Banquet of Games

Tonight our ninth grade campers, known at camp as our “CAs,” unveiled the surprise theme for their party to celebrate the session. They’ve been planning since the first day of camp when the group selected this theme, carefully keeping everything a secret from the other campers (and most of the staff!) at camp. From the food, music, costumes, choreographed group dance performances, brief skits, to a truly amazing array of decorations, these girls considered every detail. We call this party at the end of the session, this over-the-top dance party, the “banquet.”

Game night party decorationThe banquet theme for this first session of 2019 was “Game Night.” They focused on board games, card games, and a few electronic games to select their characters, food and of course the entire dining hall’s decorations.  Using mostly paint on paper and cardboard, we saw posters and props for Checkers, Clue, Chutes and Ladders, Boggle, Parcheesi, Stratego, Rummi-Kub, Operation, Monopoly, Blokus, Uno, Barrel of Monkeys, Connect 4, Twister, Apples to Apples, Candyland, Spot it, and Pictionary, as well as Tetris, Pac-man, and Just Dance. With this many games represented, it was amazing to see the variety of designs, and colorful drawings that covered literally every inch of wall space in the dining hall. In every direction, the girls saw larger-than-life depictions of their favorite games.

camp pacman costumes girls' costumes like Clue characters

This session has a record number of CA campers, 28 in all, so this was a wonderful theme to accommodate lots of characters. For example, from the game CandyLand we saw Queen Frostine, Miss Mint, Princess Lolly, Grandma Nutt and even Plumpy. There were characters from the game Clue: Professor Plum, Colonel Mustard, Miss Peacock, Miss Scarlet, Mr. Green and a Detective. Mario and Princess Peach were portrayed. The Queen of Hearts, the Monopoly Man, the Operation Man, Just Dance characters, Pac-man and his pursuing ghosts also made an appearance, while all of the counselors transformed themselves into different color dice. What a crowd!

summer camp party girlsThe food included “game piece” fruit kabobs, “puzzle” chicken nuggets, “pizza spinners,” and checkerboard brownie/blondie cakes for dessert. The program included several dance performances, alternating with the entire camp jumping up to dance and shout to popular songs.  Just imagine 300 people all singing (as loud as they can, by the way) “shake it off,” “party in the USA,” or “meet me in the middle!” Now imagine all those people packed into a room, with even more excitement and exuberance bubbling up from the friendships strengthened over a couple of weeks together.  Add to that, loud music, eye-popping colorful decorations and costumes, and the kind of party food and snacks (i.e. sweet stuff!) kids love, and you have a REALLY fun party. I asked one camper between dancing how she liked the banquet, and without a split second of hesitation, she threw her arms up and yelled, “It’s awesome!”  There’s no doubt about it.

camp baquet costumes

Rockbrook Girls are Out of This World!

Way down in Brevard, we are lucky enough to be located in the mountains and away from bright city lights, allowing us to have a wonderful view of the stars on clear nights. Today, however, the campers had a chance to see and be stars during the daytime on Out of this World day! This full Saturday was jam-packed with special events, crafts, food, and costumes all related to the Out of this World theme.

inflated planetarium planetarium entrance

campers inside planetariumThe first special part of our weekend was an all-day visit from the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute’s (PARI) Portable Planetarium. A former NASA research facility, PARI now hosts a Learning Center to inspire and educate people about science and technology. Today the Portable Planetarium came to Rockbrook for 6 viewings of their All About Space show, which included learning about the Greek mythology behind the names of planets and their moons, watching a meteor shower, and looking at all the Zodiac constellations. Entering the Portable Planetarium was like falling down the rabbit hole into Wonderland–campers and staff crawled through a dark tunnel into the planetarium dome that was then filled with the beautiful Milky Way.

zodiac camp birthday partyOur space-tacular Saturday continued at dinner with Zodiac birthday night. Campers with summer birthdays always get a special celebration at camp, but we also have a birthday night in order to celebrate everyone! Tonight, campers and staff sat with their fellow Sagittarians, Leos, and Capricorns in order to revel in their special identity and eat birthday cake. Not only does birthday night allow campers to celebrate themselves, it also allows them to sit at a meal with people of different ages they might not normally share a meal with. After dinner, the fun continued with an optional constellation kaleidoscope craft, and finally an all-camp favorite–a girls dance, replete with glow sticks!

While costumes, dancing, and learning happen every day at camp, Out of this World day allowed all the elements of Rockbrook to come together in such a way that campers were able to unlock their imaginations and explore new paths they might not otherwise take if it was just a “regular” day. With a theme, normal camp activities have a unique twist, a regular dinner becomes a huge birthday celebration, and a typical free swim becomes a time to lay with your friends in a planetarium and watch the stars. We can’t wait for the next special camp theme to take us to infinity and beyond!

girl camp dance

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

Oh So Happy

There are several all-camp events that close the main sessions at Rockbrook, and as we have finished today, we will have enjoyed them all. It’s important that these events involve everyone at camp because they represent the tight-knit community that has formed over the last few weeks, the feelings of camaraderie and appreciation we have for each other, and the unity gained from all of the moments— big and little —of shared experience during camp. The community of Rockbrook has grown stronger during the session, and while you sense it throughout each day, these final all-camp events make who we are as a group even more clear.

The “Banquet” is a great example. Our ninth grade girls, who we also refer to as “CAs,” are given the responsibility of planning our session Banquet, to select a secret theme, and then present an elaborate party based on that theme. Special music, almost 100 different hand-painted posters along with other decorations, food to match the theme, plus dance performances and skits in costumes— all make the event. There are souvenir, decorated cups and printed programs on each table, plus, of course, lots of candy to assure it’s a “sweet” party.

Banquet Girls Banquet Friends Banquet Teens

This session the CA girls presented a “Mario” banquet filled with characters from the Mario Brothers and Super Mario Nintendo video games. From Mario to Peach, Luigi to Toad, Donkey Kong to Daisy, there were colorful characters serving the dinner and performing several choreographed dances to some of the video game music. The campers, all dressed in this year’s RBC t-shirt, joined in several of the dances, turning the whole dining hall into a fun dance party. Occasionally pausing for a photo or a giant gulp of water to re-hydrate, all of us danced (laughed, smiled and jumped!), sang (screamed and shouted!), and ate (nibbled chicken fingers and fries, and chewed different candies!) together. We were hot and sweaty, but oh so happy having this much fun.

The closing campfire, what has been called our “Spirit Fire” at Rockbrook for 95 years now, is another example of an all-camp event that signifies the positive feelings of community we enjoy here. Different from the banquet though, this event is more reflective and carries deeper emotions. First, we hold it on the last night of camp. We all dress in our white uniforms. We sing our more traditional songs like “In the Heart of a Wooded Mountain” and “How Did We Come to Meet Pal” around the campfire. And we hear campers and counselors speak about their time at camp and what it’s meant to them.

More than anything, the Spirit Fire is a beautiful reminder of the camp community and the very real feeling of being respected and loved by a group of friends. We’ve forged a collective spirit over these last few weeks, supported by kindness, cooperation and care, and bubbling with enthusiasm and encouragement. The Spirit Fire is simply a focused moment defined by that spirit. As we sit together around the blazing campfire, with stars above and the sounds of crickets and night frogs all around, it’s hard to not get a little teary. It’s a wonderful experience.

It’s been a fantastic session… packed with action, and maybe a little too much singing and dancing, if that’s possible. Thank you for sharing your girls. We will miss them, and until then, look forward to singing and dancing with them again next summer.

Camp Spirit Fire Kids

The Fun was Multiplied

Girls Camp ArrivalsToday we proved it again. We proved one of the basic principles of camp, something that we know makes things better… more fun. It’s simply this; if it’s good to do something with a few people, it’s more fun to do it with even more people. Certainly there will be diminishing returns at some point, but generally speaking at camp our fun ramps up further when more kids join in. Games of Gagaball, swimming in the lake, making pottery, kayaking down a river, doing yoga, playing tennis, even relaxing in one of the red rocking chairs on a lodge porch— there’s more conversation, reward, emotion, silliness and fun when we do any of these (and other examples too!) with others. It’s an easy lesson to learn in a place so community-minded as Rockbrook. Being inclusive, friendly, open and generous, leans us all toward each other, encouraging more meaningful relationships. At camp we seek each other out, thrive inter-acting, and enjoy everyday with friends.

Today’s proof came when 75 Mini Session campers arrived and joined the full session girls. Right away, as cabins filled with new smiling faces and new wood-chip name tags were spotted around camp, it felt more festive. It took really no time for these new campers to jump right in, to be hiking, playing tetherball, tying their first friendship bracelet, and romping the hills of camp with their cabin groups.

Camp Cabin AwardJust before lunch, we all gathered on the central hill of camp under the old walnut tree for an assembly. This is a gorgeous shady spot that looks out at the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance, and serves as an amphitheater of sorts for us. Sarah began the assembly by welcoming the new campers to Rockbrook and introducing the directors, special staff members, and head activity instructors. Then we all felt the power of the added enthusiasm provided by these new campers when the Hi-Ups, the oldest girls, led the camp singing the different “Line songs.” Part song and part cheer, I bet folks all over the river valley could here us!

Camper Obstacle FunObstacle Race kidsThe best proof came after rest hour when the counselors set up a crazy obstacle course for the campers. We warned them to dress in swimsuits because they were apt to get hot and wet running to each station, challenge and obstacle. Some of these were a little messy, like the color run where blasts of colored powder and water balloons (thrown by a couple of counselors) blocked their path, or the “noodle crawl” that had the girls duck under a net and crawl through an area of wet noodles. Other obstacles were physical, like weaving through a maze, jumping over bales of hay, and stepping from stone to stone along the path.  The obstacle course ended at the landsports field where we had an inflatable water slide and a huge dance party. Snow cones and chilled watermelon, plus lawn sprinklers and an army of counselors armed with water guns, helped keep us cool in the afternoon sun. Face painting, hula hooping, corn hole games, and loads of dancing added to the fun. Karin and Abby, two of our camp photographers, caught most of the action, so be sure to check out the photos in the online gallery. You can tell by all the faces, the fun was multiplied. Good active, messy, fun.  You know it’s been a great camp day when everyone in camp needs a shower before dinner!

Color Run Fun Kids

Sheer Joy

4th of July CampersWe don’t take the 4th of July lightly around here. In fact, it might be the peak of the summer, combining everything we love about Rockbrook and then pushing it just a little higher, adding a tad more intensity, and turning up the volume… all, of course, just for the fun of it.

We began the day early, before the regular rising bell, like camp has for decades on the 4th, with the equestrian staff riding down the cabin lines shouting, “The British are coming!” The staff had braided red, white and blue ribbons into a couple of the horse’s tails and one had a small flag fixed to its saddle. As the campers woke to the sounds of hoof beats outside their cabins and all this strange yelling about “the British’ (which by the way, Paul Revere probably called them the “Regulars”), they stumbled out onto the hill, still dressed in their pajamas, for a flag raising ceremony led by the Hi-Ups and everyone reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and singing America the Beautiful.

At breakfast, the campers were met by the first wave of decorations meant to help celebrate the 4th of July. The dining hall had streamers, posters, ribbons, and balloons hung in every direction. We set a pile of red, white and blue head bands, stickers and temporary tattoos on all the tables, and combined with the campers’ own festive shirts, tights, and hats, the patriotic color scheme was elaborate, to say the least! Rick had eggs, sausage (veggie too) and oven roasted red potatoes for breakfast, and after singing several songs like “Yankee Doodle,” “Your a Grand Old Flag,” and Katy Perry’s “Firework,” the girls were definitely in the spirit of the day as they set out for their morning activities.

For the afternoon, we scheduled a fun, exciting series of all-camp relays that ran the campers in stages between the Alpine Tower at one end of the camp to the Landsports field to finish up. Part group games, part physical tasks, and part cooperation relays, the entire event challenged three teams (red, while and blue) comprised of girls mixed from all three age groups. Each team started by dressing and decorating themselves with washable body paint in their team color, and by creating a team cheer. Also, all the girls on each team selected an individual relay, a particular challenge to tackle and advance their team toward the finish.

Greased watermelon relay game at the lake sponge bucket relay game victory pose shaving cream girl

There were 17 (!) different relays in all, so everyone had a role to play for their team. There were traditional relay race events like Dizzy Lizzy, Greasy Watermelon, Sponge and Bucket, 3-legged, and Egg and Spoon, but also silly challenges like moving marbles from one bucket of water to another using just you feet, and passing a banana backwards down a line of people lying on the ground, again using just your feet. One game used water pistols to roll a beach ball, another challenged the girls to sidestep while holding a balloon between a partner’s head, and still another required the group to thaw a frozen t-shirt as fast as possible. Dashing from relay to relay, the girls were so excited to finish their event and then cheer on their teammates as the mob grew larger the closer it got to the Landsports field. There we had music and watermelon to enjoy while the final events completed. We had a pie eating contest, and a crazy red, while and blue shaving cream fight at the end of the afternoon. But as a final surprise, Richie, Rockbrook’s builder and facilities manager, arranged to have a firetruck ready to spray a huge fountain of water up in the air. Instant rainstorm! With fun, danceable pop music blasting, the girls sweaty and messy from the relays and shaving cream, they had a complete blast together dancing around as the fire hose showered water.  Almost unimaginably, it was a moment of sheer joy for everyone.

water squirt ball relay game crunched head balloon game relay banana pass relay game

After cleaning up, we all enjoyed a traditional picnic on the hill, a yummy supper of grilled chicken breasts, baked beans, corn on the cob, and potato chips. We don’t serve soft drinks at camp ordinarily, but tonight we offered the girls each a can of Cheerwine, kept cold in the creek in front of the Goodwill cabin. For dessert it was shortbread, strawberries, blueberries and fresh whipped cream— red, white and blue.. again!

As night fell, the finale of the day was our own fireworks show. Chase was ready with glow sticks for all the girls and a playlist of fun music to blast during the show. For the next 35 minutes, we all enjoyed another dance party, as the girls twirled their glow sticks, sang along to the music and cheered with every sparkling blast in the air.

It’s hard to beat a day like this with one celebration after another, one exciting surprise after another. When you have all these great people having this much crazy fun, I can’t think of a better way to spend the 4th of July.

crazy camp girlshappy messy camp girls

Fostering Elasticity

Girls Craft Table at summer campWhen we finish a session at Rockbrook and the girls have returned home, we always send out a brief survey to parents hoping to receive some feedback about their girls’ time at camp. We ask questions about all aspects of the experience, from the activities, the health care, and the staff to the special events and the food. It’s always very interesting (and helpful!) to learn how camp succeeds and where we might improve the way we do things. Two of the final questions ask parents to describe the most challenging, and the most rewarding, aspect their girls encountered while at camp. I wanted to share an insight one parent mentioned in her response.

This parent reported her daughter being challenged by some of her cabin mates, “getting along with them,” but then suggested “being flexible and understanding others” was a clear reward as well. For this parent, and likewise for others I would guess, camp life for her daughter was not at first entirely comfortable and easy, but because of that, it provided very important lessons. To be an opportunity for growth, it was at first challenging in an beneficial way.

Outdoor Yoga session at summer campGirls reading during free time at campAll Girls Summer CampThis is spot on. Being at summer camp, certainly the first time, means entering a foreign environment where the familiarity of home is replaced with all sorts of new experiences that can feel strange or even a little scary to a child. There’s unusual food… “Did you try the falafel?” There’s our mountain forest environment itself with its weird plants, perpetual parade of insects, eerie sounds at night and funky organic smells. At camp there are “never-tried-it” things to do like climb a real rock, improvise a character on stage, or knit a hat, for example, all which might appear “too hard” at first.

Camp, of course, is the perfect environment to try all these things, to go beyond the ordinary, and to learn what each requires. With the right combination of coaching and encouragement from our staff, girls will step “out of their comfort zone” and gain pillars of confidence that will support them in the future.

This parent comment, though, identified one of the most complex and equally inescapable aspects of camp life, and that which often requires the most adjustment for girls: the social dimension of the cabin. Camp cabins are made up of girls who might talk in their sleep, and others who might like waking up early. There may be a messy girl and a “neat freak” who have to share a bunk. Each cabin will undoubtedly be a mix of shy and outgoing girls, crafty and sporty girls, some voracious and others picky eaters. Working through all these differences, learning to be elastic when necessary, is simply part of cabin life. Most essentially, camp requires getting along with the other girls, getting to know them and finding ways to understand them. At Rockbrook, the cabin counselors, their training, personality and instincts, recognize this goal and work tirelessly to help everyone be more flexible. Everyone on the staff is keenly aware of this social dimension, sensitive to it, and ready to step in whenever a camper has trouble (or might subtlety be causing trouble!) in the cabin. For some groups, learning this elasticity can take time, but generally the girls understand its value and are quick to exercise it.

This is good stuff because this kind of social elasticity is a skill that really benefits children.  After all, learning to adapt to various circumstances, making adjustments to others as needed, is the mark of a well-adjusted person who deals effectively with disappointment and is capable of creative problem solving. Throughout life there are situations when we are called upon to be flexible for a greater (often collective) good, so its important for our children to bank experiences where they have done so effectively. Again, with guidance from their counselors, life in the camp cabin provides exactly that.

Girls summer camp plays gagaHere’s a photo of a GaGa (or Ga-Ga) game. Sometimes called “Israeli dodge-ball,” or “Octo-Ball,” and literally translating as “touch-touch,” this is a form of dodgeball played inside an octagonal court made of 3-feet-tall walls. Any number of players and any aged-camper can play, making it a great camp game. During free time and sometimes during the Sports and Games activity, there are groups of campers eagerly playing. The games are fast-paced as players use their hands to knock the ball trying to hit other players in the leg. Once hit (or if she hits the ball out of the pit), a player is out. Like other forms of dodgeball, play continues until only one person remains. It’s even fun for girls after they are out and have to stand on the outside of the pit because they can still play in a way. They can lean into the pit trying to hit the ball, and if they successfully hit another person out, they get to return to the game.  Game after game, the girls are really enjoying GaGa.

Finally, I can’t help but include this photo from our Twilight “Diva Dance Party” tonight. I was an hour of fun pop songs, costumes, and silly dancing… just your Rockbrook girls having a great time.

Summer camp girls are strong

Painted Fun

Girl climbing alpine towerGirl climbing high ropes course at summer campOut in the woods behind our gym, a 50ft tall, high ropes climbing tower, our “Alpine Tower,” sees daily action. Campers can sign up to climb it (or the climbing wall in the gym if it’s rainy) as one of their 4 activity periods. It provides the perfect introduction to rock climbing because it introduces girls to the same equipment (helmets, harnesses, locking carabiners, and kernmantle ropes) and techniques like belay commands, knots, footwork and balancing principles. The tower is triangular with three sides each with different obstacles and climbing challenges, so three girls can climb on it simultaneously. Also, each side presents dozens of different routes to the top making it easy to find a find challenge each time you climb.  The are swinging logs, cargo nets, overhanging walls, dangling ropes, parallel posts, and of course all different sized handholds, all requiring a different move to reach the top platform. Once they make it up, the girls enjoy a tree-top view before being gently lowered down on their belay rope.

Teens sitting in waterfallTransylvania County, where we are located, dubs itself the “Land of Waterfalls” because there are hundreds nearby created by the many creeks and streams tumbling off the mountains over enormous rocks. Over the centuries, many of these waterfalls have created beautiful pools of water below that provide a fantastic experience for a brave swimmer. It takes a little courage to swim at the bottom of a waterfall. The churning foam looks intriguing, reminiscent of a hot tub, but the crashing sound and slapping force of the falling water conveys a special power that must be approached carefully.  The water pushes you around. Also, it’s no secret that the water around here is brisk… or let’s call it “refreshingly nippy,” and nothing like a hot tub. The exhilaration of the water temperature and the intensity of it pounding all around you, is a huge thrill. The Hi-Ups (our 10th grade campers) experienced this today when they spent the afternoon at one of our favorite swimming holes. Did they scream? Oh, yes. Was it awesome fun? Definitely.

Camp color runOur evening program tonight was a special all-camp event that was surely a unique experience for the girls. It began with a “color run.” For those interested (it was fine to opt out), they put on an old t-shirt and ran through a gauntlet of counselors armed with brightly colored, powdered paint (non-toxic of course). After a little spray of water at the start, the paint stuck to the girls giving them an colorful, tie-dyed look. This led them down to the gym of a color paint dance party put on by our favorite local DJ Marcus. We passed around glow sticks and used even more colorful glow paint and face paint to magnify the colorful dance lighting Marcus included in his show. This was all so much fun! The girls laughed and played for 2 solid hours, pausing for photos, showing off silly dance moves, and signing along to their favorite pop songs.  With no boys around and everyone, counselors and campers, so fully engaged, they felt even more at ease and willing to be painted. Be sure to check out the photo gallery of this event to see how much we all enjoyed it.

girls colorful dancing Children dancing with face paint