A Huge Helping of Goofy

camp child parentToday we welcomed another group of eager, excited girls to Rockbrook as we opened the August Mini session. There’s something really special about driving into Rockbrook, early in the morning at the start of a camp session. It’s a reveal of sorts. The gravel driveway slowly winds up the hill from the main road, and then suddenly there’s cool stuff to see: the archery field to the left, the lake to the right with the green and blue water slide on the far end, stacks of colorful kayaks and canoes, and at the crest the hill, a mob of cheering enthusiastic counselors. It feels like you’ve entered another world, and in many ways you have. So many things are inviting and intriguing right away, but it’s obvious also that the people here are good folks. The returning campers already know it, but the energy of camp— friendly, supportive, adventurous, with a huge helping of goofy —is definitely special. These campers have been waiting all year (and all summer) to experience this energetic fun, so finally we can all start. Finally!

flag raising at campWhile these new girls were arriving, the full session campers began their day like other Sunday mornings with a late breakfast (egg and sausage burritos, yogurts, cereals, and freshly delivered Krispy Kreme doughnuts), our traditional flag raising ceremony (led by the 10-grade campers), and chapel program (this time discussing the theme of “Gratitude”). Afterwards, these girls also had a “choice period,” an opportunity to sign up for a hiking trip to Castle Rock or Rockbrook Falls, a flower picking expedition in the garden, or time in the jewelry-making activity area.

The first event involving the whole camp was an “assembly on the hill,” as we call it. This gathering under the walnut tree on the hill is a chance for everyone to sing a few songs, watch a skit or two, meet the various directors at camp, and hear announcements. The Hi-Ups led everyone in learning a canoeing song, complete with hand motions. The Line Heads awarded, “bend-a-back,” camp spirit, and manners beads, and also announced which cabins would be recognized for having the highest overall inspection scores (winning the “mop award”). For the benefit of the new campers primarily, Sarah also reminded everyone of the boundaries of camp and how our lightning warning system works. Rick’s amazing homemade mac-n-cheese for lunch fueled us up for the swimming demonstrations, quick camp tours, and cabin meetings that came afterwards in the early afternoon.

science camp girls The main event of the day was an all-camp festival that tapped into different science-related activities, experiments, challenges and games. We held the event right in the center of camp with the different activity stations positioned about, and counselors and Hi-Ups staffing each spot. One challenge was to make a working parachute from a large coffee filter. Another was to build different organic molecules using toothpicks and tiny marshmallows. At a different station, the girls were challenged to build a boat (or anything that floats) using aluminum foil and popsicle sticks. Another group made green sticky “Oobleck” with corn starch and white glue.

A particularly fun challenge was to use only rubber bands to crack open a watermelon. The girls would stretch rubber bands, one by one, around the middle of the melon, gradually adding more pressure. As a couple of cracks began to form after approximately 200 bands wrapped the melon, the group of girls huddled around screamed with delight when the melon suddenly exploded into bits leaving a sticky ball of rubber bands behind.

Of course, a “mad science” event would be incomplete without eccentric costumes— wild teased hair (or wigs!), lab coats, safety goggles, beakers and lab notebooks. Snacks and music helped keep the mood festive while the girls zipped among the activity options. The event was a nice opportunity to play outside together, be a little silly, and perhaps learn a little science along the way.

Tomorrow, we’ll have all the activities filled with enthusiastic campers, ready to give everything a try. It will be a full day of action.  Stay tuned!

laughing camp girls

Magically Gratifying

easy life for kids at camp

Today I had an interesting conversation with one of our staff Education Interns about the different ways she saw life at camp supporting the social and emotional needs of the girls here. New to Rockbrook this summer (She is not a former camper or counselor.), she has been struck by how most everyone at camp has such an easy going attitude, happily engaging the different camp activities, but also content to just be at Rockbrook, no matter what the day would bring.  The girls sign up for their own set of activities, but they don’t seem too obsessed with doing any particular thing.  Sure there are accomplishments to strive toward— bullseyes in archery and riflery, reaching the top of the Alpine Tower while blind folded, throwing a pot on the potters wheel, making a powerful overhand serve in tennis, weaving a particular shaped basket, for example —and there are favorite trips to join (like rafting), but it almost seems like the girls could be doing anything and still tell you “I love camp.” She said, “It just feels good to be here,” no matter what we’re doing.

basket weaving kids at summer camp
kid throwing on the potter's wheel
challenge tower climbing kid

Being someone interested in Social Emotional Learning (SEL), she explained this feeling in those terms. She said Rockbrook’s “friendly community helps girls improve their relationship skills and be more self aware.” It’s true; “how we define our community is key to how it feels to be here,” I added. We agreed that being a part of a “relationship-based community” like Rockbrook, one dedicated to the core values of kindness, caring and generosity, is what “feels good.” The community provides an important context, one that fulfills our social and emotional needs, and hence is magically gratifying (what the girls will call “fun”) no matter what we’re doing.

This is exactly the point of this internship. We believe children at camp can learn to “respond to emotional triggers, engage with diversity, manage conflict, and make responsible decisions” when they join a community like Rockbrook. Our daily experience provides opportunities to practice “self-awareness, self-management, social-awareness, and relationship skills.”  Life at camp is ripe with moments where these skills are exercised.

We also talked about why girls are so “loyal to Rockbrook,” why they so often want to return to camp summer after summer.  Here too, we pointed to the easy feeling of being at camp, the authentic relationships of friendship we have here, and ultimately to the special community where we know we belong. Again, it’s not so much what they get to do, the crafts or adventure for example, that makes the girls yearn to return. It’s the social and emotional context that encourages the deep relationships with the other people at camp. We could change many of Rockbrook’s activity offerings and I suspect most girls would still love camp and still say it’s “fun.”

Lastly, we talked about how we might integrate aspects of camp life in the outside world, say in an elementary school classroom, so as to enhance SEL. Integrating SEL into educational settings is a thriving area of study, but from our experience at camp, we thought it crucial to begin with a culture of kindness, to build a collaborative community that encourages empathy, decision making, and belonging. Taking time to establish this kind of community, we thought, could be crucial for learning, just as it’s the foundation of what makes camp a place girls love.

Once again we were reminded of the power of camp. In these ways, it is educational in the best sense of the word, more so even than most traditional school settings. I find it remarkable too that kids love this kind of learning.  They yearn for it.  They need it.  And fortunately for your Rockbrook girls, they have it.

casual comfortable camp kids

The Start of Something New

Now that Second Session has officially begun, campers have eagerly jumped on all the opportunities for fun and adventure at camp. Every day except Sundays, campers take activities that they can choose themselves. Mondays at camp are always full of new experiences because they are the first day of activity rotations. Today was especially delightful because it is the first day of the fist activity rotation, and it is the second day of the whole session.

Every Sunday and Wednesday night after dinner, campers choose their next round of four activities that they will take for three days. Some campers enjoy taking the same activities every time because they want to continue building their skills, they particularly enjoy being with those activity instructors, or they are just big fans of that activity. On the other hand, some campers choose new activities every rotation in order to try the most they can while at camp, since many of our activities are things that are often not available at home. Either way, campers practice decision-making and independence when they pick activities and challenge themselves to try new things.

For instance, today in Curosty, our weaving activity, campers sat by the creek and learned how to make baskets that they will be able to take home and use. 

Meanwhile in Yoga, campers not only practiced different poses and breathing techniques, they also learned about yoga philosophy and history in order to ground their yoga experience and relate it to their lives.

No matter the activity, campers are able to take something away with them when they leave camp. Whether it is a freshly honed skill in knot tying, an experience on horseback they’ve never had before, or a new friend they made in needlecraft, each camper heads home with more than they arrived with. The combination of immersion in nature, working with activity specialists, and daily opportunities to build both skills and relationships make activities at Rockbrook a unique learning experience.

Girls arm in arm at summer camp

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

Happy Accidents

archery girl pullDuring my time as an archery instructor this summer, I have noticed in some campers an expectation of high performance during their time on the range. Archery is a sport that requires an understanding of basic from when shooting, such as keeping your elbow up when you pull the bowstring back, keeping your feet parallel and a shoulder length apart, and keeping your arms straight. Often, if a shot does not land as expected campers can be quick to say “I’m not good at this” or “this is not for me” even after one or two tries. Admittedly, I have been this camper myself, and as I’ve transitioned from camper to counselor I have grown to recognize these kinds of perfectionistic tendencies in both myself and in campers.

Perfectionism, “a refusal to accept any standard short of perfection,” can be taught and internalized in children in many ways, especially in school where high achievement, high grades, and high standardized test scores are the expectation. Standards such as these are not inherently bad and can lead to greater success, but there can also be consequences that oftentimes lead children lacking confidence if they feel they aren’t achieving as well as they think they should be.

camp archery readyCamp is a place for girls to leave perfectionism behind. It is a place where mistakes are understood as a part of the process of life and learning. Without the added pressures from high expectations, campers live their camp life to the fullest, and in the most fun ways possible— and giving girls the confidence to decide for themselves how they want to spend their days here.

As a camper, I always felt at ease during my summers at camp. The pressures of home and performance never affected what I did here, and I was always supported in my endeavors, even if I felt I had made mistakes. Making something because I wanted to and not for anyone else was also a freeing feeling. Now as a counselor, I try to give campers the same support and ease. In pottery, when we make slab mugs some campers will say “I don’t like how this turned out, can I have a new slab?” to which my fellow instructor and I reply “just flip it over and start again!”. Even if the camper does not like what they’ve made at first, trying something new or turning a mistake in an intended design can make a piece look even better.

summer camp skit funAs a counselor, one of my favorite things to do is watch evening program camper skits. Certain nights the cabins on each line are given a wacky theme to create a skit around such as “Christmas in July” or “Moana meets Frozen”. Skits are a wonderful time for campers to let their creativity shine, design and wear funky costumes, and learn how to work together as a group. The campers never fail to come up with hilarious and out-of-the-box performances, and seeing the girls cracking up at their own antics during the skit and laughing together afterwards is always a delight. There is no right or wrong way to create a skit— no way to make it “perfect” —and I believe that is why the campers have so much fun making and performing them.

To conclude, at the start of this past rotation in Archery I was teaching a girl who, after a few arrows missed the target, claimed “I’m just not good enough at this.” However, as my co-instructor and I gave her a few tips and she got more used to shooting the bow, her aim became more accurate. At the end of class that day, four of her five arrows hit the white of the target and she cried with joy “I got them on the target! Look! I did it!” and she received congratulations and cheers from the other girls in the class. Today, that same camper got a bullseye! She was astonished and proud and we all cheered together. It was a great improvement from the first day of class, when she had expected a great shot on her first try. With guidance, practice, and confidence girls can do anything they set their minds to, and here at camp it is known that mistakes are just a part of learning.

—Hailey McGee, camper & counselor, 2010-present

camp teenagers

Creative Mistakes

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

creative weaving kidsWe 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 ChildA 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

Gleefully Chilled and Thrilled

Camp muffin snack breakDon’t be surprised if your daughter is far more interested in baked goods when she gets home from camp. Rockbrook has that effect on people, campers and staff members alike, because we enjoy freshly baked muffins, cookies, cakes and other desserts on a daily basis. There’s a full time baker (actually 4 that work in shifts) keeping our giant mixer and convection oven working first thing in the morning and long into the afternoon. The most sought-after item from the bakery has to be the muffins we serve every morning between the first and second activity periods. Sarah invented the idea of “Muffin Break” years ago thinking the girls would enjoy a morning snack to help keep up the active pace of camp. She also thought it would be fun to vary the flavors and make each day a surprise. The bakers enjoy inventing crazy flavors as well as repeating classics. One day it’s pumpkin chocolate chip, and the next it’s raspberry swirl, strawberries and cream, confetti, or oreo (yes, with half an oreo cookie poking out the top!). Word about the flavor spreads fast around camp when the muffins are ready each morning, and you can count on everyone swinging by the dining hall porch to grab one.

Sliding Rock ChildrenLet’s take all the Middlers (5th and 6th graders) and their counselors to Sliding Rock. Like rafting, this has become one of the signature trips for Rockbrook girls, something they look forward to every year. Tonight our crew of more than 100 people, including all the staff members and lifeguards, took over the rock for the evening, sliding two-by-two down the 60-foot natural water slide formed by Looking Glass Creek. And these Middlers loved it! Slide after slide, wide-mouthed screams, cheers of encouragement from friends, and satisfied smiles proved how something this simple (no batteries required!) can be this fun.  As others in the south struggle with summer heat, these girls were gleefully chilled and thrilled with this classic mountain experience.  With no complex agenda and only the fading daylight to limit us, I think most girls were able to slide 3 or 4 times before we gathered everyone for the short ride to Dolly’s Dairy Bar, our final stop of the trip. Of course the girls look forward to this too, a cup or cone of “the best ice cream in the world!” as one girl declared it. Whether it’s “Rockbrook Chocolate Illusion” or one of the other camp flavors, a frozen sweet treat after riding down a freezing waterfall, is ironically exactly right. Add to it a few dozen friends, and that shared experience creates something uniquely powerful.

It’s certainly worth repeating, but this unique power is another example of why camp is great for kids. The thrill of sliding down the rock is certainly active outdoor fun, but it’s also exceptionally educational, helping to build confidence, independence and social skills. Surrounded by friends, the girls pull each other along experiencing more as a community than they otherwise would. They’re learning to communicate, to consider others with kindness and generosity at heart, and to contribute to the larger group. Spending time in this kind of encouraging community, one focused on positive relationships and appreciative of nature and diversity, is inspiring for children. There’s curiosity, wonder and joy to be discovered and celebrated each day at camp. Ordinary school experiences don’t easily provide this kind of core learning, so more than ever, camp is a critical supplement for our growing children.

We take this educational responsibility seriously at Rockbrook, training our staff and strengthening our camp culture to encourage this kind of growth for our girls. Thank you for sharing them with us, and helping them help us make this experience so meaningful for everyone.

Tennis Camp Children

Spirited Shenanigans

Whitewater Rafting Rapid

Being a camp community that spends most of its time outside, you can imagine that we pay a great deal of attention to the weather. But I should clarify that; the directors and other adults think about the weather, plan for it, make adjustments because of it, celebrating or bemoaning what mother nature sends our little nook in the mountains. We are focused on the weather (even to the point of installing our own weather station!), but the kids, the girls at Rockbrook generally are not. Today, for example, we had “perfect” warm and sunny weather for our whitewater rafting trips, and all of our other in-camp activities, but I don’t think the girls noticed it much. Instead, they paid attention to each other and to the activity, laughing and splashing, bumping and paddling down the Nantahala. It’s amazing how “in the moment” these girls are, oblivious to everything beyond what they’re doing and the friends they’re doing it with.  On other days, I’ve seen campers completely ignore the rain, happily wearing a hat instead of a raincoat, playing in the creek as if it was any other day. There’s no air conditioning in the cabins, but that simply doesn’t matter to the girls when there are so many more immediate things to discuss with bunkmates. When it’s hot and humid late in the day, that’s just another reason to head to the lake. The weather demands attention now and then, but most of the time it’s just the context for our daily camp experience. We all know, for example, to stay safely inside when there’s a threat of lighting, or the opposite, we may stop what we’re doing in amazement of a brief hail storm. This kind of complete engagement, energized immersion into the daily activities that structure our day— which makes “time fly” and fuels the intensity of the fun, by the way —makes everything external largely insignificant. The weather? “Oh yeah, I guess it rained.”

Rafting girls warming in the sun
Silly rafting girls

We took about 60 people whitewater rafting on the Nantahala River today. We offer this trip every year to all of the Middlers and Seniors, and for many it has become their favorite outdoor adventure experience of their session. One bus of girls chose to spend the night at our outpost near the river, enjoying a little camping complete with maybe one too many s’mores before bed. The river trip itself delivered plenty of frigid water and thrilling drops through the class II and III rapids, but as you can see the girls added a good dose of silliness to the trip as well, posing for photos, making “high-fives” with their paddles, and riding “the bull” until falling back into the boat or forward into the river. Using our own equipment and guides the girls already know helps this extra silly fun take over. Songs and spirited shenanigans all the way down!

Camp horseback riding girl

Be sure to take a look at the online photo gallery. Today’s shots are particularly good. We have two full-time photographers who roam around camp trying to capture the action. At times only one is working, and at others, both are busy trying to snap a photo of every girl (at least one!) while also showcasing the different activities all happening at once. It’s difficult to be everywhere at the same time, but especially when both photographers are working, they do an amazing job keeping the gallery interesting. Spend a few minutes scrolling through the photos and you will discover the incredible variety of things your girls are doing— riding, shooting, jumping, zipping, weaving, tie dying, playing, swimming, balancing, paddling, acting, painting… —but also I hope you’ll get a sense of how they’re learning along the way. Every activity involves specific skills, techniques, terminology, equipment or materials. Some require careful athletic coordination, imagination or creativity.  Personal qualities are being exercised too: perseverance, bravery, patience, humility, and stamina come to mind. Rockbrook’s organized camp activities bring all of this together, and when led by such amazing, caring instructors, and when the forces of “positive peer pressure” (“Let’s sign up for kayaking!”) soften feelings of hesitation, girls grow in astounding ways. They experience not just something novel and fun; they discover new success and confidence too.

Tower course climbing kid
girl learning to belay

Climbing is a great example of this learning, of the broad educational (in the best sense of the word) benefits of camp activities. Of course, beginners learn about the special equipment needed to climb safely: the kernmantle rope, helmet, locking carabiners, belay device, and harness with its array of straps and buckles. They learn about different climbing techniques: various holds, body positions, and balancing stances. The older girls can learn how to belay. There are mental skills also: concentration (“Don’t look down!”), determination, and problem solving each step of the way, for example.  Emotions like fear and frustration often play a role too, not to mention the elation of achieving the goal of reaching the top of a climb. Climbing means overcoming your fear of heights (which we all have to some extent) by learning to trust, to trust the safety equipment and ultimately to trust your own ability to climb effectively. Whether it’s on our high ropes climbing tower, wall in the gym, the routes on Castle Rock, or on Looking Glass Rock in the Pisgah Forest, the Rockbrook girls who climb are learning so much more than simply “how to climb.” So much more!

camp water slide girl