An Eruption of Camp Life

weaving kid at camp
kid shooting rifle

Let’s get right to the activities! That’s what every girl at camp was thinking as we finished breakfast this morning. Soon, counselors and campers alike filled every corner of camp with enthusiastic action. Amazing complex weavings seemed to spring from the looms in no time. Clay sculptures, friendship bracelets, decorative paper calendars, and small paintings became creative realities. Sports too!  Girls learned about firing rifles, shooting arrows and hitting tennis balls. The lake was busy all day despite some lingering drizzle parts of the day. The horseback riding staff taught their first mounted lessons. The adventure staff took girls on a hike to see a nearby waterfall and several groups flew overhead on the Rockbrook zip line course. The performing arts staff  introduced new songs, and our Yoga instructor taught girls their first poses and relaxation techniques.  It was an impressive eruption of camp life!

During their free time— three different 45 minute blocks  —the girls enjoyed freshly baked muffins as a mid-morning snack, waterslide rides and diving board tricks at the lake, for some a chance to walk or run “Charlotte’s loop,” and games of gaga ball, more tennis, and even more tetherball. After dinner, the sun was practically blinding as groups of girls sat on the hill to watch an amazing, cloud-marbled sunset.

zip line through the trees

What a luxury to have this kind of free, unhurried, self-directed time! When the rest of the year is often completely scheduled, camp gives girls a chance to decide for themselves what they’d like to do. They (not their parents) select their camp activities. They (not their teachers or coaches) decide how to spend their time. Camp provides extraordinary opportunities, and exactly the right kind of encouragement to try new things at each girl’s individual pace. If you’ve ever wondered how to inspire children to be more independent and self motivated, this is it. You give them a real chance to do things on their own!  Camp supports and empowers kids in this way, and it can make a big difference for them long after the closing campfire.

Of course, we’re just getting started. Everyone is settling in nicely at camp, making quick new friends as we share this time together in “the heart of a wooded mountain.” Take some time to browse through the photo gallery and you’ll see what I mean. Meanwhile, let’s us know if you have any questions, or better yet, write your camper a letter or an email.  She’ll love it!

teen girls holding muffins

Creative Mistakes

“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.” — Scott Adams

creative weaving kids

We are so fortunate here at camp to have the extra time to slow down and be creative. As head of Curosty, the weaving activity here at Rockbrook, I see firsthand everyday the results of this extra time. From circle weavings to baskets to woven headbands, the girls have made many a woven ware that they may not have had the chance to at home. Along with this opportunity to nourish their creative selves, the girls are also afforded the freedom to make what I like to call “creative mistakes.”

A creative mistake isn’t your conventional mistake. It isn’t a roadblock. It’s not a signal to rip up your project, throw it in the trash, and start all over again. It is a mistake that can lead to a new way of doing something and, as a result, lead to a more interesting finished project. It may feel disruptive in the moment, but when embraced, it is a thing of creative beauty.

Weaving Child

A day doesn’t go by that I don’t hear campers nervously proclaiming, “I made a mistake!” as they drop their project onto the table in defeat. I very quickly tell them there is no such thing as a mistake in Curosty, and encourage them to keep going with their project. Bumps of yarn sticking up from a woven bookmark makes for a cool texture. Running out of time to weave a rug turns into a little mat for your cat. Just recently, I had a camper who was working on a circle weaving make the decision to veer from weaving in the circle shape because she wanted to cover up the blue yarn she no longer liked. Her finished weaving had dashes of yarn across the center making for a really neat design with unexpected pops of color.

At school or at work we are not always given the space to make mistakes, but here at camp it is welcomed as a tool for learning and discovery. There is value in making mistakes in a creative endeavor because it can turn into something uniquely you.

As a camper once told her Curosty classmates: “The quirks are how you know it’s not from a store.”

fiber arts children

Fighting that Familiar Flicker

Backwards Day Campers

It’s Backwards Day! After dinner last night, during the regular time of announcements in the dining hall, Chase our program director surprised the girls by describing the creative challenge of being “backwards” the next day. Right away at breakfast this morning we saw the silly confusion of girls dressing backwards— t-shirts, shorts and hats worn in reverse… hairstyles too —braids running down foreheads, pony tails covering girls’ faces. The kitchen meals were reversed with burritos for the morning meal and breakfast foods (hash browns, bacon, eggs and fruit) for dinner. All around the camp, campers would suddenly walk backwards. Down at the rifle range, the instructor commanded, “Line the on ready,” and so forth. Back strokes at free swim, left-handed tetherball, and down-climbing at the Alpine Tower— there were small, inventive examples of being backwards all day long.

Meanwhile, the Hodge Podge craft activity was focusing on making tie-dye t-shirts in its classes. With squeeze bottles of brightly colored dye ready, the girls first folded and tied a white t-shirt into a chevron, bullseye, spiral or other pattern using rubber bands. Red, blue and yellow dyes, making shades of purple, orange and green, came next, the girls making decisions about how (which colors, where and how much) to apply them. In a few days, after the dye has time to set, it will be fun to unfurl the shirts, rinse them, and admire the colorful patterns created.

Archery pull girl

At the archery range, the girls were concerned with accuracy and precision rather than creativity. Like the target shooting at Riflery, the goal here is to remove variation and shoot the center of the target with each arrow. Practice, repetition, steady technique, and adherence to recognized protocols help focus the outcome (bullseye!). The most skilled archers are not creative when shooting; they are consistent.

Naomi, the head of our fiber arts program, tells me she has observed this contrast between creativity and consistency in the way campers approach craft projects. Some children want clearly defined steps, a recipe of sorts, to guide them through a project, while others want more open access to the materials and techniques, eager to play with options, make unexpected combinations, and literally venture outside the lines. She seemed to observe some campers being more immediately creative, while others more concerned with “getting it right.” At the same time, we both thought that everyone inherently has the ability to create. But like some muscles, some us are stronger at first and have developed that ability more effectively. There’s the notion that creativity is a force within all of us that we need only set free. And it’s a personal skill worth developing because it can serve us well when faced with new problems or other obstacles in the future.

There’s lots to say about the benefits of developing one’s creativity, and likewise how we might encourage our children to exercise their “creativity muscle,” but it’s worth noting that camp is the perfect place to do that. Everyday there are opportunities to create at camp. “What would you like to do?” is the question. All manner of practical and aesthetic decisions are made throughout the day. There’s time for exploring, and friends to accompany every new journey. Crucially, at Rockbrook there’s constant support and encouragement for trying new things, dressing up, and bold expressions, always without judgment or embarrassment. From acting in the play to evening cabin skits, and for so many more examples, there’s a freedom here to create, to give it a go “just for the fun of it.”

Also though, and this might be the most important factor, at camp there’s no electronic, passive entertainment. We put aside our screens, and thereby open up time to create. Without the seduction of that familiar flicker, camp provides kids the time, space and culture to encourage their creativity to burst out. In this screen-free environment, they can face a blank canvas and dive right in with paint, choose their own colors, and go boldly forward. They can feel more confident to explore what’s unfamiliar, and learn from the process no matter what the outcome.

Celebrating creativity… It’s a pretty fun habit! And good for us too!

Yoga pose kids

It Just Feels Good

Fiber Arts Camp

Wandering into Curosty, our fiber arts activity cabin, is like stepping into a working artist’s studio, maybe even a artists’ cooperative, because greeting you are colorful materials, finished and partly finished projects, and many hands busily creating. It’s a wondrous place. The cabin itself is built from 19th-century, hand-cut logs. It has a wood floor and a stone fireplace on one side, and draping its double-hung windows are bright red curtains. In one corner there are three 36-inch floor looms, and along two walls there are small tables with tabletop looms. The walls, though, are the most interesting because almost everything is covered with finished weavings, shelves with spools of thread, balls of yarn and strips of cloth. Embroidery floss, cane, reeds, kudzu vines, twigs and feathers are stacked or hung nearby. Three different areas display example projects the girls can make, things like bright baskets, complex loom weavings, lanyards, dream catchers, pot holders, hats, scarves, purses and wallets. Leading this creative whirlwind of weaving is Melanie Wilder who comes to us from Warren Wilson College where she is a supervisor of the Fiber Arts Program there. You can see Melanie in the background of this photo spinning yarn. She seems to always have a new project in the works for the girls. For example, they have a large group weaving that uses different bits of yarn, cloth and other fibers to create a mountain scene rather than a geometric pattern. She’s having some girls hammer a leaf between two pieces of cloth to transfer color from the leaf into the cloth leaving a neat design. The overall atmosphere in Curosty is joyfully creative as girls experiment with all these different materials and techniques. Sitting with friends, creating with your hands, twisting, threading, and tying different colorful strands, all while having time to chat, tell stories and laugh— being in Curosty just feels good.

High Ropes Course Kids Climbing

At the Alpine Tower, our 50-foot High Ropes Course located in the woods behind our gym, the girls are working with a different sort of fiber, an 11 millimeter braided climbing rope. Instead of weaving, these girls are tying their harnesses to the rope so a staff member can belay them while climbing one of the 30 or so different routes to the top platform. The rope stretches from the climber up and over a pole above the platform and back down to the belayer on the ground. The tower is an excellent introduction to rock climbing because it requires the same balance, smooth motion, concentration and focused strength. Likewise the equipment and safety protocols are the same. With some routes being designed for a complete beginner and others requiring both polished climbing skills and strength, the Tower is an adventure activity that keeps girls coming back for more. After reaching the top platform, the climber is slowly lowered by the climbing staff members belaying. It’s possible— and a lot of girls do this intentionally for fun —to flip upside down on the rope, the belayer suspending you with your head a few feet from the ground. It’s a goofy stunt. After climbing the tower, and perhaps our climbing wall in the gym or one of the five climbs on Castle Rock, don’t be surprised when your daughter asks you to go climbing with her at the local gym. Not only will it be fun, it’ll be because she wants to show you she’s good at climbing, and knows what she’s doing.

1950s Diner Banquet

Tonight our 28 CA campers, our 9th graders, unveiled the theme of their secret banquet, and it was a great one: the 1950s. They called the banquet “1950s Diner.” The painted decorations, the floor-to-ceiling posters which lined every inch of wall space, referenced not just the music, the movies and television shows, and the fashion of that decade, but also diner food. In fact, for dinner they served classic hamburgers and french fries, with root beer, ice cream floats. Some of the CA girls wore poodle skirts, while others dressed like greasers and “Pink Ladies” from the movie Grease. One girl zipped around the dining hall on roller skates delivering plates of food. We also saw Marilyn Monroe, Lucile Ball, Debbie Reynolds, Ernest Hemingway, and a special guest appearance by Elvis. The skits were dance numbers with a giant cast of CAs reproducing dances like the “Hand Jive” and the “Twist,” for example. Alternating with songs from the 50s (“Jailhouse Rock,” “Rock Around the Clock” and “Johnny B. Goode”) and modern day pop songs, much of time was spent as a celebration dance party.

Camp 1950s Costume Dance
Camp 50s Diner Banquet
Elvis Costume Party

It’s hard to explain why, but campers and counselors alike often remark the banquet is the highlight of their entire session. Considering all of the zany fun of camp, this is extraordinary. Yes, the banquet is really fun. The surprise might be a big part of that, as is the thrill of having candy decorating your dinner table. More significantly though, I think the banquets are a true expression of the relationships we’ve formed while at camp, the true friendships and connection we now feel with so many wonderful people. It’s that, combined with an awareness that this is our last crazy celebration together before the session closes. That’s why there is so much hugging at the banquet, and often tearful embracing. It’s an emotional time for must of us. We can feel that this is a very special time of our lives.

Kids Camp 1950s Banquet Party

Scoubidou, Boondoggle, Gimp

Boondoggle Lanyard

What is a gimp? Originating in France and popular even today at summer camps worldwide, it’s what we call a lanyard. Did you know that “Scoubidou” (pronounced in your best french accent) is its original name? They’re called “Scoubies” for short, and can refer to either the colorful plastic strands used or the final project of repeated knots. Sometimes, when the material is braided, it is called a “Boondoggle,” a name that appears to have come from the boy scouts and their tradition of braiding a ring of leather straps to hold a neckerchief.

At camp, this traditional arts activity is insanely popular. You can see it everywhere.

This lanyard material is also referred to as “Gimp,” following the name for twisted treads (usually silk, cotton or wool) used as decorative trimming on dresses. Our familiar lanyards have quite a history!

The world record for the longest Scoubidou (Boondoggle, Gimp, Lanyard) is held by Manuela Dos Santos of Brancourt, France. On November 11, 2008, she finished her Scoubi— 1,673 feet and 2 inches! An amazing project. It makes us wonder if the strands she used were single long pieces or sections tied together.

Want to learn more? Check out these links:
Basic Lanyard patterns
Fun Scoubidou projects
Cool Boondoggle videos

Weaving Traditional Camp Basketry

Camp Basket

Weaving camp baskets is a traditional arts and crafts activity just about everyone enjoys at Rockbrook. Over near the fiber arts cabin we call “Curosty,” there’s a nice stream flowing by, and it’s there that girls often work on their baskets. It’s a really nice spot to sit and soak your feet on a summer afternoon, but also, the water is important for the basket weaving. To bend and weave the wicker (cane, reed, or grass) fibers, it helps to soak them in water for a while. This softens the fibers making them more flexible for weaving.

Basketry is a truly ancient art. Native people around the world have been making baskets for as long as anyone can remember. Near us at camp, the Cherokee split oak baskets come to mind as a good example. Our camp baskets may not be as elaborate as these, but the girls at Rockbrook are continuing this long tradition of basket making in the mountains of North Carolina.