Magical Moments

As girls start getting settled into camp and third session has started going full swing, most of them have found that they feel right at home in their cabins. I love looking at how different cabins look and feel. Some are decorated with fairy lights, a camp “bucket list” of all the things the cabin wants to accomplish throughout the session, plus many photographs of camp from years past and friends and family from home. Everything is starting to feel cozy, the noises of the night no longer so scary, the bunk beds and friends ever more inviting.

In addition to the physical space in which we are residing, everyone is starting to get more comfortable with one another. We are moving past basic questions and getting in to the ease that comes with being around good friends. This was particularly appreciated today because we got to hang out as cabins all afternoon—it was Cabin Day! For Cabin Day, we cancel the two afternoon activities and counselors plan fun activities for their individual cabins. Everyone looks forward to cabin day— it usually means an extra special activity, some good snacks, and, of course, lots of time spent bonding together!

Middle School Girls Camp

The counselors put a lot of work planning activities they think their individual cabins will enjoy, and it definitely showed today! One group of junior counselors knew their girls loved playing with hair, so they spray painted hair (it’s temporary!) and braided the girls’ hair. This made every girl have the opportunity to be wacky, but also to feel special as they all had fun helping each other to do some fun hair dos.

Another junior cabin loves fairies (which is something I hear more about at Rockbrook than anywhere else—there is something that is just magical about it). Their counselors planned a great adventure for them, and I loved hearing all about it from the girls! They hiked to Stick Biscuit Falls (the nearest waterfall from camp—you can actually see the waterfall from the new office building) and searched for fairies. Then, after romping around in the woods and finding an adventurous trail back down the mountain, the girls made their own fairy wings! In addition, they came up with their own fairy identities— I heard of a football fairy, a flower fairy, and a nature fairy! The girls told me that their cabin had made a pact to wear their fairy wings at every meal (while they made sure to point out that other fairy accessories were encouraged, but they were not required). This seems like a small detail of a camper’s time at Rockbrook, but these are the magical parts of camp, the things that give cabins a certain identity that they will remember for years to come.

Pokemon Camp Game

The middlers decided to do something as a line for cabin day, and I saw so much excitement as the girls raced up and down the lines. In light of the Pokémon Go craze, the middler counselors decided to bring Pokémon Go to Rockbrook! Each counselor dressed up as a Pokémon and some hid while others went around with the girls. Much like a scavenger hunt, the girls went from station to station and acquired different treats (that were in Easter Eggs) as though they were collecting Pokemon. Then, they got to decorate cookies that looked like the different characters. Finally, to cap off a great cabin day, they all had a “battle” in the gym by playing dodge ball. Everyone had an amazing time and all the middlers were grateful for all the thought their counselors had put into the activity.

For their cabin day, the seniors had a picnic for dinner and then went to Sliding Rock and Dolly’s. The picnic was perfect—the girls ate quiche, warm lasagna, fresh peaches (possibly the best peaches I’ve ever had), and banana pudding. We then played a large group game of “I’m a Rockbrook Girl and You’re a Rockbrook Girl too,” which is a tradition at these picnics and an opportunity for all of us to learn new things about others. Then, girls went down Sliding Rock— they loved the opportunity to slide as many times as they wanted. Though cold afterward, everyone was excited for Dolly’s, the local ice cream shop that names its flavors for the local camps.

No matter which adventure they were a part of, every camper enjoyed Cabin Day. It makes us all to feel more connected with our cabin and lets counselors be creative, choosing things their particular campers will enjoy. Above all, though, growing closer as cabins allows us to feel even more comfortable with each other, and therefore even happier and more at home at camp.

Girls Slide Rock

This is My Family

I live in a mighty cabin on the Senior Line that sits up on a hill amidst the trees. A glorified tree house, if you will. Living with me are two co-counselors and 12, 13-14 year old girls. They are a spirited group of Rockbrook gals with nothing but wit, grit, pep, and cheer who always make me laugh. They are the girls of Penthouse and they are my family.

Camp Nature Girls

There’s no doubt that all of us here at RBC are one big family. We live together in the wooded mountains for a few weeks during the summer, so we’re bound to be close. We see each other during meals and activities, Assembly on the Hill, and Rockbrook Surprises, like a shaving cream fight or girl power themed carnival.

Yet, it’s the family within your cabin that shares a different kind of bond. Your cabin is your home away from home. Not only are all your belongings living in it, but so are the people you spend the most time with at camp. Your cabin mates are the first people you see when you wake up and the last you see before you go to bed. You sit together at every meal. You cheer for each other the loudest. You are proud of everything they do. You take care and look out for one another. And most importantly, you love each other no matter what. It’s your cabin mates who turn that cabin into a home.

Two Camp Friends

The fun thing about each cabin here at Rockbrook is that, just as every family, each one has a set of customs and traditions unique to just them. From mealtime to bedtime and everything in between. For me, it’s never a Penthouse meal without standing up to sing along to a Rockbrook song at the top of our lungs, or a Penthouse day without hearing “What the Buddha?!” Every night before bed, we do “Rose, Bud, Thorn.” It’s a nice way to share our day. “Rose” is something you enjoyed about the day, “Bud” is something you look forward to at camp, and “Thorn” is something that just wasn’t to your liking. A weekly tradition we do in Penthouse is “Secret Buddy.” Every Wednesday, we draw names out of a hat to see who our Secret Buddy is for that week. Gifts include sweet notes tucked away in a book, or homemade gifts made during an activity that magically appear on your bed. My favorite Penthouse practice is our nightly Mad Lib. Whoever has “Mad Lib It Up” on the chore wheel that day gets to pick the Mad Lib and go around asking for a noun, adjective, verb, etc. Laughter is critical in Penthouse and we do it ‘til lights out.

Even more special to a cabin are the memories created within and around it. I have so many to draw from with my girls. Like the time we all gathered on Side C, singing and grooving to the High School Musical soundtrack, audible from down the line. Fourth of July spent on the hill talking about our childhoods as the fireworks boomed and glimmered in the background. Or when we went stargazing together on the hill and found a running man and dolphin in the lingering clouds.

As the session nears the end, I’m savoring these final days with my Penthouse, and Rockbrook, family. Looking around the breakfast table this morning, I couldn’t help but be grateful for the time had with this amazing group of Rockbrook girls. Luckily, the wonderful thing about family is that even when you’re far away from each other, whether it be from Tennessee all the way to Poland, the love you have for one another remains.

Nie mówię po polsku! PentHOUSE!

Happy Tennis Campers

A Marvelous Beginning

Camp Counselor with small girl camper

“Rockbrook Request: new campers!” That’s what the counselors cheered this morning as we prepared to welcome our August Mini Session campers. It’s always exciting for new friends to arrive at camp, but that’s especially true for this last session of the summer. These are the campers who have been waiting the longest for camp, and for that reason have been banking their camp enthusiasm for months. Now, finally, as they drove into camp and everything was suddenly real— actual counselors, a bunk bed to choose in the cabin, and so many people to meet! —all their stored up energy was ready to come out. That kind of anticipation can at times also bring with it a few butterflies, but that’s something that ordinarily fades quite quickly once we channel that energy into the daily action of camp life. From the smiling faces I saw on the hill, that’s already begun.

Right before lunch, the whole camp assembled on the grassy hill just below the Junior Lodge. Off in the distance, you could see the blue ridge mountains and easily make out the shining face of Cedar Rock, thanks to the clear sunny weather. For the newly arrived campers and the full session girls alike, it was great fun to sing the Line Songs together, find out which cabins won the “Mop Award” (best inspection record) this week, and, for some, to try out their new Crazy Creek chairs. The Hi-Ups led everyone in singing the camp song, and before heading to lunch, we all posed to capture an all-camp photo. Here is that photo. It’s a little hard to make out everyone in a group this large, but if you click and download the high resolution version (which make take a few seconds), you’ll have a better view.

All Camp 3rd Session

Lunch made everyone happy because Rick prepared a grand breakfast spread of scrambled eggs, homemade fried red potatoes, mounds of bacon, bowls of steaming yellow grits, and a mixed fruit salad of melon, strawberries and black berries. There were a few girls who preferred cereal, granola and yogurt, but everyone was happily stuffed by 1:30!

Camp Swimming Friends

Taking advantage of the sunny warm afternoon, the mini session girls toured the camp ending up at the lake to demonstrate their swimming ability to the lifeguards and receive their swim tag. This simple test requires them to swim out about 50 feet, back the same distance, and then tread water for one minute. We don’t insist everyone take the text— a few girls always opt out it seems —but we do require girls be good swimmers if they are to participate in the water related activities (e.g., kayaking, canoeing, rafting, and sliding rock trips) or swim at the lake without the aid of a life jacket. Girls can always change their mind and take the “swim demo” later if they prefer. As I mentioned yesterday, the lake is a lot of fun (Take a ride down “Big Samantha,” our water slide!), and that can be a strong motivator!

To really kick things off, we held a pirate-themed carnival this afternoon down on our grassy sports field. For both the campers and counselors, this was first of all an opportunity to invent and show off a pirate costume, so with red bandanas wrapped around their heads, a few plastic swords, painted mustaches, hats and hoop earrings, including a few full buccaneer costumes, we had an impressive pirate crew. But like all great parties, we had games to play (with prizes to win), different snacks to eat (cotton candy, snow cones, and soft pretzels), and plenty of dancing and music pumping the whole time. The girls had a blast teaming up with buddies and running from game to game snacking along the way. They were tossing rings onto coke bottles, softballs in buckets, and beanbags into corn holes. They were bobbing for apples and making giant bubbles with hula hoops. They had their faces painted and their fortunes told by “Gypsies.” They raced to blow a bubble from the piece of bubblegum found hidden in a pie pan of flour. They tossed green “slime” (a thick solution of food coloring, jello powder, flour, and water) at three volunteer Hi-Ups… just for the hilarious fun of it. In addition, on one end of the field we set up two inflatable challenge games to play: an obstacle course race and a pillar jousting competition.

Ball Toss Carnival Game
Carnival Camp Kid with snacks
Camp Carnival Challenge

Beyond all these activities, costumes and snacks, what really made this event “the best party ever!” as one Junior camper put it, was the easy, joyful enthusiasm arising from everyone. So much laughing and smiling, spontaneous dancing, and genuine friendship making everything better! It was remarkable to see all these girls have such great fun and open up to the feeling of camp.  I can already tell, these girls are going make this session marvelous.

Camp Pirate Friends
Pirate Camp Friends

Eager Introductions

Camp Horse Girl
Camp Cabin Girl

Camp came alive again this morning as we welcomed 135 campers and opened the Third Session of Rockbrook. About 25% of these girls, those who are new to camp this summer, seemed extra-wide-eyed as they first stepped out onto the hill and were greeted by the mob of cheering counselors, the balloons, and the horses(!). The whole scene percolated as luggage was stacked and moved down the lines to cabins, campers and counselors introduced themselves to each other, and girls finished checking in and settling into their cabins. With campers arriving throughout the morning, soon there were groups of girls spreading out through the camp, some off on their first hike to Rockbrook Falls, others learning the basics of friendship bracelet making, and still others testing their Ga-ga ball skills. Everyone— campers, counselors and Directors alike —was really excited to get started. It’s time for camp!

Lunch was a delicious “comfort food” meal of Rick’s homemade mac-n-cheese (which has the most wonderful breadcrumb and cheddar crust on the top), salad, mixed berries and sliced watermelon for dessert. Combined with the two super-stocked salad bars, it was a perfect introduction to camp food— simple, wholesome, and equally yummy. Sarah made several announcements after the meal introducing everyone to some of the dining hall procedures… for example, where to find the vegetarian option, how to get extra milk to drink, what to do when your table needs seconds of something, and how to best stack your table’s dishes in a way that will help the Hi-Ups with their clearing job.

Hi-Ups Lead Songs

Instead of Rest Hour today, each cabin of girls and their counselors (and CIT in some cases) held a cabin meeting to play a few ice-breaker and name games, further introducing each other. They also discussed their cabin responsibilities, the daily schedule at camp, and learned about several important safety rules at Rockbrook (e.g., don’t run down the grassy hill… especially in the morning when the grass is wet… and doubly, when wearing flip flops!).

Meanwhile, as the cabins began their walking tours introducing them to the different activity areas of camp, each of the lines (Juniors, Middlers, and Seniors) took turns at the lake demonstrating to Chrissy, the Head of the waterfront, and the lifeguards everyone’s swimming ability. With all the directors and the entire team of lifeguards helping, Chrissy carefully explained to the girls our “Swimming Tag System,” the “Mermaid Club” and all the features of our lake, including the water slide, diving board, and shallow swimming area. Some say the most difficult part of the Rockbrook swim test is not the swimming (out and back about 50 feet each way) and treading water (for 1 minute) it requires, but rather the shock of the “refreshing,” cold water. This afternoon the weather was perfect for a dip in our mountain stream-fed lake: hot and sunny! After passing their test and receiving their green swim bracelet, the girls proudly added their swim tag, now with their name written on it, to the tag board, ready for when they arrive at the lake for a swim.

Counselor Skits

All dry and eager for the next event, everyone gathered on the grassy hill of camp for a quick assembly. Sarah greeted everyone again and introduced all of the Directors, the Line Heads, and the special Activity Heads at camp. All the age groups took turns singing their Line song, and the Hi-Ups (10th graders) led the crowd by teaching and singing one of their favorite Rockbrook songs, “Take a Little Bit of Ginger.” Shifting down to the gym, we next learned about all of the activities offered at camp by watching the counselors present short skits, often songs, about the different projects, trips, games and events they have planned for the session. These skits are chances for the instructors to show off cool equipment, entice the girls with new projects, and to demonstrate the enthusiasm they have for their activity. Later tonight, the girls will sign up for their first set of four scheduled activities, so knowing the options is an important first step.

We are settling in here at camp, quickly getting to know each other, already singing songs, wearing costumes to dinner (Hats!), and fully excited about the first day of activities tomorrow. Be sure to follow along by checking the online photos available each day in your parent account, subscribing to these blog posts, and perhaps liking our Facebook page or following us on Twitter or Instagram. These are the best ways to keep up with what’s going on at camp.

Camp Swim Friends

Camp Inclinations

Girl reading book during rest hour at summer camp

For some, perhaps mostly for counselors, a favorite part of our daily schedule is rest hour. This is a time when, after lunch and after checking for letters and emails in our mailboxes, we all go back to bed for an hour. Yes, literally, we ask all the campers to climb into their bunk and do something quiet. This might be to write a letter, draw, read, listen to music through headphones, or actually take a nap. When girls first arrive at camp and are generally more rested, they might think rest hour is an unnecessary break in the action of camp. But we know that the pace around here— all the climbing, riding, swimming, shooting, singing and dancing —requires a great deal of energy, and that getting enough rest really helps. Rest hour is a long Rockbrook tradition that’s easily explained; everyone is happier, and ordinarily healthier, when rested. The wide-open pace of camp life almost requires a siesta, no matter how brief.

Camp kid and newt

Rest Hour, indeed all of camp, is not however an opportunity for “screen time.” As you know, we don’t want our girls watching TV or movies, playing video games, or connecting to the internet while they are at Rockbrook. In addition to the fact that most kids already spend too much time consuming electronic media (one study showed an average of 53 hours per week!), we hope that by turning off these alluring gadgets, taking an extended break from this technology, your girls will make an important realization while they’re here. We want them to recognize, maybe even be energized by the fact, that there’s a lot more to life than what’s presented to them electronically.  Life, especially one lived outside, close to nature and within a supportive community, is so much more rich, so much more fun, than what Facebook, Instagram, or any other part of the Internet can communicate. Camp is that kind of life. It provides daily proof that being with great people (friends with feelings) and actually doing things (stimulating and utilizing all our senses) trumps a flickering screen every time. If flipping on the power switch of something electronic is often our modern remedy for boredom, we hope Rockbrook will inspire your girls to be more human than that, and equip them with more “real world” inclinations.

Little camp girls ready for canoeing

Both canoes and kayaks were maneuvering the lake today as a full roster of girls signed up for our “Paddling” activity. Every age group is  interested these days, partly I think because several river canoe trips have gone out and come back with great stories to tell, and learning the basic strokes at the lake is a prerequisite for an out-of-camp paddling trip. With fine instruction and equipment to use, it’s so satisfying for the girls to guide their boats more accurately through the water, and later on the river trips, to steer around obstacles, catch eddies, and ferry across moving water.

Tonight’s evening program brought back an old camp favorite, a “Counselor Hunt.” This is a game that challenges every cabin group to comb the camp together and find hidden counselors. Adding a little imagination to the game, this time the counselors dressed as aliens, each creating a crazy, colorful alien character.

Camp kids hunt for aliens

This made the game an “Alien Hunt,” with groups of girls capturing aliens and returning them to our spaceship (the dining hall). The aliens hid all over camp, and after an hour of urgent searching— faster hunting meant finding more aliens —we all found out what mysterious prize each alien would award the cabin that found her. It was a fun group game with everyone winning some kind of prize in the end.

Hunting Aliens at Summer camp

All of This on Her Own

Rockbrook Ecumenical chapel
Campers wearing white and red camp uniform

How we spend our Sundays at Rockbrook is a little different than other days of the week. It begins at a relaxed pace by sleeping in a little later, resting a little longer, and instead of doing cabin chores and getting dressed for breakfast right away, the girls shuffle into the dining hall still dressed in PJs and robes- literally, just rolling out of bed. There’s a special “real world” treat waiting for them too- boxes of freshly delivered Krispy Kreme doughnuts to supplement the regular fruit, cereal and yogurt bar, and today, Rick’s perfectly scrambled eggs.

The campers then dressed in their camp uniforms, which for Rockbrook means a white polo shirt, white shorts and a red tie, and assembled on the camp hill for our flag raising ceremony just in time for the sun to rise over the mountain behind camp. From there it’s a short walk along the “path of silence” to the Chapel area of camp. The Middler campers and their counselors led the Chapel this morning. They chose to sing songs, read poems and other meaningful passages, all revolving around the theme of gratitude. These gatherings are not religious ceremonies for us (they do not include readings from religious texts, for example), but rather are opportunities for the girls to reflect upon their time at camp and the broad human values and feelings that strengthen our community. We want girls of all backgrounds, no matter what their religious beliefs, to feel comfortable and included at Rockbrook, so our Chapel gatherings, set so beautifully in the woods, reflect that priority.

Girl sitting on her camp bunk bed

Meanwhile today, we also welcomed our July Mini 2 campers to Rockbrook for the start of their session. As they rode up the driveway with their trunks and duffel bags packed (in some cases, packed for weeks in anticipation!), it was absolutely clear that these girls were more than ready for camp to get started. They wanted to rush through the check in process, barely containing their enthusiasm, fidgeting while the nurses and the office checked things out. Up in their cabins, they finally got to meet their counselors and cabin mates, select their bunk, and settle down. All of this doesn’t take long, so parents are sometimes surprised how quickly they are “dismissed” by their daughters. “I got this, mom.” It can even be a little unsettling to see your girl skip off with her friends with just a wave or sly smile, but it’s good to remember that Rockbrook is her camp, not yours. It’s a place for her to be herself, grow up a little, try lots of new things and build really strong friendships. And all of this on her own! It’s a special recipe for encouraging independence and growing self confidence. Such good stuff.

After lunch a brief thundershower cooled things off and cleared up in time for the whole camp to charge up for a wet and wild carnival down on our sports field. A group of counselors, with the help of Frampton, Charlotte and Sofie, organized the event which included an inflatable obstacle course and water slide. The girls came dressed in their swimsuits and ready to get wet. There were sprinklers spraying, water pistols for just about everyone, water balloons and a bucket dumping game to satisfy that desire. The girls played the RBC corn hole game to win silly prizes, made small sand art bottles, tossed Pocket Discs around the field, and ran around stopping to hula hoop between getting a face painting design.

For snacks we had goldfish, an endless supply of snow cones, and drinks for everyone. Bringing the whole camp together for this kind of raucous event, mini and full session girls alike, is a great way to kick things off for the new girls. They can let loose right away, and by the end of the afternoon, they’re already feeling at home. I took a short video of this crew you see below. It’s posted on the Rockbrook YouTube channel and is very cute.

girls with face paint showing they love rockbrook

What is a Sleepaway Camp?

You might be wondering how to define a “sleepaway camp.” It’s a very important distinction because summer camps that are not sleepaway offer very different experiences.

Sleepaway Camps

You can learn a lot about summer camp terms and definitions on this camp dictionary page. But let’s focus on what makes a sleepaway camp.

Sometimes a “sleepaway” camp is also called an “overnight” camp. This means that girls come and spend the night at camp for several days or weeks at a time, not going home for the night.

Another term you might hear is “residential,” but no matter which term— overnight, sleepaway, or residential —joining a session at Rockbrook means you’ll sleep in a cabin at night.

On the other hand, some camps have campers only during the day. These are called “day camps.” Rockbrook does not have a day camp.

How about this for an understanding… “At Rockbrook, campers are residents who sleep away from home overnight.” 🙂

But where do you sleep (away) at camp?

We have simple wooden cabins— nice and cozy dry, with screens on the windows to allow the sounds and scents of the forest to pass through. Everyone has her own bed, some top bunks and other bottom bunks.  There are lights, but no electrical outlets (no need for those!). Except for the counselors, most everyone in your cabin will be about the same age (finishing the same grade), which makes it easy to have lots in common.  You’ll also eat meals with your cabin mates, so it’s easy to become quick friends.

Are you ready for the fun and adventure of camp?