Her Authentic Self

Camp girls yoga poseCamp Swimming lakeOne important goal we have for everyone at Rockbrook, campers and staff members alike, is for each person to relax and be her “authentic self.” If the “real world” pressures us to conform to lofty ideals of personality, comportment and beauty, we want camp to be a haven from those pressures. It’s fine for our home and school lives to address these ideals, but if taken too seriously and if applied too rigorously, children can end up being more “fake” than “real,” and in the long run, unhappy. They can lose track of their true personality, spirit and character because they want to be who they believe others (parents, peers, preachers and professors) want them to be. Oscar Wilde put it this way. “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” But how can we guide and educate our children, yet also foster their true selves? How can we promote real self-esteem and self-confidence more powerful than external social pressures?  It’s a lofty goal for a camp community, but how is it possible?

There’s quite a lot to this, but I think part of the secret of camp, part of what makes it so successful at being this kind of haven for girls, is the nature and strength of the relationships that form our community. As I have mentioned before, Rockbrook is an intentional community staffed by a group of well-trained, caring adult role models who know the importance of compassion, generosity, and contribution. Instead of competition, we applaud blameless communication and cooperation. Instead of insecurities and self-doubt, we inject genuine encouragement. Instead of being left out or ignored, girls here find a place of listening, respect and care.

Pair of girls shooting archeryThere’s really no better way to put it; at Rockbrook there’s a feeling of being appreciated and respected, loved, for who you really are. And the girls can sense it. They feel connected to everyone here, and supported by them. It’s within this special environment, this tight-knit community of friends, that girls can feel safe enough to let down their guard and laugh their heads off, get their feet completely muddy, dance in front of a crowd, wear an outrageous costume, jump off of a rock (tethered to a zip line cable!), shoot a real gun or arrow, and connect so deeply with so many wonderful people.

This is another reason why camp feels so good also. It’s a relief from that nagging anxiety that can accompany social pressure to perform or be a certain way. How wonderful it is to be free of that pressure! Rockbrook is that kind of haven. It’s a place where, for a brief time each summer, your girls can celebrate their true selves growing more secure and confident. Of course, all of this might just mean your girls are “comfortable” here and are having a lot of “fun,” but I think it’s much more than that.

Camper with flags in her hairGirls dancing to live music at RockbrookToday was “International Day” at camp. To celebrate, we welcomed Ras Allen and the Lions, a Reggae band to play an outdoor concert for us on the hill during dinner. They set up on the Hillside Lodge porch. The girls relaxed in their crazy creek chairs, applauding and cheering between songs. Many of them also hopped up to dance, especially when the band came down to the crowd for a drum solo. Singing about “Beauty and Love” and “Organic” gardening, among other things, Ras entertained the campers and counselors for 2 hours. Live music, some good food, a little dancing, and all with really great friends— it was a nice way to spend a Friday evening.

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 videoCamp Girls doing the Harlem ShakeThese 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.

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

Nothing Quite Like It

Confident Camp girls

Ending a session of camp, as we did today at Rockbrook, is a strange feeling of heartache because we have to say goodbye to all these amazing people, but also of deep satisfaction because we know we’ve shared something special over these last few weeks. As parents arrived today to pick up their girls, many saw tears and sadness for having to leave their special place, their camp, their haven filled with some of their best friends and so many fun things to do. Rockbrook is for these girls a place where they can be at peace, with themselves and with the people around them. As I hope you’ve sensed from these blog posts and the photo gallery, we stay busy, and usually pretty silly, most of the time around here, and it feels great. All of us know that there’s just nothing quite like camp. So that’s the other feeling coloring today: gratitude. We are all so thankful for simply being together in this magical place, so thankful for this remarkable community we know and love.

So thank you everyone! Thank you for sharing such wonderful girls. Thank you for supporting Rockbrook. Thank you for being a part of our camp family. We will miss your girls, but also look forward to seeing them again next summer.

Launching into Summer

After many months of planning, new building projects around camp, gathering supplies and equipment, hiring staff members, and for the last week, training outdoor adventure guides, equestrian specialists and cabin counselors, we have arrived at the opening day for Rockbrook’s 2013 summer season. It’s a very exciting day for all of us at camp. Like for your girls, it truly is the moment we’ve been waiting for. It’s the day when we can finally reunite with many old camp friends and meet great girls new to Rockbrook as well.

Campers making name tags Camp Cabin Job Wheel

Overnight we had some heavy rain, and the rest of the day was forecast to be quite wet. So a little shuffling of our opening day schedule and procedures, a few tents and tarps, and plenty of raincoats and boots were required. It sprinkled a bit throughout the morning, and it did rain briefly now and then, but overall we had a great opening day. The campers met their counselors, moved into their cabins, and had a chance to decorate their name tags. These name tags, by the way, are made from a slice of a mountain laurel branch, and are just like those made for generations at Rockbrook. The girls use markers to decorate them and often add beads to the strings for another way to make them unique. In each cabin, the counselors had prepared a poster welcoming the girls and a “job wheel” outlining the daily chores and how they will be shared. It’s fun to settle into the cabin… Making beds, unpacking, arranging pillows and greeting everyone as they arrive.

Camper Games in LodgeThe weather cleared up nicely in the afternoon allowing us to send cabin groups on tours around the camp. These tours both orient the campers and get them thinking about the different activities they will be able to choose from. While some cabins were touring, others were playing group get-to-know-you games in the lodges, and others were down at the lake demonstrating their swimming ability to the lifeguards. Yes, it was plenty warm enough and, while cloudy, not raining during all of this activity.

Before dinner, we all assembled in the gym to learn more about the different activities at camp by watching the counselors perform skits. There were songs, dances with props like tennis racquets, climbing harnesses, and kick boards, and incredibly enthusiastic introductions. Watching these skits, you could tell the counselors were having fun and were going to be great teachers as well as role models for the campers this session. If you haven’t read through some of the staff profiles we’ve posted, I recommend it. You can see, even without meeting them, just how impressive these young women are!

Tomorrow the campers launch into their first activity schedule. It’s going to be big fun!

Friends Swimming Test

Rockbrook’s Katniss

One of the most appealing things about Rockbrook is the opportunity to try new things.  Many times  you’ll be able to try activities that you wouldn’t be able to do at home for one reason or another.  For example, you may want to learn how to roll a kayak, but you don’t have one at home.  Try it at camp.  You may have always wanted to climb a rock, but who has access to a rock face and a professionally trained outdoors crew on a regular basis?  Climb one (or two, or three) at camp.  You get the idea — camp is the perfect place to try new things!

This could be the reason that one of the most appreciated Rockbrook activities is archery.  Who has the resources/equipment to try an activity like archery on their own?  Not many, that’s for sure.  For years, Archery has been one of the most sought after activities at camp.  That esteem has only increased thanks to the fact that the most celebrated book-turned-movie series out right now is The Hunger Games, a story in which the main character, Katniss Everdeen, is depicted as an underdog, then champion, then heroine.  And, as we all know by now, the skill that sets Katniss apart from the rest — she’s a magician with a bow and arrow.  Katniss with a bow and arrow is like Michael Jordan with the basketball as time expires during the playoffs: GOLDEN.  So, it’s only fitting that archery’s popularity as an activity at camp has soared.  Suddenly we find ourselves thinking: I want to be like Katniss.

This is where Rockbrook and Katniss collide.  Longtime Rockbrook girl, Marston, decided early on that archery was one of her favorite activities at camp.  It didn’t take us long to see how much Marston enjoyed archery, and bullseye after bullseye proved that she was pretty good at it too.  Besides loving archery, Marston’s also a pretty big Hunger Games fan.  Check out the photos below of Marston, on the left, and Katniss, on the right.  I’m no expert when it comes to archery technique, but I think Katniss could take a few tips from Marston.  Such focus, such form!

You go, Marston!
You go, Marston!

Katniss Everdeen, The Hunger Games
Katniss Everdeen, The Hunger Games

So Marston’s a super archer and she likes The Hunger Games.  Cool coincidence?  Here’s another awesome addition to the saga: Jennifer Lawrence, the Oscar award winning actress who plays Katniss, seems pretty hip by any standards, and Marston met her!!!!!!!!!!!!  Exciting, huh?  Archery, Katniss, Marston, and Rockbrook all coming together.  I wonder if Jennifer got any good shooting tips from Marston?  Maybe the two can set up a meeting on the range.  I have my money on the Rockbrook girl, our very own version of Katniss!

Martson and Jennifer Lawrence pow-wowing on the red carpet.
Martson and Jennifer Lawrence pow-wowing on the red carpet.

Ditch the playground- come to camp!

We’re not afraid to get our hands dirty

An interesting article written on the Tennessee Today webpage sheds light on the importance of playing outside.  A University of Tennessee research team recently conducted a study to determine whether children who play on traditional playgrounds or children who play in natural settings are more active and/or more creative.  It turns out that children who play in a natural setting are both more active and use their imagination more than they do while playing on traditional playground equipment.  In fact, the children who participated in the study played nearly twice as much in the ‘natural playscape’ than they did on the regular playground.  This came as no surprise to us at Rockbrook.  We love playing in nature!

Run girls, run!

So what is it about nature that inspires us to play more than we would on a playground set?  Maybe it’s the freedom that we have to use our imagination and get creative.  Maybe it’s being able to decide what to do on our own.  Maybe it’s the excitement of the unknown.  Whatever it may be, we believe that the landscape that surrounds us fosters Rockbrook’s mission to allow girls to explore the beauty of nature and to try new things.

We love to play in the stream!

Playgrounds are great and all, but who is ready to ditch the swing set and monkey bars and head into a fairyland of beauty? We can’t wait to play outside with you all this summer! To read the full article about the mentioned study, click here.

The Ineffability of Camp

Girl shooting archery at summer camp

With summer drawing to an end and so many kids returning home from summer camp, Talya Minsberg writes in the New York Times about What Parents Don’t Get About Camp. The piece is partly a fond memory of life at camp for both campers, who “find the joy of growing and exploring on their own,” and as a staff members, who are the “warmest, silliest, most fun (and responsible)” people they can be. It’s one author’s recollection of how summer camp is a magical place bubbling with experiences for positive transformation. The article hints at the features of camp life that make it difficult to describe, that make kids’ stories from camp seem so inadequate— the close friendships, the freedom and independence, how hilarious things were —but in the end suggests it’s OK for parents and noncamp friends to not fully understand “camp.” You have to experience summer camp, to really “get” it.

And since camp is “a place of their own” (as Rockbrook’s mission recognizes), it’s perfectly natural, even preferable, for others to mistake what camp really is, to grasp only a faint sense of what it means to the campers and staff members who live it. We have to agree; it’s hard to describe the magic felt from living like we do at Rockbrook (despite our attempts to describe it all summer long), but that’s just part of it, and in the end, a very good thing.