Dealing with Uncertainty

For quite some time now we’ve used the phrase “a place for girls to grow” as a tagline describing the Rockbrook experience. By this we mean, in addition to being a “really great time” for girls, camp is a remarkable context for learning things that can really help them later in life. Camp is fundamentally educational, “transformative,” even enlightening for the children here.

girl camp friends

Knowing that camp matters like this, it’s fun to consider how girls grow from the experience, how they benefit from their time at Rockbrook. Everyday we see the benefits of summer camp at work— growing independence, blossoming social skills, newly found interests, resilience in the face of setbacks, burgeoning care and kindness toward others, an appreciation of community, and so forth. There are so many amazing opportunities for our kids’ best qualities to be energized and bolstered by camp!

Today a conversation I had with a new counselor helped bring another trait to mind. We were remarking that the newness of camp, the fact that so many things here are different from life at home, requires girls to be brave, in particular, to conquer any fears they might have about the inherent uncertainty that comes with a new experience like camp. Now, thinking about it more, I believe it’s true; camp teaches girls how to deal with uncertainty.

pottery girls on the wheel

Particularly at first, uncertainty colors a great deal of the camp experience for girls as they encounter all sorts of novel and unfamiliar things. There’s our immersive outdoor setting, thrusting everyone into direct contact with the weather, with bugs, little creatures, the complex beauty that resides all around us. Also at camp, there’s the multi-layered social dynamics of cabin life, the idiosyncrasies of bunkmates and the necessary communication, cooperation and compromise such close quarters demand. There’s the perhaps strange foods being served. There’s the immediate independence that accompanies being away from home, far from the comfort, support and problem solving parents are quick to provide. Every new camp activity likewise includes a layer of uncertainty: the concepts and skills needed, the essential personal qualities that make participating possible. There’s the overall culture of Rockbrook too, its odd lingo, traditions, and expectations for behavior.

Each of these aspects of camp life are bound to bring up questions with uncertain answers. In nature, “Will that bug bite me?” In the cabin, “Who of these girls will be my best friend?” “Will I like the vegetable soup for lunch?” “What should I do with my free time?” “Will I be any good at playing gaga ball?” “What is the Dee Ducky?” “Is it really OK to sing that loud?” These and so many other potential questions make camp rife with uncertainty.

gaga ball game kids

But here’s the thing; these Rockbrook girls are completely handling it! Despite the very real uncertainty woven through life at camp, they are answering all of these questions by simply being here. These girls are exuberant, not afraid of what might happen, or too anxious to jump right in. With bravery and often real confidence, they manage to stay positive in the face of whatever is happening. There’s a unique power at camp helping girls put aside uncertainty, move forward with very little hesitation and embrace a range of outcomes. Girls at camp deal with uncertainly so effectively it’s rare they even acknowledge it!

The source of this power at Rockbrook, how we might explain camp’s unique ability to encourage girls to deal effectively with uncertainty, is another complex question. I suspect though that this power springs from the forces of community here and the values that define our culture— kindness, caring, and generosity. When you feel included, respected, supported and cared for by everyone around you, not knowing what will happen, not knowing the answer to those types of questions, becomes far less worrisome. In this community, its just easier to trust things will be OK.

Finally, I think this ability to deal positively with uncertainty at camp is what makes all the other areas of personal growth here possible. It simply makes embracing what’s new, trying new things, and connecting with new people more exciting than scary, more a fun opportunity to seize than an experience to avoid. Yes, camp is a place for girls to grow. It’s a special community where they find the power to deal with uncertainty and experience the benefits of that habit.

Girls camp zipline crew

Nancy Would be Pleased

One of the fascinating points coloring the history of Rockbrook is the lineage of Nancy Carrier, the camp’s founder. Nancy was born in 1889, and before marrying Mr. Henry Nash Carrier in 1913, her full name was Nancy Barnum Clarke. Yes, Barnum: that Barnum, P.T. Barnum, the famed circus promoter and showman. Nancy’s mother was P.T. Barnum’s granddaughter, making the woman who founded Rockbrook Barnum’s great-granddaughter.

Stilt Circus Dining Hall
circus stilt walker

What better way to recognize and celebrate this lineage than to host a circus themed event? Plus, a circus combines so many of the elements that Rockbrook girls love: colorful costumes and make up, fun upbeat music, lots of action, a few special snacks or treats, and a heap of joyful enthusiasm. We kept all the plans a surprise for the girls, until, that is, a special announcement at dinner got everyone’s wide-eyed attention. A golden-winged, nine-foot tall (on stilts!), jester ducked into the dining hall and walked among the girls as they sat at their tables. With twists and turns, smiling mischievously, she invited everyone to come see her and her troupe, “Imagine Circus,” perform an acrobatics show in the gym!

Camp Clown Kids
Acrobatics Show
Aerial Silks Show

Before the show, we spent the twilight time after dinner getting into the circus spirit by dressing up and playing games on the hill. We needed clowns! And soon, with enough face paint for everyone, we had dozens. While a few counselors made cotton candy cones, kept the popcorn machine hot with fresh kernels, and helped twist balloon animals, hula hoops and the slack line gave the campers more ways to feel a circus vibe. It was already becoming a fun evening, and as we played on the hill watching the sun begin to set behind the distant mountains, you could feel the girls getting more and more excited for the show.

Just for fun and to add to the already colorful evening, we gave everyone a glow stick necklace as they entered the gym. Inside, they were amazed immediately when they saw a 25-foot tall, pyramid-shape structure, silks, hoops, and other props, and three elaborately dressed female performers. As the campers and counselors sat around the perimeter, the women began an amazing show of ground and aerial acrobatics that included incredible feats of balance, strength and coordination. Accompanied by recorded music, they juggled while holding unbelievable tandem poses. They jumped and flipped using hoops, and perhaps showing the most amazing agility, performed multiple aerial silk maneuvers high above the gym floor. The campers clapped and whooped as the women twisted and spun using only the long silks as support. There was a point of audience participation in the show when a few campers were invited up to help with hula hooping, but the grand finale was truly amazing. The women set several props on fire (!) as they performed different flips and maneuvers.  There was a flaming hoop, hand-held rings, and even a mask that supported a ring of fire above it. With the gym lights off, it was mesmerizing to watch the flames draw swirling patterns through the darkness as the performers danced and leaped about. Everyone was shocked and astonished during the whole show, cheering and at times gasping when yet another, seemingly impossible stunt was revealed.  Such a great show! It was also neat to see the girls’ admiration for this all-female performance troupe, proving with real-life examples that girls/women too are strong and powerful. After seeing this kind of talent, there could be no doubt.

I think Nancy would be pleased.

Fire Acrobats

Completely Foamy

Camp girls shaving creamed
smiling with shaving cream
Groups of Shaving cream camp girls

Sometimes you have to get a little messy to feel this good. Like tonight after dinner when we had a shaving cream fight down on the landsports field. Chase announced the optional event in the dining hall, and from the cheering it was clear we would have plenty of girls ready to romp about with the slippery white foam.

The point of a shaving cream fight is simple— spray the contents of your can both on others and on yourself. Then run around smearing, wiping and rubbing the shaving cream into everyone’s hair, on their backs, and ultimately everywhere. Beyond that, the goal is to have fun, be silly and enjoy the mess of it all. It’s as simple as that.

There are no teams, and this is not a competition where we pick a winner at the end like some games. So it’s not much of a “fight” really. It’s more cooperative since it’s just as much fun to be attacked as it is to splatter others. Part of the fun is surprising someone, sneaking up to them and planting a blob right on their back, shoulder or leg… as you race away grinning, and secretly hoping, but also looking out for, someone who will do the same to you. No score: just the fun of playing the game.

And it’s absolutely hilarious! Once the spraying begins, you can’t hear anything except shrieks of delight and laughter. We all (yes, counselors and directors too!) quickly begin to look pretty funny, our hair sticking up, with white beards and mustaches, if not completely foamy.

A shaving cream fight feels liberating too. It’s a little mischievous and outrageous, but still sanctioned, even celebrated at camp. It’s a harmless way to go a little crazy, while at the same time laugh and play with your friends.

What to learn from a shaving cream fight? I’m not sure, but I’d say it’s a wonderful way to experience uninhibited joy, a deep feeling that in our ordinary lives too often struggles to find expression. At camp though, it’s pretty easy; we find it everyday.

shaving cream girls posing

Eager Enthusiasm

Camp Friends Return

Today, our very first day of camp this summer, was exciting. We opened the summer 2016 summer season today with our first session girls arriving all morning beginning around 8:30. Like every opening day of camp, it was exciting for everyone— the campers, counselors, and directors alike. But there’s something special about the first opening day of the summer. We’ve had to wait for so long, have so many new fun things planned, been preparing the camp facilities, gathering equipment and supplies from new kayaks to yarn for weaving. We’ve been thinking about camp for months, literally all year long waiting for this day! Mostly, and this is the best part, we’ve been thinking about all the great campers who will be attending Rockbrook this summer, all of your great girls. It’s wonderful to see them again, to see how they’ve grown and feel their excitement for camp. For the new campers too; it’s a delight to welcome them to Rockbrook. Bringing all of this together, the eager enthusiasm and anticipation for camp, made the morning full of smiles, cheers, and hugs. With this kind of feeling, it’s already clear this is going to be a great session.

After speeding through the arrival process (perusing the latest RBC gear, meeting the office folks and medical team) and getting settled in the cabins, parents said goodbye and the girls launching right into group games (hula hoops!), hiking the trail to Rockbrook falls, tying their first friendship bracelet of the summer, warming up their tetherball arm, and just catching up with a new camp friend sitting on the hill while enjoying the view.

Camp Lake Dive

Camp life is life lived outside… or at least mostly outside, with our rustic screened cabins, and daily outdoor activities. The weather is naturally always a factor. Like today when the forecast called for a 90% chance of rain after lunch, we thought we’d surely be unable to open the lake for our “swimming demonstrations.” As is often the case here in the mountains however, the rain was spotty, hitting some places more than others, and we were lucky most of the afternoon. Clouds rolled by with patches of sun appearing now and then allowing us to hold a Reggae dance lake party during the swim demos (with hot chocolate waiting for the girls after sampling the chilly, stream-fed Rockbrook lake), tour all of the camp activity areas, laugh through counselors performing their activity skits, and sing songs together during an assembly of the entire camp on the hill. A sprinkle of rain cooled things down at one point, but it didn’t slow us down much at all.

We’re off to a wonderful start. The group of counselors we have this summer, fresh from our week of pre-camp training, is one of the best we’ve ever had. Each one brings talents and skills to teach, but more importantly is a lovely, kind person who will take great care of your girls while here at camp. Likewise, the administrative staff from last year have returned and are ready to guide everyone as we reform the community that makes Rockbrook special. It’s a pleasure for all of us to be here with your girls.

Girls Camp First Day
Girls Camp Swim Buddies

Silly and Chilly

If you’ve been following the photo gallery, you know dressing up in costume is a regular occurrence around here. Every other day or so, we have a special event, or just an announced theme, where we encourage the girls and the staff members to dress up or create a silly character. And the sillier, the better! You should see what these girls come up with when they combine hats, dresses, wigs, make up, paint, glasses and all kinds of improvised props like sticks, leaves and brooms.

Camp Children Dressed Up

A great example of this was the “Disney Photo Shoot” the girls held on the hill after dinner, during the hour of free time we call “Twilight.” It’s a time when the girls can hang out, take showers, read, play tennis or tetherball, but when they can join an optional camp-wide game or activity. The “Photo Shoot” was just that: a chance to dress up and pose for a few photos. It seemed to be most popular with the Juniors (K-4th graders), but the counselors were also pretty excited about the chance to pose. I’m not sure how these costumes were “Disney-related,” but I’m sure if we asked, the girls would have a clear answer. In the end, of course, that doesn’t matter because dressing up is really just for the fun of it. It’s a chance to let go a little, to laugh with your friends about how crazy we look, and to be completely indifferent about what people might think. It’s camp!

Camp child doing gymnastics on balance beam

Down in the gym, Elaine Trozzo our longtime gymnastics coach is working with the girls. After a thorough warm up with plenty of stretching on the deep blue padded runway (flexibility!), she has been helping them with beam techniques (balance!). Elaine and her staff of counselors are great at tailoring each class to every camper’s level of gymnastics experience. Beginners might be practicing on the low beam, while more advanced girls can work on the full-sized balance beam, for example. Each day the girls can enjoy a different gymnastics event. Maybe the high bar, the mini trampoline, or the tumbling runway- there will be helping hands, instruction and encouragement to make it great.

Camp children going down sliding rock

It looked a little cloudy as we pulled out of camp with all of the Senior girls loaded into 4 buses, but we were hoping the rain would hold off for a picnic and trip to sliding rock. As we drove along Looking Glass Creek in the forest though, it started to sprinkle a bit, so suddenly our picnic needed shelter. Fortunately, we knew just the place were we could all sit and eat while waiting for the rain to stop. You might guess that it was a bit chilly at this point, but did that prevent us from stopping at sliding rock? No way! The rain had finished, and dinner had really energized the girls. Yes, the water was “FREEZING!” but that didn’t prevent many of the girls from enjoying the plunge. I do think the squeals were partly due to the water temperature, but also from the sheer delight that comes from such an extreme experience. With Dolly’s Dairy Bar at the entrance to the Forest, we had to stop on the way home. It’s funny how despite being chilly and wet, nobody was too cold for an ice cream cone!

Tennis at Camp

Girls Camp plays tennis

Forehand! Backhand! Lob! Volley! Groundstroke! Cross-court! Serve! It’s all tennis.

And at camp there’s plenty of chances to play tennis. Campers can sign up for tennis as one of their scheduled activities, which gives them about an hour on the courts. They can grab a friend and hit a few balls around during their free time before lunch or dinner. They can even get in a quick game after dinner during the “Twilight” time before evening program. And finally, girls can look forward to the end-of-session tennis tournament with Camp Carolina, a long tradition at Rockbrook.

With all this tennis going on at camp, Rockbrook girls can really learn a lot. They can build their tennis skills and become much better players if they want. But at Rockbrook, no matter what we do, the most important part is to have fun doing it! That’s why tennis can be pretty silly. It can turn into some kind of relay game, a trick shot contest, or even a new dance move. No pressure. No intense competition. No worries about whose the “best.” It’s a girls tennis camp dedicated to having fun, even when that means mostly playing around. Yes it’s all tennis, and it’s all fun.

The Best Girls Summer Camp

best-girls-camp

What makes the best girls summer camp? It’s funny, but you see that claim now and then. “We’re the best girls camp ever!” or “Welcome to the best girls camp in North Carolina.” Most of this can be considered akin to team spirit, the folks from a camp expressing how much they love their particular camp, how proud they are of it, and how they know their camp really is excellent.

Of course, in reality, you can’t say objectively which girls camp is the best. Here in western North Carolina, there are so many great girls camps, each with dedicated and experienced directors, outstanding counselors, beautiful facilities and diverse fun activities. These camps also have very strong supporters, families who have found the camp perfect for their children. You will certainly find happy enthusiastic campers at all of these camps.

So is there really a best girls camp? Only to the extent that a camp is right for you. The subtle differences between camps, their particular strengths or emphases, will probably make you feel more at home at one girls camp or another. To put it differently, there are of course differences between camps but they do not distinguish which camp is “best.” That is something that follows from how much you love your camp, and that’s what makes it best.

So yes, for many reasons, generations of girls believe Rockbrook is the best girls summer camp. They believe it because they’ve experienced it and love it as their own.

Meeting you in Charlotte for Camp

Summer Camp Charlotte

Are you ready for summer camp Charlotte girls? Judging from everyone’s enthusiasm at last weekend’s camp party at the Beltz’s home in Charlotte, the answer is “Yes!” With the new Rockbrook Camp movie and slideshow from last summer’s sessions all set to go, Sarah and Mandy met so many of our Charlotte NC campers and a bunch of their friends interested in learning more about RBC.

For returning campers and parents, it’s always fun at these parties to see the new camp movie, spot yourself and your friends in the photos, and just to recharge your Rockbrook spirit.

And for new campers, meeting all the people, talking with the families, having the camp directors answer your questions, these parties really are one of the best ways to see why so many girls love Rockbrook.

It’s wonderful to see that Rockbrook is the girls summer camp Charlotte families are buzzing about.