Symphony of Fun

Happy new Campers

Welcome new mini session campers! We’re very excited to have you join us at Rockbrook. For all of us on the staff and for the First Session campers already twirling through their session, this was a big day where new girls would be joining the camp community. More girls naturally means more fun, more voices singing in the dining hall, and lots more action throughout the camp. After a nice smooth arrival process— cars parking and unloading, luggage being carted to cabins, checking in with the office folks, nurses, and head screeners —cabin groups of new girls where exploring the cabin together. Serving as both a tour of camp and an introduction to the various activity offerings, these groups followed a scavenger hunt where they collected bracelets hidden at different areas of the camp: at the tennis courts, gym, health hut, and upper pottery studio, for example. It’s good to start with a little orientation, and this is a fun, active way to learn your way around camp.

We’ve been getting wonderful feedback about the new covered arena and stable we added to Rockbrook this past year. We wrote about the construction of the arena earlier, but today we had several parents take a tour of the facility and remark how much they were impressed. “It’s gorgeous!” was the most common comment. One mom said she thought this was the nicest covered horse arena in western North Carolina. I’m not sure about that, but its size and its quality footing (fiber additives blended with silica sand) do make it stand apart. Later we’ll post more information about this great addition to the horseback riding program at Rockbrook, but it was nice to hear a few “horse people” say they were impressed with our design and finished project.

We took some time after lunch for the newly arrived campers to demonstrate their swimming ability to our lifeguards, and when successful to earn a colored swim necklace. For some girls, the mountain stream water feeding our lake can be shockingly cold and thereby make it more difficult to swim and tread water as our “swim demos” require. So a girl who swims well in a warm pool may appear less confident in the Rockbrook lake, but we’ve found that with some practice and assistance from the waterfront staff, she can get used to the water and improve. On a warm summer day, the lake feels great, altogether refreshing. And when the water slide is open during free swim periods, and the lake is filled with girls diving, floating, playing games and swimming laps, the lake is absolutely delightful.

One of the best ways to kick off a new camp session is to launch right into an all-camp event, something that brings everyone together for music, dancing and costumes with surprising creative activities, challenges, and games with prizes. Just add a theme, and this combination becomes a carnival, a multi-station, free-flowing symphony of fun. That’s exactly what we did by throwing a Star Wars themed carnival or “Jedi Knight Training Academy.” The Senior campers and counselors built and operated 10 different stations like the “Matching on Mars” game, “Death Start Destruction” shooting game (using Nerf pistols), “Pin the Saber on Yoda” game, and “Shoot the Sith” game, for example. There were two huge inflatable games: something called “Leaps and Bounds” that seemed really difficult, and a bungee cord race. We had our snow cone machine grinding out pounds of ice for everyone, and a couple of sprinklers set up to keep things cooler in the bright sun. For costumes, the were many Jedi Knights, a team of Darth Vader characters, and probably a dozen girls dressed as Princess Leia. One counselor dressed as Yoda and another as Darth Maul, but my favorite was the baby Wookie being carried around. As the campers arrived at the landsports field, they could make their own lightsaber from a foam pool noodle and different types of tape. They could have their fortune told, their face painted (“The Face is with You”), or challenge a Jedi master to a lightsaber duel. There were plenty of things to do for everyone, easily filling two hours with activity. A perfect camp Sunday afternoon!

Star Wars Girls

A Harry Potter Afternoon

Wand Making Camper
Camp Potions Class
Harry potter camper

Don’t worry, it’s Harry Potter day! Actually, it was a Harry Potter afternoon as we switched things up a bit today and held wizardry-inspired events for all the girls. It all began at lunch when the “Sorting Hat” divided the campers into one of the four Hogwarts “Houses,” Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw or Slytherin. Then back in their cabins after lunch, the girls and counselors worked on costumes. Some emerged with Harry Potter glasses, robes, scarves, boarding school ties decorated according to their house, and there were several lightning bolt shaped scars drawn with eyeliner. The counselors dressed as Hermione, Professor Umbridge, and even Lord Voldemort.

Instead of the bell signaling the end of rest hour, the whole camp was filled with cinematic music playing through speakers on the office porch. That signaled the four groups/houses to begin making their way toward different activity stations. One of these was “potions class” where the girls followed complex written spells combining all sorts of colorful liquids and powders into small glass bottles. Some combinations bubbled and other turned colors, surprising the girls.

No wizard is complete without a wand, so another of the “classes” was wand making. This had the girls use hot glue to build up twisting patterns on sticks and dowels. They added paint, and multiple layers of glitter to personalize each wand, ending up with some really amazing creations. Suddenly, all over camp there were spells being cast and wand duels springing up.

Meanwhile on the landsports field, another group played a version of “Quidditch.” We made it related to soccer, only the girls would use their hands to try and throw a ball into the opposite team’s goal. There was a “golden snitch” running through now and then, and “bludgers” throwing water balloons to disrupt the play… All elements of the game as it’s played in the Harry Potter books.

Another stop was more festive, with the counselors serving “Butter Beer” (cream soda) in decorative cups, and “Broomstick” snacks (pretzels). Each group at this stop wrote a song or chant to that they would later sing for the entire group out on the hill. It was then that two counselors dressed like Harry Potter and Voldemort came flying by on the zipline and after landing, had a wand duel, which Harry won (of course!). Finally, the dining hall was decorated like the Great Hall at Hogwarts with long tables, floating lights (suspended with fishing line), and painted banners signifying each house.

It was an afternoon complete with many of the things that make a special camp event great: costumes, music, action, creativity, snacks, and plenty of smiling friends to join along the way.

Harry Potter Potion Kids

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

This is Our Camp!

“If I know what I shall find, I do not want to find it. Uncertainty is the salt of life.” –Erwin Chargaff

camper girl

Anyone who has been to Rockbrook knows that there is some degree of certainty at camp: there is a regular schedule, there will definitely be muffin break every day at 10:45 (thank goodness!), and there is always something structured to do. Yet days like today, with nothing out of the ordinary planned, remind me that we all thrive at Rockbrook because when we wake up, none of us know exactly what the day will bring, and that makes each moment of each day exciting.

No one knows exactly what a day outside of camp will bring, either, but what I have noticed recently is that Rockbrook fuels this sense of curiosity and energy by creating a camper-driven environment. Because Rockbrook is set up like this, campers feel free to take initiative and take their spontaneous ideas and turn them into real fun.

This has been exemplified all day long at camp. No one batted an eye when a whole cabin of girls arrived to breakfast decked out in costumes from head to toe, but many of them got great compliments for their senses of style! At the end of breakfast, the girls made an announcement that, as a reward for clearing their table without being asked, two girls got to dress the other girls in their cabin. The girls all loved it and enjoyed parading around in their costumes all morning!

While walking around today, I dropped by KIT, which stands for “Keeping in Touch.” In this activity, girls make stationary, calendars, and boxes—anything that helps them write letters or keep special camp memories. KIT takes place in Goodwill, an historical building that is cozy with soft lighting and red curtains. The environment is relaxed and laid back, as the counselors who teach KIT have made sure that each girl is doing a project she wants to do. Conversation flows easily as the girls who have already spent a week at camp get to know those who just arrived. Everyone is engaged in their craft and content with their choice, happy they got to decide for themselves what to focus their energy on.

When I passed by WHOA, our activity on Wilderness Hiking and Outdoor Adventure, I heard something I do not usually hear casually around camp: The Star Spangled Banner being sung around a fire pit. Curious, I joined in the song, and tried to blend in. As the song ended, girls got up to speak, and I realized quickly that this was a memorial service for the miniature rafts the girls had tried to create. A particularly memorable moment of the speech was, “It was the Titanic of rafts, and that’s probably why it sank.” No one would have thought that a sunken raft would be an avenue for the subtle hilarity that ensued afterward. With a healthy dose of flexibility and an emphasis on process instead of outcome, every small activity can become something exciting and unexpected.

paper crafts at summer camp

This notion of camper ownership extends to every part of the day and every place around camp. Eating in the dining hall is always a little unpredictable because no one ever knows what songs will get sung. The Hi-Ups (the oldest Rockbrook campers) get to choose and lead the songs, but any table can request them! My absolute favorite part of meals, though, are announcements. There are many predictable (and important) announcements about adventurous trip offerings, tie-dye pick-ups, and lost and found. What makes Rockbrook different, though, is that campers take initiative and make their own announcements too. We were treated at dinner to two juniors performing a self-written song on their favorite activity: Nature! Set to “The Shark Song,” a familiar camp tune, the girls replaced the verses with “terrariums”, “Rockbrook Falls”, and “cool counselors”. The girls even made the journal in which they wrote the lyrics down! The rest of the camp gushed at how perfect the announcement was, and broke into excited applause. Not only do campers take ownership of camp, the rest of camp enthusiastically celebrates their initiative because everyone appreciates this spontaneity.

Twilight gave us another avenue to explore as a group of girls chose to venture down to the Rockbrook Garden. Every age group was represented, and it was moving to watch the senior girls helping the younger girls get excited as they walked down the hill together. When we arrived at the garden, Chelsea, the friendly and calm Rockbrook gardener, addressed the campers saying, “Girls, welcome to your garden.” The garden is a plot of land by the land sports field. Chelsea works hard to plant a variety of vegetables, fruits, herbs, and flowers. It is incredibly calming and relaxing to be there during this twilight time, when the day’s heat is finally easing up, when the sun is setting, but there is still gold in the sky, when wind chimes are providing us with gentle sounds, and we get to romp around in what feels like a secret garden. There are rows of fruits, vegetables, and herbs that will eventually find their way into the Rockbrook dining hall! Surrounding the vegetables are beautiful flowers—heaps of sunflowers and daisies of every color. It is nothing short of perfection.

Even better, we got to do so much more than look at it. Girls proceeded to pluck strawberries right off the vine and eat them; others tried kale for the very first time. Some created bundles of lavender and verbena to tuck into their pillows at night, while others picked flowers and fashioned bouquets for their new friends. Chelsea also gave the girls some lettuce to plant in the ground, and many also helped water the plants. Regardless of what they did, I saw so much sheer joy in being able to actively engage in a space like the garden. On the way up the hill, I heard a girl comment that she was somewhat hesitant to come to the garden because she thought it would be a structured lesson about plants. She had no idea she would be allowed to pick anything or try anything, and that most requests she had would be answered with “yes,” and a smile.

After the garden, we headed back up the hill for evening program. Most nights, cabins work together to plan a skit. Though counselors are always nearby, we try not to be too involved—it’s a great opportunity for girls to work together and get as creative as we please! As I was watching a skit whose characters were debating the origin of French Fries (France or the United States…in the end, it was actually Belgium!), I was struck by the originality that stems from campers creating so much of the direction of their camp lives. I realized that, at Rockbrook, the phrase I heard at the garden should be applied more broadly. It’s as though every moment of every day is saying, Girls, welcome to your camp.

Camper Dressing up Fun

5 Steps to Being Camp Chic

The Complete Look

So you’re coming to camp on Sunday, and you want to know what to pack. The costumes are a given, of course. All the tutus, masks, wigs, and funny hats that you can cram into your trunk will be put to very good use here at camp.

But what about the everyday clothes? Maybe you have been scanning the packing list on our website, trying to determine, among the listings of “7-10 shirts/shorts,” what kind of clothes are actually considered cool at camp.

First of all, don’t worry. You could wear anything—literally, anything—at camp, and no one would bat an eye. A counselor once wore an astronaut helmet for the entirety of dinner, and I never once thought to ask why. The more typical question asked at camp when it comes to fashion is, “Why not?”

Water Bottles: The Vital Accessory

At a girls camp like Rockbrook, the fashion rules of the outside world don’t apply. Makeup is only used for clown costumes and such, hair straighteners and curling irons are useless at best in the heat and humidity, and high heels can only ever end in sprained ankles on the gravel roads.

Here, the rules are rewritten to fit our environment—pretty clothes are replaced with functional ones, carefully styled hair is replaced with crazier styles, and traditional jewelry is replaced with colorful, homemade creations that express personality instead of expense. Camp fashion standards leave more room for creativity and originality, and allow campers and counselors to express exactly who they are and look so cool doing it.

Every summer at Rockbrook has its own styles and trends. Sarah Carter told me today about when she was a counselor in the eighties, and everyone wore oversize t-shirts and men’s boxers as shorts. When I was a counselor, it was all about tank tops and bandanas-as-headbands.

So what are the trends this summer? I talked to a ton of counselors and campers today (several of whom you’ll see in pictures) to find out the big ones.

Chacos and Socks

SHOES
Shoes at camp are all about comfort and functionality. Most people wear Chacos, Tevas, or Keens–though one counselor asked me to point out that Crocs, if worn with the right amount of confidence, are still cool. It’s always a good idea to jazz Chacos up a bit with some colorful socks, too, just to keep things interesting. For extra points, make sure to wear your Chacos enough that you can show off a beautiful Chaco tan-line.

Double Dye
Home Made

SHIRTS
Some of the coolest clothes at camp are the ones that you make right here at Rockbrook. Once you make yourself the perfect multi-colored tie-dye, the only logical thing to do is to show it off as much as possible. Also, see if you can convince your counselor to let you make cabin shirts for Cabin Day. A white t-shirt+puffy paint=quality camp fashion. Odds are very good that you’ll go home with a very cool shirt after your session at RBC!

HAIR
Hair trends often take some interesting twists and turns (often literally) at Rockbrook. Through my years here, I have seen Afro wigs, Mohawks (usually for the dances), Kool-Aid tips, and more. This year, the trends have mainly centered around crazy pigtails and cornrows. Braids are always cool at camp–the more complicated the better. But the cornrow trends (and particularly the half-heads of cornrows that I’ve seen wandering around camp, have really taken this to a new level.

Cornrows
Pigtails

ACCESSORIES
As I mentioned earlier, accessories tend to be made here at camp, not bought. Campers often don’t consider their camp session complete until they have wrists full of friendship bracelets, survival bracelets, and paddling achievement bracelets. But the accessorizing doesn’t stop there. Campers love to show off their camp-made duct tape headbands, wallets, picture frames, and more. They can knit themselves hats in Needlecraft, and weave themselves headbands in Curosty. Rare is the camper who goes home without at least one of these stylish creations.

Full Wrists
Headband

THE FLASH-TAT

Flash Tats

This year, the wildcard trend that none of us saw coming was the Flash Tat. These are basically temporary tattoos with a metallic sheen that work way better than regular make-up at making a girl’s face look unique and interesting. In fact, an entire cabin covered their faces with Flash Tats for their Miss RBC dance, and they all looked so incredible!

These are all of the trends that have come to my attention so far this summer, but if you have noticed others in the pictures, or during your camp session, feel free to comment and share!

The Rockbrook Shake

The Harlem Shake… Odds are you’ve seen a version on YouTube because back in February it was a worldwide viral meme, with thousands of groups uploading dance videos to this same song. The Wikipedia article on the Harlem Shake does a good job explaining it. Well, today we made our own Rockbrook Harlem Shake. And Wow! The girls were really excited to make it, all dressed in their craziest costumes. Sarah starts it off, but when the beat drops, about 200 people turn the scene into a wild dance break. Be sure to watch it (several times, to catch it all!) in HD and in Full Screen!

Girls dressed for the harlem shake video
Camp Girls doing the Harlem Shake

These photos give you a better, up close, sense of what it felt like to make the video (click them to see a larger version). The dancing is brief and intense, with arms swinging wildly, jumping, rolling, and twirling in all directions. Kayaking and climbing equipment, gymnastics moves, and a parachute all made appearances. Long hair flew in every direction. The looks on everyone’s faces show just how fun and funny the whole experience was.

Overall, we have here a wonderful summary of the energy and spirit these girls bring to their time together at Rockbrook.

Camp Trick or Treat!?

Summer Camp Halloween Party

Walking into the dining hall, you couldn’t help but to look at every girl that passed by. It was Halloween night and we were all dressed up in our costumes. Pirates, cheerleaders, cowboys, and tourists filled each table. The Senior line put on a little after-dinner haunted house for all of us to participate in. Waiting in line, you could see all the girls were excited and anxious to get inside of the haunted house, and by the time they got through and out, you knew the wait was more than worthwhile. The seniors did a great job at making it fun and scary for all the girls, even the young juniors.