A Surprise Celebration

tennis girl camper

Hey is that sunshine? It sure is! Late this morning, the last bit of drizzle and cloud cover broke up to reveal gorgeous blue skies and (finally!) a bright warm sun. It felt like a celebration. The girls poured out into the sunshine, eager to get back to their outdoor activities. The lake soon had girls swimming, wading and floating about, the Alpine Tower saw girls climbing and doing tricks on the rope when lowered down, and the tennis courts filled with girls smacking forehands and backhands. I have a hunch that every towel in the camp is wet or at least damp at this point, but now we can begin to dry things out in the sun. Plus it will only be a couple of days before the laundry goes out. Thankfully!

ice cream happiness girls
ice cream camp friends

Another exciting celebration surprised the girls right after lunch: the arrival of the Dolly’s Trolley and what we call the “Biltmore Train.” In past years, this tradition of an outdoor ice cream extravaganza, where the girls can have multiple scoops of ice cream, involved our counselors hand dipping the cones, but now that our favorite ice cream shop has a truck, we thought it would be a special treat to have the trolley come to camp and serve a few of the delicious Dolly’s flavors (like “Rockbrook Chocolate Illusion” of course). Part of the fun of the Biltmore Train, is the train of campers it creates as the girls get back in line for a second, even third scoop, assuming their cone remains (mostly) intact. The girls eat their ice cream, retaining as much of the cone as possible, and then join the end of the train to receive another scoop. Eventually, the cone disintegrates, creating a natural end to the refills. As the girls made their way back to the window for another scoop, it was fun for them to try a new flavor, and since it was Dolly’s ice cream and they were enjoying it with their cabin mates on the sunny Rockbrook hill, this was the best Biltmore Train ever.

After dinner, a few counselors announced that during “twilight,” the period of free time before evening program starts, they would be having a dance party in the gym— an impromptu, all-girl dance. Like all announced twilight activities (there’s a different one every night), this was optional to attend, but there must be some pent-up dance energy around here, because almost the whole camp ran down to the gym ready to dance. It seemed like everything in the camp came to a stop so we could all jump around and sing to a few songs. It lasted only about an hour, but was a great expression of exuberance and community joy… So fun and exciting for the girls. You couldn’t help but smile to see it!

Finally, I want to pass along an article that was recently published in the New York Post by Eric Spitznagel, “What your kid needs to learn at summer camp.” And here’s a hint; they don’t need to learn “career-path skills” that will “give them a competitive edge” back at school. The article claims kids benefit most, not from a specialty camp like a “STEM Camp,” but from a traditional summer camp experience, like what Rockbrook provides your girls. The gains here are more fundamental. A traditional camp teaches children core “building blocks for lifelong resilience.” It encourages campers to develop aspects of their character, in particular those that define their relationships with other people. As I’ve put it before, “camp is about heart.” The article provides a few interesting examples of how a traditional camp experience can have a profound effect on a young person.  We’ve seen it many times over at Rockbrook, so it’s nice to read this kind of endorsement.

camp ice cream teens

Two Awesome Surprises

Biltmore Farms dairy trucks

Among the many surprises at Rockbrook, the tradition known as the “Biltmore Train” has to be an all-time favorite. The tradition started years ago (before widespread refrigeration) when dairy products were delivered to camp from the Biltmore Estate’s Farm. On a regular basis, trucks from Asheville would make the trip to Brevard to keep camp supplied. Once a session, the Biltmore dairy truck would pull up to camp, and the girls would indulge in the sugary goodness of an ice cream cone on a hot day.

biltmore Dairy truack at Rockbrook
dolly's trolley at rockbrook camp

As the need for regular milk deliveries declined, the Biltmore Dairy closed (now it’s a winery and tourist destination), but both the ice cream tradition at camp and the name have carried on.

In recent years,”Biltmore Train” meant counselors would line up with tubs of ice cream, ready to serve hundreds of scoops to a long line of wide-eyed campers. At some point, a new tradition arose where the girls could finish the ice cream in their cone, and then get back in line to get a second scoop. As long as the cone survived and wasn’t eaten, they could continue to get refills of ice cream. With each trip through the line, the cone disintegrates making it impossible to get another scoop, but girls can end up with four or even five scoops if they are strategic (Don’t worry; the scoops aren’t all that big!). At the very least, it’s fun to get a second scoop and sample a different flavor.

This summer, we’re switching things up and returning the tradition to its roots, but with a fun twist. Dolly’s Dairy Bar, our favorite ice cream shop in Brevard, now has a food truck, an ice cream truck, that can arrive anywhere ready to serve up to 30 tubs of ice cream— the “Dolly’s Trolley.” So today, for the first time, our Biltmore Train was the Dolly’s Trolley serving the campers right under the same maple tree where the original Biltmore Dairy trucks served ice cream. It’s always a treat to have Dolly’s ice cream, but to eat it in the sunshine of the Rockbrook hill is even better.  Super cool!

Tonight’s optional twilight activity was a high-octane, hilariously messy, shaving cream fight and slip-n-slide. The call was to meet at the landsports field dressed in swimsuits and ready to smear. As the girls arrived, we handed each a large can of plain shaving cream pointing them to the grass where the “fight” would take place. After about five minutes, 50 children were eagerly spraying, wiping and racing wildly after each other. Ten minutes later, another 50 had joined in and we had shaving cream everywhere!  And while there were mostly Juniors and Middlers joining the slippery white commotion, there were plenty of Seniors too, enjoying the chance to style each other’s hair and pose for group photographs.  The slip-n-slide became popular after there was no more shaving cream to squirt. Two by two the girls hurled themselves down the gently sloping hill covered with a sheet of plastic. Already slippery from the foam, all we needed was a little spray of water to make a surprisingly fast ride. As some girls slid, others continued to mess around with their shaving cream, everyone laughing and having a blast.

Two awesome surprises in one day— the Biltmore Train and a shaving cream fight.  This must be Rockbrook!

Shaving cream in girls' hair

What’s Familiar Inspires

Zipline Course Kid

Ordinarily after the first week of a camp session there’s a subtle change. Like in a song when the key slides up a half step, there’s a modulation of the feeling, a change that’s both an elaboration and a settling. Life at camp begins to take on more energy and feel more comfortable at the same time, and today I really noticed it. By now the girls have rotated through different activities and visited most every area of the camp. They’ve met almost all of the counselors and activity instructors. They’ve learned the rhythm of our daily schedule, looking forward to the activity time, but also the slots of free time, meals and snack breaks. Most importantly, they grown more comfortable with all of the other campers, getting to know them through the constant shared experience of camp life. Our days now are more content by virtue of mutual familiarity (like a family) with everything and everyone living here together at Rockbrook.

This familiarity, which can also be understood as a strengthening of our community, ironically leads to new experiences too. Hearing stories from friends inspires you give a new camp activity a try. Fly through the air on the zip line! Noticing a shady rock by the creek inspires you to sit and relax there before lunch one day. Learning the camp songs inspires you to sing them even louder in the dining hall. The lake feels more refreshing than cold, “sprickets” (camel crickets) become more like friendly attendants than intruders, the sounds of the forest at night more soothing than unnerving. With a growing feeling of safety and relaxation, the girls also let more of their true selves shine through. Such a relief, that openness feels great. You can just see it on their faces all over camp, laughing and playing so easily, greeting everyone cheerfully, and growing closer to each other as a result.  That’s right; the deepest bonds of friendship are forming now at camp, and it’s very cool to see.

Kayaking Skit

Saturday is a day of regular camp activities, but before lunch we hold an assembly on the hill (under the old walnut tree). It’s a chance for camp bonding, announcements, recognizing the cabins with the inspection scores, and counselor skits. The sports and games instructors demonstrated, hilariously, how to play volleyball when duct taped together. The kayakers paddled frantically away from a tsunami (bucket of water!), and the yoga instructor entertained everyone by simply reciting several yoga-related puns. It was all good silly fun to remind the girls about the activity options available to them. Each age group cheered and sang their line songs, and the whole camp exploded when when we sang “Rockbrook Camp Forever.”

Happy Ice Cream Campers

The first big surprise of the day happened right after lunch, and to everyone’s delight it was “Biltmore Train.” Before it was the tourist destination it is today, the Biltmore Estate ran a commercial dairy selling milk and ice cream locally, and making deliveries of their dairy in a truck decorated with a train motif (The Vanderbilt family was well known in the railroad business). It soon became a tradition for Rockbrook girls to enjoy Biltmore ice cream, with the girls meeting the truck/train as it pulled into camp. The Biltmore dairy has since closed (It has a more tourist friendly winery now.), but we celebrate the memory by holding an an all-you-can-eat ice cream party once per session. Today we lined up 6 giant tubs of ice cream on tables under the hemlock trees, and our brave counselors wore our their arms hand dipping cone after cone for the campers. Once receiving their cone, the girls raced to get back in line (to the end of the “train”) for another. Under the warm sunny afternoon sky, we all enjoyed a high-spirited, sugar-charged treat.

The second surprise was tonight’s evening program, a disco-themed all-girl dance. Naturally, we all had a great time dressing up for the dance— shiny dresses, tie dye t-shirts, rounds glasses, and head bands setting the tone. Marcus, DJ Dog, set up his lights and sound system in the gym to keep everyone dancing, and we served lemonade and cookies while girls played outside blowing bubbles and making sand art necklaces. For a couple of hours it was non-stop disco, group dances to familiar pop songs, and zipping around the gym to the music. All girls, all fun, all good.

Hippy Disco Girls

The Power of Costumes

Camp Counselor Costume
Camp Director Costume

Don’t underestimate the power of a costume. It can be as simple as a hat or a carefully draped sheet, or as elaborate as a full-body pumpkin suit or complete ninja attire. Putting on something out of the ordinary— and the sillier the better —can be transformative. It can give you permission to express an aspect of your personality that’s ordinarily muted. Or, it can be a chance to experiment with a completely different character, like a pirate for example. A costume can act as a shield of sorts from what we perceive as social expectations. It can be an opportunity to be creative, perform and proudly participate more fully in a group event. Whether it’s changing your hairstyle, carrying a wooden sword all day, or borrowing those sparkly shoes from your cabin mate, for example, wearing a costume is inherently playful, and thereby fun.

Lifeguard Camp Costume
Ice Cream Olaf

These are the reasons we incorporate costumes into so many of our events at camp. We know that whatever we’re doing, wearing a costume will make it more fun. A good example was the “Winter Wonderland” theme we announced this morning at breakfast. When the campers arrived in the dining hall they found painted banners, decorative snowflakes suspended from the rafters, snow centerpieces on the tables, miniature characters from the movie “Frozen” (like Olaf the snowman), and some winter songs playing. With some inspiration from the counselors who already were dressed up, everyone was encouraged to dress up in any “winter-themed” costume they could imagine.

It was great to see later an ice princess lifeguarding at the lake, a polar bear in the Painting and Drawing class, and a life-sized Olaf snowman shooting archery. There were several girls dressed as snow queens, and for some wearing a snow hat was enough. Throughout the day the girls could make gingerbread houses, and something akin to snow (from corn starch, shaving cream, and glitter). The most popular event was the “Polar Express” ice cream party where the girls could enjoy a round of hand-dipped (thanks counselors!) cones on the hill. A variation on our tradition called the “Biltmore Train,” this party let the girls finish their ice cream, and as long as they still had some cone left, they could return for another scoop. Most of the girls ended up eating two or three scoops before their cone got too soggy. A real summertime treat.

Throughout the day, the costumes seemed to multiply and evolve, as if costume wearing was contagious. The silliness seemed to inspire others to join in, and be part of the fun. Winter-themed stickers appearing at lunch, temporary tattoos at dinner, our winter theme accelerated all day. Even during the “Twilight” drum and dance workshop with Billy Zanski, the girls stayed in costume, pounding the djembes and dancing around the hillside lodge.

Maybe there will be a chance to dress up tomorrow too. Even if we don’t announce a theme, I bet there will be several girls who sport some kind of costume… Just for the fun of it.

Girl Camp Friends

Downright Magical

Lake canoe trip for girls

Learning to canoe first means learning strokes, and there’s no better place to practice than on flat open water. This morning, Emily led a canoeing trip to Cascade Lake for 11 campers to do just that. With boats loaded and other gear stowed in the trailer, they drove just 15 miles to the lake and put on the water. Right away it became clear for the girls that when there is no current to move the boat, propelling and steering requires attention and skill— forward and back strokes, J-strokes, pries, and sweeps. Fortunately, it was a calm, windless morning, with bright sunshine overhead, which made it easier to maneuver the boats. It took a little practice, but soon the band of boats made it all the way down the lake to Hooker Falls, where the girls had time to beach the boats and go for a short swim.  After a light snack, the crew paddled back across the lake to load up the boats and make it back to camp for a late lunch. The girls returned excited and happy about how “amazing” the trip was.

Knitting Camp Kid
Zip line camp girl
Girl and roasted marshmallow

Meanwhile, the regular activities at camp carried on. In Curosty, the fiber arts craft cabin, girls were learning to knit, for example. Working with two knitting needles, instead of paddles, these girls were learning stitches, not strokes. Here, fine hand skills are required to twist, pull and flip the yarn while keeping the tension consistent.  Like canoeing, practice pays off when learning to knit as well, but in the end, you have something soft and warm, maybe a little uneven, but handmade nonetheless. Riding the zip line, on the other hand, doesn’t take any practice, or require strokes or stitches. Nope, all you need to zip line (beyond the harness, helmet, tether and dual pulley) is a little nerve, and maybe a couple of lungs full of air to release as a scream when you fly by high above the camp (oh, and 43 facial muscles for a smile as well!). In the activity we call WHOA, the girls have been learning to build a campfire, and when successful, perfecting their marshmallow roasting technique. Whether aiming for lightly golden brown or charred to a crisp, roasting a marshmallow is the kind of outdoor activity these girls are happy to practice.

Biltmore Train Ice Cream Eating

When Chase announced that the Biltmore Train would be arriving today after lunch, the dining hall exploded with shrieks of laughter and delight. Like Oprah had just given them some unimaginably fantastic prize, girls were jumping up and down in unison, clapping, waving their arms in the air, even collapsing with what looked like tears in their eyes. Yes, the thought of an ice cream party can do this to a group of girls, especially a huge ice cream party like this where everyone can have multiple— in some cases 5 or 6! — cones if they please. It’s been a long Rockbrook tradition to hold this once-per-session ice cream extravaganza called the “Biltmore Train.”

During the dinner announcements, another wild frenzy of screaming broke out when Chase invited everyone down to our grassy landsports for a twilight shaving cream fight and slip ‘n slide. This is another special event that, because it’s so much fun and because we do it only once per session, the girls really look forward to. Campers and counselors alike arrived dressed in their swim suits ready to get messy. Each armed with a can of shaving cream, it took about 5 seconds for the girls to begin squirting and smearing white foam on everyone. Nobody was safe; even the photographer (me) ended up covered.

Shaving Cream Fight Girl with Glasses
Camp girls sliding

For the next 30 minutes or so, the girls became more and more covered with the stuff, happily shaping outrageous hairstyles, finger painting messages on their stomachs, and adding to the designs on everyone else. We also set up a slip ‘n slide. Now covered with shaving cream, essentially coated in slippery soap, the girls took turns running and launching themselves down the long sheet of wet plastic. It’s a great time for them to roll and tumble as they glide along two or three at a time. Being this slick, some of the girls easily slid about 80 feet! After a quick rinse with the hose, it was time for a warm shower, some dry clothes, and evening program in each Line’s lodge.

What a great camp day! Adventure, creativity, time outdoors, yummy treats, and goofing around with friends— it’s been downright magical.

Shaving cream group of girls at camp

Three Dimensional Children

“Educating the Whole Child” is a phrase that the American Camp Association, the accrediting organization for camps, including Rockbrook, uses to describe what camps really do. Sure camps are fun for kids, but they are also uniquely educational, providing important developmental benefits that the otherwise 2-dimensional experience of schools often do not. If we wish to raise three dimensional children who are more than just academic achievers, polished artists or top athletes, for example, then we need to address the “whole child,” her creativity, imagination, bravery, decision making, thoughtfulness, compassion, love of nature, curiosity, passion, flexibility, initiative, collaboration and communication. We need to encourage and foster these important aspects of being a happy, well-rounded and adjusted human being. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see all of these traits blossom in our children?

Gymnastics camper doing handstand
Girl camp camper posing with horse
Kids swimming class in lake

Of course! Fortunately, life at camp does provide many opportunities for your girls to develop these character traits. Learning to do a handstand, taking care of large animal, completing swimming laps to join the “Mermaid Club,” discovering a creepy looking bug (maybe, on the wall above your bed!), deciding how to spend free time, helping with cabin and dining hall chores, compromising when a difference of opinion arises, helping a younger camper, being inspired by the misty fog of the morning, singing (loudly!) with friends, getting your bare feet really muddy, tying an even more complicated friendship bracelet, leading your friends in an off-the-wall skit, rescuing a fellow kayaker after a rapid— each of these, and so many more experiences at camp, is a way to develop that third dimension, a way to promote being more fully human. In this way, camp is educational in the best sense of the word. It fulfills real childhood needs, and in the end, can be a profoundly life changing experience.

Kids Camp photography girls
Kids at summer camp kayaking a river

OK, fine. But sometimes, we also cut loose, just for the fun of it… Like this afternoon when the “Biltmore Train” came to camp. Back before it was a winery and tourist destination, the Biltmore Estate ran a commercial dairy selling its milk and ice cream locally. For a while it delivered its wares in a truck decorated with a train motif, so when it arrived at Rockbrook, the girls called it the Biltmore “train.” Today, we have a different supplier of ice cream, but we continue this tradition by forming a different train; we hold an all-you-can-eat (well, at least until the six big tubs are gone) ice cream party. Campers break into several lines, counselors wear themselves out scooping, and after the first cone, the girls race to get back in line (to the end of the “train”) for another. All of this makes for a high-spirited, somewhat sugar-charged, afternoon, a once-a-year decadent treat for these girls.

Friends at summer camp eating ice cream
Summer camp kid eating ice cream cone
Ice Cream campers with cones