the camp, meeting all these new people, and then enjoying sample activities like a hike through the woods to Rockbrook Falls, jewelry making in the shade of the hillside lodge porch, archery, and gaga ball.

We held a quick assembly on the hill right before lunch to introduce everyone arriving to the directors and program staff, to recognize the cabins with the best inspection scores (awarding them the mop trophies), to learn about our lightning protocol (in response to our Thorguardian system) and the boundaries of the camp, and just to enjoy singing a few songs together, charging up our camp spirit.

An orientation to our waterfront area was also an important part of the day. We want to make sure everyone at camp understands our tag system and feels comfortable swimming in the lake. The new girls zipped right through their “swim demos,” happily leaping in the water to earn their blue, green or yellow swim necklaces (Notice them being worn by the four girls below). These soft elastic necklaces indicate to the waterfront staff a camper’s swimming ability and thereby where she can safely swim in the lake, in the deep areas, or perhaps restricted to the shallow section, for example. We make it possible for everyone at camp to enjoy the lake in some capacity, and the lifeguards are always willing to help a girl improve her swimming skills if she’s interested.

girls waterslide
agility course girl
girl leaping obstacle
hommade light sabre
Dizzy bat race

We always plan something big for Sunday afternoons, some kind of all-camp event that integrates many of the components that make a great party—music and dancing, costumes that revolve around a theme, snacks, activities, games and challenges with prizes to win. What better way to launch our new camp session too? So with the help of the full-session Senior campers and counselors, we held a Star Wars themed carnival, or more precisely, a “Jedi Knight Training Academy” down on our landsports field today. There were a dozen different activity stations, each related to Star Wars: “Jedi Agility Training” that included a lightsaber duel with Darth Vader, a “Death Star Destruction” shooting game that used Nerf pistols, and an archery game where the girls had to hit a Sith solder with a paint-dipped arrow, for example. The girls made their own lightsabers using a foam pool noodle and different types of tape. They solved a matching game puzzle, and got their faces painted (“The Face is with You”), one girl turning her whole face into Yoda’s! We had girls dressed as the character Rey, several Jedi Knights, Yoda, and of course many with the hairstyle of Princess Leia.

One highlight of the event were two huge inflatable games: a 25-foot tall, dual water slide, and a challenging obstacle course called “Leaps and Bounds.” The girls lined up for multiple slides and leaps on each. Meanwhile, our snow cone machine ground ice for snow cones all afternoon, helping keep us cool in the sun.  Group dances to favorite songs, racing about with water pistols, activity in all directions, we had an excellent camp party going on!

We’ll be ready for our first full day of camp activities tomorrow, the girls scattering and eager to give everything a try. Stay tuned; it’s going to be great!

quick camp friends