Active Right Away

Assembly Fun kids

Welcome friends! Welcome to the group of campers who arrived this morning to begin their session at Rockbrook. We’re all very happy to have you arrive, and are just as excited as you are to get started. Finally, the agonizing wait… all summer! …is over and you can meet all the great people here and begin exploring the many different things available to do at camp. The beautiful weather this morning added to the enthusiastic mood, and I suspect made the arrival and check-in process run even more smoothly. All 84 of the girls arriving were quickly settled in the cabins and happily touring the camp with their bunkmates before noon— checking out the different activity areas, trying things out a little (making a simple friendship bracelet, for example), and having their questions answered by staff members. Part of this tour involved a scavenger hunt where the new girls collected different colored bracelets hidden at different landmarks around the camp, like the gym, the flagpole, and the infirmary. It was a fun way to get to know each other, learn more about Rockbrook, and be active right away after arriving.

Let me mention the Chapel gathering that also happened this morning for the full session girls. At Rockbrook, these Sunday morning events are intended to provide an opportunity to slow down and reflect on some of the principles and values that help shape our camp community. Camp is mostly about big fun, but it’s also about so many other important things, it’s good to pause and discuss what we’re learning along the way. These Chapel gatherings are not religious services, though, and they do not refer explicitly to any religious texts or doctrines. Instead, the events focus on broader themes that can be understood and appreciated by any religious tradition. The campers themselves plan and present the songs and poems they think illustrate the theme, and Sarah always reads a short children’s book she thinks is relevant.

So today’s chapel theme was, “We’re all in this together,” a recognition of community and the importance of including each other. Sarah read the book Odd Velvet by Mary E. Whitcomb to show how someone (or something) who first appears strange, can turn out to be wonderful, interesting and make all our experience more rewarding and fun. Whether considering new foods, activities, or even new campers arriving today, our community impulse to be accepting and curious is something we value here at Rockbrook. As we begin with kindness, compassion, and generosity, we foster the sort of positive relationships that cement our camp community. Including those different from ourselves is a simple extension of those values.

Camp Swimming test

We took time after lunch to orient all of the newly arrived campers to the waterfront, and to allow the lifeguards to evaluate everyone’s swimming ability. The cold mountain water of our lake, its different depths and diversions— the water slide and diving board for example —can be challenging for certain swimmers, so we ask all the girls to show us they can swim and tread water comfortably before letting them take full advantage of the waterfront.  The girls earn one of three colored “swim necklaces” to indicate their swimming ability and corresponding lake activity. The weakest swimmers can still come down and cool off in the lake, but we require them to remain in the shallow area where they can stand up, and to wear a life jacket while in the water. With everyone’s buddy tags labeled with their name and proudly hung on the tag board, it was next time for the big all-camp afternoon event.

Jedi Training Academy! Tapping into all things Star Wars related, we held a carnival combining costumes (of course!), music, dancing, surprising challenge games with prizes, and an unlimited supply of snow cones grinding out of our snow cone machine. We also arranged for two huge inflatables: an obstacle course called “Leaps and Bounds” that reminded everyone of “American Ninja Warrior,” and a 25-foot tall water slide that let two girls slide at the same time racing.

Make a light saber camp project
Archery with paint blob tip
inflatable challenge girl

The senior campers, with some help from their counselors, helped run the event, teaching and explaining the 10 different stations like “Pin the saber on Yoda,” “Death Star Destruction,” “Defeat Darth” with an arrow dipped in paint, a “Mars Matching” game, face painting (“The Face is with You”), a light saber duel that involved balancing on a slippery beam, and a way to make a light saber using a rod of foam and different colored tape. With snow cone in hand, the girls had a great time zipping between activity stations, cooling off on the water slide, and dancing and posing for photos in their costumes. Of course, Princess Leia (actually several of them) made an appearance, along with Darth Vader, Rey, Chewbacca, and a couple of storm troopers. Many girls wore a Star Wars t-shirt too. Two hours seemed to fly by, every minute filled by smiling energized girls. An active Sunday afternoon, just how we like it.

Rockbrook Summer Camp Girls

Second Session Video Part Two

Robbie Francis from Go Swan Filmworks spent another day filming at camp last week, and he’s produced another of his excellent short videos for us.

Take two minutes to watch, and you’ll see how we spend our very-full days at Rockbrook.

Enjoy!

Second Session Video Highlights

Robbie Francis of Go Swan Filmworks hung out at camp again this week dropping into different activities with his camera. Combined with a few still images and footage from our adventure trips, he’s edited a short highlights video for us.

It can sometimes be difficult to understand all that goes on at Rockbrook, or more importantly, how it feels for the girls to be here. This video does a fantastic job conveying a healthy slice of camp life.

Take a look! We think you’ll really enjoy it.

Welcome to Kid World

One twilight, late in July of 1999, I sat on the Rockbrook hill with my counselor, watching the sun sink down behind the mountains.

Well, she was watching the sun. I was too preoccupied with the stream of words pouring uninterrupted from my mouth to give much thought to the scenery.

Goofing Off

I had been writing a new story for the past few weeks, and my counselor had made the classic mistake of asking me what it was about. Forty-five minutes later, she was still nodding along, as I explained the great tragedy of the main character’s mother not understanding that taking time to do her homework would distract her from her duties as a spy (what my stories lacked in originality, they more than made up for in melodrama). My counselor asked all the right questions, laughed and gasped in all the right places, and, in all, served as the perfect sounding board for my eight-year-old yarn-spinning. I was delighted.

Today, I remember very little else about the story in question (thank goodness), and even the once-familiar face of my counselor has faded into a half-remembered smile from an old cabin photo. But what I do remember with perfect clarity were the sensations I felt that evening on the hill.

Glee
Jumping for Joy

The astonishment at being asked about my story out of the blue.

The shyness with which I began–sure that she only wanted to hear the barest details.

The glee with which I greeted her many follow-up questions.

And, more than anything, the growing realization that she was going to let me keep talking. There was no polite smile, and change of subject as the details of my story got more and more intricate. There was no attempt to steer the conversation to a topic more interesting to her. There was no indication at all that my counselor would rather be anywhere else than right there on the hill, listening to a play-by-play of my story.

Good Clean Fun

My whole life to that point, I had been trained on how best to be a kid in the grown-ups’ world. How to listen to what the grown-ups tell me. How to eat the food the grown-ups put in front of me without complaint. How to entertain myself or play with other kids rather than pester the grown-ups with constant requests for games or entertainment. How to recognize when the grown-ups are discussing something important, and wait my turn. How to be patient, quiet, seen and not heard. How, in short, to be a polite, well-behaved child. And these lessons weren’t a bad thing–they prepared me for the day when I would have to become a well-mannered adult.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that some of these lessons sank in better than others. I was, and still am, rarely seen without also being heard. But I was also always aware of how far I was trespassing beyond the bounds of good manners for a child. Whenever I talked to a grown-up, I would be waiting for the moment when I’d be told that my time was up, so that the grown-up could turn back to whatever grown-up matters there were to occupy their time.

And yet, there I was on the hill, treading far past the dictates of good manners, as I spent ten minutes describing the main character’s relationship with her best friend (and mortal enemy), and my counselor made no move to stop me.

More Please!

It was during that wonderful hour on the hill, several days into my first session at camp, that I first began to understand the central truth of camp: this is not the grown-up world. It is proudly, defiantly, magnificently not the grown-up world. I was not a guest in this new camp world, there to have Very Important Life Lessons served up for me by the nearest available adult. I was an active participant in this community, able to make my own choices, talk until I was blue in the face, make my own mistakes, and craft my own camp experiences. And every adult in sight was there to make sure I had the time of my life while doing it.

These days, I have the rarer opportunity of being a grown-up at camp. I get to be the guest in kid-world. Whenever I get lost in the logistics of camp–those lists of names, activities, and out-of-camp trips that pass through my hands every day–I can be snapped out of it at any moment by an invitation to a dance party in a lodge, or to the newly opened spa in Junior 3. I can be asked to braid one girl’s hair on the steps of the dining hall, and find myself braiding six others in quick succession afterwards, because why on Earth should I say no?

Just Lying Around

I get to watch as campers spend the first few days of camp coming into their own, and taking ownership of this new world. I get to see the looks of dawning possibility when they first choose their own schedule for the next three days. I get to see them try the food on the dinner table and, if they decide it isn’t for them, head off to the salad bar to find something more to their liking. I get to see them come alive in kid-world, and realize that, unless their safety or someone else’s is at risk, we won’t hold them back from pushing their limits and experiencing new things.

But my favorite moment to watch will always be those one-on-ones between camper and counselor. When I get to see the moment that the child realizes that her ideas, opinions, and interests are sincerely appreciated by an adult she respects–an adult who will listen without promoting their own ideas as being better informed or more interesting.

That’s the moment when they realize they’ve entered kid-world, and it’s going to be better than they even imagined.

That Satisfying “Thunk”

Today we took our first outdoor adventure trip with the campers, and it was a great one. Two buses and a van of senior- and middler-aged campers took the day to go whitewater rafting on the Nantahala River over in Swain County. We departed right after breakfast, and with a brief snack/bathroom stop we arrived at the river for an early picnic lunch at Ferebee park. The sun was warm and bright as the whole crew munched on the sandwiches, chips and fruit Rick packed for us. A short drive up river to the put-in, we met the Rockbrook guides who had our rafts and all the equipment we would need (lifejackets, paddle, helmets, etc.) ready to go.

Kids Whitewater Rafting

As you may know, Rockbrook is the only girls camp that has a permit to run its own rafting trips down the Nantahala. This allows us to have our own gear, hire our own expert guides, schedule the trips to our liking, and send down the river as many campers as we need without having to charge extra fees. Rockbrook was awarded this permit back in the 1980s, and since the Forest Service is not issuing any new permits, we are lucky to have it. Rafting has easily become the most popular adventure trip at Rockbrook, with just about every Middler and Senior taking the opportunity. Our permit doesn’t allow us to raft our Juniors because of age and weight restrictions. Today’s trip was perfect… Beautiful sunny warm weather, very few other rafts on the water, exhilarating moments in the rapids, and fun splashing around during the calmer parts of the river. Singing, sometimes screaming, chatting and laughing all the way down, these girls were having a ball.

Camp Kid Weaver
Girls Aims Archery bow and arrow

Meanwhile back at camp, the looms in Curosty, our fiber arts cabin, were clicking with girls weaving headbands and placemats. Curosty is one of the early buildings erected at Rockbrook that, along with the Goodwill cabin, was moved here so it predates the camp. It once was used as the camp office but now it is filled with colorful yarns, tabletop and floor looms, and girls learning an ancient craft. The whole space, filled with calm yet highly creative energy, evokes a wonderful, timeless feeling.

Down the hill toward the gym, the archery range was busy with girls firing arrows at their targets. Learning the proper way to handle the archery equipment and the important safety rules of the range are the first steps, and then with a little coaching about technique, it doesn’t take long for campers to be able to pull back an arrow and hit the target. It’s such a satisfying sound, that “thunk” the arrow makes when it hits. It’s an even more satisfying sound to hear the girls’ cheers when someone hits a bullseye, and thereby joins the “bullseye club.”

Rockbrook Camp Counselors

I wanted to call your attention to an short article by Michael Thompson recently published in the New York Times. Thompson is the author of Homesick and Happy: How Time Away from Parents Can Help a Child Grow, a book where he examines the character development benefits that come from a sleepaway camp experience. He believes that letting children go, taking breaks from the shelter and protection we parents instinctively provide, is an important milestone in a child’s development. In his NYT article, entitled “Why Camp Counselors Can Out-Parent Parents,” he makes the same point by observing that camp counselors are, different from parents, “super cool,” admirable role models that kids want to learn from. The counselors at Rockbrook are well-trained, have excellent inter-personal skills, are full of enthusiasm for life, and are simply down-to-earth, genuine good people. They are just the kind of “parents” we’d all be proud to call our own.

A Campfire of Songs and Stories

Camp girl throwing pot on ceramics wheel

Ceramics has always been a popular craft activity at Rockbrook, and this session is so far no exception. Poke your head in the “Upper Clay” studio, which is an open-air work space next to the dining hall, or the “Lower Clay” studio, which is a narrow stone building in the woods down along the path leading to the stables, and you’ll see lots of muddy hands. That’s because seated around the work tables, there are campers rolling clay into coils, pinching it into small cups, and flattening it into slabs. Joining these parts together, interesting sculptures are emerging. Perhaps most amazing is what the girls are doing on the electric pottery wheels. Katie and Will, our two lead ceramics teachers, have been teaching wheel-throwing techniques, giving the campers tips and individual instruction as they practice centering the clay and pulling it up into a bowl or cup, for example. Learning to throw a pot on the wheel is an advanced ceramics technique, but these girls are handling it easily. It will be great to see how their pieces turn out once they are glazed and fired.

Camp girl shooting a rifle

The rifle range is another place in camp that sees constant action, with campers signing up and filling every class period it’s offered. Perhaps it’s the thrill of shooting the gun, hearing that distinctive “pop!” when you pull the trigger, and smelling the gunpowder, but I think the girls also like riflery for the satisfaction it provides after scoring on the target (“hitting the black”). It’s also an activity so different from what’s available at home, and something in which the girls can experience real improvement and success- even scoring a bullseye now and then. Later in the session we will be challenging Camp Carolina for Boys and hold a riflery tournament to see who has the best team of marksmen (or -women!). Cliff DeMeritt, who has joined our staff after retiring from being a law enforcement sharpshooting instructor, has been working with the girls to improve their technique, so we’re hoping to see a great showing at the tournament.

Camp horse barn
Wrapping up an afternoon of summer horseback riding
Campfire Story Teller Gary Green

Tonight’s evening activity brought our friend Gary Greene back for a campfire and program of story telling, skits and songs for the Junior and Middler campers. With a crackling campfire set, Gary played his guitar and led the girls in several songs. One favorite was “Little Cabin in the Woods,” a funny song with hand motions that’s sung repeatedly (and fast) while words are dropped leaving just the song’s hand motions in the end. Gary had the girls singing, laughing and smiling in no time, yet also on the edge of their seats, wrapped into his telling of a Norwegian folktale. A few counselors also led a favorite camp song or two- “An Austrian Went Yodeling” with more hand motions -rounding out the evening. A classic camp night, and the girls enjoyed it thoroughly.

First Day of Activities

Today all of the activities at camp took off! The camp bell woke us all up to a wonderful cool, foggy morning. After breakfast, the different “Lines” (age groups) headed to their lodges for their morning assembly, a time for a couple of energizing songs, maybe a skit, announcements, and a just chance to regroup before the day gets really moving.

Counselor and Camper Weaving

Then each girl, armed with her own unique set of four activities that she selected yesterday evening, set off to the different activity areas throughout the camp. Around 10 o’clock, girls were climbing, swimming, shooting, riding and creating. There were hikes to Castle Rock, archery and riflery instruction, looms clicking and clacking, introductions to new favorite ponies, and games in the gym to name a few. Everywhere, you could hear girls chattering away, making friends, and laughing. It’s completely action packed and neat to see.

The big event, however, was the first free swim time right before lunch. This is when we opened the new water slide at the lake for the very first time. The staff enjoyed it last week a couple of times, but we have kept it a surprise for the campers until they arrived. It’s down on the far end of the lake. The girls first walk across the new dock, cross over the creek that feeds the lake (with a great view of the waterfall), and then climb a series of steps and platforms to the top of the 30-foot tower.

Camp Water Slide Tower
Waterslide Bridge Dock
Sliding Camper Fun

The slide itself is made of a soft vinyl material that’s nice and slippery when we run a little water down it. There’s a staff member at the top of the tower to help, but when ready, the girls launch themselves and zip down 50 feet before splashing into the lake. It’s then a short swim back to the exit ladders, and they’re off to do it again. Super fun stuff!

After dinner tonight, we offered an optional activity during what we call our “Twilight” time. The Rockbrook schedule has several blocks of free time built into the day (the two free swim times, for example), and this is another one. Twilight is free time when girls can hang out on the hill, enjoy one of the many porch rockers around camp, or get involved in whatever spontaneous activity is announced. Tonight we pulled out the slip and slide! It’s been so warm and dry these last few days, a lot of girls got excited. We rolled out a long sheet of plastic, got the water hose going and added a couple of drops of soap— instant cool summer fun, and just another way to enjoy being at camp.

The first whitewater rafting trips are going out tomorrow and we’ll be unveiling a surprise dinner. Stay tuned. We try to right a blog post every day, so if you haven’t subscribed to the blog, here’s the information about how to do that.

Camp Girls Cracking Up

Amy Chua and Summer Camp

Camp Kids Creek Playing

Have you run into Amy Chua’s book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, or heard any of the controversy surrounding it? The book is mostly a memoir of Chua’s own childhood and her Chinese mother’s parenting style, but it’s also an account of how she is raising her own children with similarly strict, high standards, as opposed to what she sees as the overly indulgent, coddling, and soft ways of western parenting. Some of the anecdotes are shocking… demanding thousands of math problems be completed in training for a competition, threatening to burn her daughter’s stuffed animals if a music composition wasn’t played flawlessly, and refusing to allow her daughters to attend a sleepovers because they are a waste of time. It’s not too hard to see why American mothers were so quick to denounce the book as horrible parenting advice.

After hearing about this, you have to wonder if Amy Chua ever sent her kids to summer camp. I kind of doubt it. We can only speculate, but for parents that value intellectual, musical or athletic achievement over everything else, spending weeks at summer camp to “just play” doesn’t make much sense. Calls for a longer school year, and thereby a greater opportunity for classroom learning, are akin to this attitude. The idea is that if you really want to be good at something, even the best at it, then you have to give up other things. Superior achievement requires sacrifice! While it is true, this approach can yield highly trained, skilled people, you have to wonder “at what cost?” Sure you might be a top-notch pianist, but what did you miss out on when you were doing all that practicing? Yes, we can all be a lot better at math and science if we study all year round and you might even be a world-class athlete, but with all that training, do you have any time for other parts of yourself? Your creativity, your friends, your undiscovered talents? Sadly, the answer in most of these cases is “no.”

Amy Chua’s book reminds us that training our kids too rigorously, at the expense of the “whole child,” can have serious consequences. Like a blind devotion to academic achievement, we risk narrowing educational experience and perspective to the point of debility.

Fortunately (and I would include Chua here), most parents understand the value of providing their children diverse educational opportunities because they want them to grow up with a wide range of personal skills that can serve them later in life.

That’s why parents send their children to Rockbrook.  They want more for their girls than just what school provides.  They understand the tremendous benefits of a summer camp experience.  They know camp is fun, but more importantly, is a break from all the “practices” of the school year, where girls can relax and explore all the other sides of who they are.