Nature at Camp

Nature Girl CamperAs a parent, have you ever felt you were driving around in circles, literally driving your kids from home to school, to sports or dance practice, to other lessons or weekly events? Would you say that your kids are scheduled and busy most of the time? Do they spend most of their time inside, and when they do have free time, how do they spend it? Watching TV, on the Internet, text messaging?

All of this is valuable, of course, with each activity exposing children to new ideas, information and challenges, but there’s a growing awareness that if overemphasized it can create problems as well. It’s becoming clear that children need time with nature too. They need the opportunity to explore the outdoors, to play outside without the time constraints of school, to feel the elements and reconnect with the wonders of the natural world.

The Children and Nature Network is an non-profit organization dedicated to researching this issue and providing resources for encouraging children’s health through outdoor activity and experience.  It’s a great place to learn about the importance for children of direct experience of nature.

Summer camps, thankfully, are still ways for children to recover from the “nature deficit” they endure throughout the school year.  Nature and camp just go together. Particularly at an overnight camp like Rockbrook, nature is a constant companion— the earthy smell, the feel of the weather, the surprising creatures, the plant life that’s everywhere you look.  Sure camp offers crafts, adventure, sports and lots of silly fun, but every minute is also a chance to be with nature.  It’s the greatest feeling, and is also, incredibly good for you.

Hiking Girls

Girls Adventure Hiking Trip

Let’s not forget hiking! All the girls who come to Rockbrook can count on a hiking and camping adventure. It’s not required or anything, but just about everybody takes a special trip out of camp to spend a night camping out in the forest, either at one of our outposts (at the Nantahala River or nearby camp below Dunns Rock) or in the nearby Pisgah National Forest. Even the youngest campers look forward to being outdoors, sleeping in their sleeping bag, messing around with their flashlight 🙂 and of course, making s’mores over the campfire.

Hiking and camping like this is big fun for the girls, but more than that, it reconnects them with nature. Away from the ordinary distractions of being inside (home, school, car), they settle down and become more aware of the world around them. This makes it easier to appreciate the people around them too, and thereby to make friends. It’s amazing, but hiking and camping provides an almost magical context for girls to enjoy being with each other while at the same time growing socially.

Spotlight on Jeff

Summer Camp director Jeff Carter

Jeff Carter began his Rockbrook career in the 1980s. Over the years he has served camp in more capacities than most staff members. Hired by previous owner Jerry Stone, Jeff planned and led hiking and climbing trips in his first summers at camp.

During this time he pursued many education opportunities including his degree in comparative religions from Davidson College, where he was also an All-American high jumper on the track team. Then he received his masters degree from Harvard followed by his doctorate at the University of Chicago. He spent a year living in Nigeria on a Fulbright Fellowship completing his studies.

After marrying Sarah (at Rockbrook!) and teaching at Davidson College, he returned to Brevard to help Jerry start the Castle Rock Institute (a college humanities program run at camp). During this time, Jeff continued to work behind the scenes at camp leading trips, keeping us technologically up-to-date, and fixing everything!

While Rockbrook is in session, Jeff continues to be our “Jack of all Trades.” Combining his outdoor knowledge with his goofy sense of humor, he is always up to something new. During the off-season, he works on key staff hiring, website maintenance, health and ACA standards, camp improvements, and the list goes on. Also, when Jeff isn’t busy with camp director duties, he enjoys being outdoors: biking, hiking, and climbing. Typically he brings his two daughters, Eva and Lily, along for an adventure!

Camp is a Refuge

Cute Little Camp Girls

We hear this a lot, actually: that camp is a refuge.  It’s a place where girls can escape the busy, sometimes overwhelming pace of their regular lives.  For many young kids, each day is a bombardment of stimuli, new information and entertainment.  There are school responsibilities, social demands, and activities at home all demanding attention.  Increasingly, parents have noticed that the intensity of their children’s lives is making them more anxious, fearful, and worried.  There’s so much going on, it’s difficult for kids to really connect with the people (family and friends) around them, adding even more to the burden of handling everything on their own.  Everything around them seems to be shouting, and sometimes it’s just too much!

Thank goodness for camp.  It really can be a refuge, a huge relief from all of this.  Simply being outside, unplugged from rapid-fire electronic stimulation, is a powerful antidote.  Having daily opportunities to engage creative talents, physical challenges, and deep social/personal relationships is so welcome, kids just blossom in a camp setting.  It’s the greatest gift to simply have time to relax, to play in the creek, dress a little silly, or chat with a friend in the porch rocking chairs. The environment of a kids camp is a powerful healthy response to the extreme busyness of ordinary life. It always has been, and these days, it seems like it’s needed more than ever.

Top 5 Summer Summer Camp Directories

When searching for summer camps, it’s always good to look at several to compare them and learn about which might best fit your child. You can spend a lot of time searching the Internet and reading different camps’ individual websites, but you can also visit one of the many summer camp directories out there. These are special sites designed to help sift through all the options. You can narrow the complete list of camps by region, by activity specialty, by gender, by type (sleepaway vs. day, e.g.), even by religion. As you enter your preferences, you’ll be presented with a more manageable list of camps to research in more detail, for example by requesting their catalogs and promotional DVDs.

Summer Camp Directories

Ah, but there are lots of summer camp directories out there too!  So here are what we consider the top 5 camp directories to visit.  Each is organized a little differently and will therefore yield somewhat different search results.  Looking for a residential girls camp in the southeast?  In addition to Rockbrook, each of these directories will reveal a range of options.  After spending some time on these sites, you’ll have an excellent idea about which summer camp will be right for your child.

mysummercamps Summer Camps Directory
camppage camps directory
summercamps camp directory
kidscamp summer camps
allensguide summer camp directory
Camp girl aiming arrow

Rockbrook Camp’s Ropes Course

Youth girls climbing adventure ropes course

“Does Rockbrook have a ropes course?”

Yes, we have an Alpine Tower. This is a special challenge course camp structure that combines both low ropes course elements and really cool high ropes course events. If you haven’t seen one of these, they are amazing. From this photo you can see a little that they are made of huge telephone poles bolted and lashed together in the shape of two inverted pyramids. This allows the youth girls to climb up three different sides, swing on ropes, balance on logs, scramble up cargo nets, and pull up on all sorts of climbing holds. There’s the “corporate ladder,” the “missing link,” the “swinging logs,” and the “bump out” to name just a few of the ropes course climbing elements on the Tower. You can imagine how popular climbing is at camp, and with all these different ways to climb, girls can come back all the time and have something new to try.

P.S. Did you know Rockbrook’s Alpine Tower is unique among youth camps because it is the only one with a roof?!

Letters Home from Camp

overnight summer camp campersHere’s an interesting article that caught our eye over at the Christian Science Monitor, “Mom to Dad: ‘Think Jimmy’s Doing O.K. at Camp?'”  It’s a short piece written by Dave Horn about his time as an overnight camp counselor in the 60s.  While parents today have online photo galleries and blogs to see how their children are doing at camp, he notes just a few years ago there were only letters.  Parents had to mostly wonder and wait to find out about their camper’s camp experience.

But what if the campers didn’t write home much?  After all, they’re having too much fun to stop and write a letter.  Camps helped by asking the camper’s counselors to write quick notes to parents, reassuring them that all is well at camp (a tradition Rockbrook still follows).  To help his young campers even more, Dave Horn turned this letter writing into a game.  He had each camper take turns playing the “boss” and dictating a letter home.  The camper would sit down and recite what he wanted to tell his parents and Dave would type it out on his portable typewriter.  In this case, 1960s technology helping kids communicate from overnight camp.

I wonder if he mentioned hula hooping in your bathrobe? 🙂

Tie Dyes are Always in Fashion!

Camps Craft Tie Dye

One craft at summer camps like Rockbrook that’s always popular is making a tie dye t-shirt. It’s certainly a classic thing to do, and while you might think of swirls and colors on shirts from the 1970s, tying and dyeing cloth is common all over the world. For example, there is adire tie dyeing in Nigeria (Africa), shibori dyeing in Japan, and mudmee dyeing in Thailand, just to name a few.

In the Rockbrook craft activity called “Hodge Podge,” the girls use rubber bands to tie up the cloth. Folding, twisting, bunching, pinching, and wrinkling the material you make all sorts of different patterns. Then with the rubber bands, you keep everything tight. The tighter the fold, the more resistant to the dye that part will be. That’s part of the creativity involved— deciding what to make tight (resisting the dye) and what to leave loose (taking on the color of the dye). Plus, there’s the fun of picking what colors to use, and in what areas. With so much variation, it’s neat to see how each shirt turns out different.