The Stories We Live

I read recently that the average American spends about three hours a day on their phone. This number changes depending on who is reporting it, but there is truth to the fact that people spend a lot of their waking hours using their phones. This is not an inherently bad thing—phones give us an easy form of communication, entertainment, and information. At Rockbrook, we do not have phones, and I started thinking today about how that impacts our daily lives and how we use those three hours differently at camp.

needlecrafting teenagers

While walking around today, I spent some time at Needlecraft where the girls were working on cross-stitching pillows. Needlecraft is a relaxing activity, located on the back porch of Curosty, surrounded by the sounds of flowing water and chirping birds. While working on their projects, the girls were spinning conversations about their lives at home, what they thought muffin break would be, and how much fun they had ziplining. It is the perfect setting for easy conversations, and every girl who has taken Needlecraft comes back talking about how easygoing and enjoyable the activity is.

Next, I walked down to climbing. In climbing, girls love to climb the Alpine Tower, a huge tower that is tucked in to the woods. On the Alpine Tower, three girls can climb at a time, and they can choose whichever route they want to reach the top. This year, if girls are able to put on their helmets and harnesses themselves, tie a proper figure eight follow through knot, and know their commands, they earn a bracelet. Upon accomplishing other landmarks, such as climbing all three sides blindfolded, they are able to earn beads for the bracelet. When they are not climbing, however, most campers are still engaged with the activity. Some spend the time practicing knots, others give the climber advice, while still others are trying to map out their own routes for when it is their turn to go up.

As I walked away from climbing, I realized that these are the moments when most of us use our phones when we are outside of camp. We look at our cell phones when waiting for something, when we are not actively engaged in a particular activity. The beauty of camp, then, is that it asks us to be constantly engaged. We are not being pulled in different directions and different places by social media and text messages with friends. We do not have an easy distraction from the present. Therefore, we are more likely to engage with each other.

camping girl

After two activities, a free swim (where I saw many Rockbrook Runners decide to run Charlotte’s Loop twice—that’s about 4 miles!), and a delicious lunch, we were all ready for rest hour. Depending on whom you are asking, rest hour is the best hour. It is nestled in the precise center of our day, right after lunch and right before the rest of our activities. It is a time where every girl is asked to stay in bed and stay quiet, a time for us to all rejuvenate so we can have the energy to take on the rest of the day. Some girls listen to iPods, revisiting their favorite songs, but many others choose not to use electronics at all. They write letters, read books, fall asleep, or just use the time to think. We don’t usually talk about Rest Hour, but it is so key to our day. It gives campers a time to themselves, and gives them the freedom to figure out how they want to use it. This can be a challenging time for some campers, but learning how to keep oneself content without easy distractions like phones and other people can be a valuable lesson.

After Rest Hour, we had another activity period before candy break. Girls lined up to get their favorite candy bar, happy to have such a special treat. The final activity period came and went, and then it was time for second free swim. I spent time on the Lakeview Lodge porch with my cabin of girls. We sat in rocking chairs and talked, read, and made friendship bracelets for the entire hour. It felt like such a long and relaxing time. I heard someone comment that, at camp, the days go by slowly, but the weeks go by quickly. I agree with this sentiment completely.

We ate an incredible dinner of tortellini, fresh bread, mixed vegetables, and pesto sauce, followed by delicious homemade brownies for dessert. Amid songs, we told each other how our days had gone, and looked forward to the days ahead.

After dinner, we had quite a special event—Jug Band! This is a time-honored Rockbrook tradition. It’s part mountain culture appreciation, part all-camp campfire, and all fun. We all gathered together to sing songs around the campfire. A group of counselors led fun songs like “Mountain Dew,” “Rocky Top,” and “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain.” Everyone made an instrument to play along as part of the band. These instruments ranged from broomsticks to pots and pans. We laughed all night, as campers told their favorite jokes and counselors told stories and performed ridiculous skits. It was such a simple evening. All we needed was a campfire, a homemade instrument, and a group of enthusiastic girls. But it may have been my favorite night of camp so far. Everyone was just so engaged in the simple silliness, and participating in it was perfection.

campfire girl friends


When jug band was over, we went to the lodge to wait for milk and cookies. While waiting, the senior line girls kept telling more jokes and challenging each other with trivia questions. It was another moment that they chose to engage and now have a memory instead of being distracted. Once milk and cookies had ended, some cabins stayed up talking about their days and their lives.

As we finally got into bed after a long, exciting day, I realized that so much of the time we spend at camp is time telling stories. We tell stories about our pets, our friends, our families, and our experiences. We do this more than we normally would because it is just so easy to talk to people at camp. This is one reason we are able to get so close, so fast. When we get home, we will probably use our phones regularly (though maybe we will be more intentional about it) and we will probably return to life as normal. Yet we will still tell stories. We will continue to share our experiences with those around us. Most campers find that, when they go home, they can’t help but tell stories from camp for weeks and weeks after. The impact of being engaged, then, is that we are living our lives in such a way that we have the best stories to tell.

Independence with Responsibility

Pancake Picnic
Camp Fire Starting Class

It has always been part of Rockbrook’s mission to go beyond simply entertaining our campers and to focus also on how we can provide more lasting benefits to the girls who attend camp. We certainly work to make sure everyday here includes something delightful, surprising and fun. If you merely look at the variety of activities available, all the free time options, and daily special gatherings (Twilight periods, Evening Programs, dining hall skits, assemblies, and all-camp events), it’s clear Rockbrook girls are having a blast. They’re outside, they’re actively engaged with creative, adventure, and athletic interests, and they’re laughing their heads off along the way.

But of course camp is much more than a series of amusements. It’s almost cliché to say it— partly because we (and others) talk about it a lot! —but there’s no doubt that a positive sleepaway camp experience helps build important character traits that serve children well later in life, traits like those “21st Century Skills” you may have heard about: Communication, Confidence, Compassion, Cooperation, Collaboration, Creativity, Courage, and so forth.

There are many aspects of camp life one could name that contribute to this transformative power: its emphasis on positive human relationships and the friendly, tight-knit community we enjoy, coming immediately to mind. There’s a starting point, however, I would say even a prerequisite to this character growth, something that if missing will reduce the camp experience to merely a vacation, or some other fleeting form of entertainment.

Camp Needlecraft Class on back porch

At the most fundamental level, camp is a powerful environment for character development because to provides children an opportunity to act independently. On a daily basis, kids at camp can exercise their independence. Without being tightly managed by parents or teachers, they get to make their own choices about what they’ll do, where they’ll go and ultimately, who they’ll be. This is quite a lot of freedom for kids when you think about it, and it might even make a parent nervous! What if she doesn’t brush her hair, or wears the same dirty shirt over and over again!? What if she doesn’t take tennis and finds rock climbing more her style? What if she stays up late and sleeps less (or more!) than usual? What if the freedom of camp meant “Do whatever you want?”

This would be a legitimate worry if not for the structure of camp life. Keep in mind that at camp the campers can’t do simply anything they chose. The freedom camp provides to act independently without parental authorization comes with significant limitations as well. There are, for example, clear procedural rules at camp— a daily schedule of activities, safety protocols, and how to clear dirty tableware after a meal, to name a few. Perhaps even more importantly, there are likewise social expectations where the girls realize the importance of treating each other with kindness, caring, generosity, honesty, and respect, for example. The camp environment, our culture and community, is built upon the support of these structural and social limits, and the camp staff, our cabin counselors primarily, serve as nurturing role models who embody the ideals from which they are derived.

Girls waving while in whitewater rafting boat

What we have at camp is freedom with limitations, or to put it differently, independence with responsibility. This is important because one without the other would critically fail our campers’ developing character. At one extreme, unstructured independence would lead to an “anything goes” form of chaos, and kids would fail to grapple with the 21st Century skills mentioned above. At the other extreme, rigidly scripted behaviors would rob kids of their decision making power leaving them with mere recipes for life poorly suited to cope with the complexities of a changing world.

Camp life finds that balance by providing girls the freedom to make their own choices while also taking great care to guide those decisions appropriately.  And it’s this balance that teaches kids how to be responsible. So while she’s choosing to go whitewater rafting, or to spend a quiet afternoon decorating a memory box in KIT, or perhaps chatting with a friend on the hill after dinner instead of taking a shower, she’s exploring how to act responsibly as well.  By absorbing the positive values of camp— things like respect for others, appreciation of Nature, and courage to try new things —she’s developing qualities that will help her navigate responsibly in the future.

Rafting the nantahala river falls

Well, I may have gotten a little carried away here, but I wanted to report that your girls aren’t just eating pancakes on the hill in their PJ’s, or learning to build a fire, or blasting through the Nantahala Falls, or singing ’till their their throats hurt, or zipping down sliding rock— all things we enjoyed today. They’re making independent decisions all day long, and you’d be very proud, maybe even a little surprised, to see how confidently and responsibly they are making their way.

A Community of Fun

Girl and horse at equestrian camp

This is a time of camp when everyone seems to be settled in. After only these few days together we’re singing the songs louder and more confidently, taking on higher level activity challenges, and most importantly, happily greeting so many more new friends we see around camp. That’s the really cool thing; you can feel the whole community growing closer and caring for each other. And of course, knowing this many people this well, we all are having even more fun. There’s a friend around every corner, someone waiting to join you in whatever the next thing is. “Let’s go get changed for horseback riding!”

young camp girl learning to knit

One of the oldest buildings at Rockbrook is a 19th century log cabin called Curosty. Originally constructed in nearby, Rockbrook’s founder Nancy Carrier moved it here to serve initially as the camp’s office. Now it houses our fiber arts activities. Inside you’ll find girls learning to weave using all kinds of looms and techniques. They are weaving narrow belts and headbands on tabletop looms, wider and more complex fabrics on the floor looms, and simple designs on lap looms… All surrounded by the hand-hewed timbers of this 150-year-old cabin. On the back porch of Curosty, in the shade of the oaks and hemlocks and nearby a gurgling creek, our Needlecraft activity meets. This is another wonderful opportunity for our campers to step back in time and learn classic needlework crafts like knitting, cross stitch, and embroidery. Working with colorful threads and yarns, the girls are threading, twisting and knotting strands into beautiful designs. Different from some of the more physically active, thrilling activities, stepping into Curosty is calm and conversational.

Campers-dressed counselors

Guess what happens when you let eight 2nd graders dress you in anything they want. That’s right; it can be pretty crazy, and that’s exactly what the Junior Line girls did tonight to their counselors.  For their evening program, and with all sorts of costume props at their disposal, the girls didn’t hold back as they added multiple layers and accessories. Hats, scarves, sunglasses, tiaras, dresses and skirts- nothing seemed out of bounds. The finale was a wild fashion show in the Junior Lodge, which had everyone rolling with laughter. It’s great for the girls to see their counselors be such good sports, throwing themselves into all this silliness, just letting go and enjoying themselves no matter who might be watching. After all, that’s exactly what “having fun” often means.

Also tonight all the Middlers and their counselors took a trip into the Pisgah Forest for a picnic dinner. Rick and his crew packed us yummy Burritos, chips and fruit to eat, and after a short drive we had the whole crew (92 people in all!) skipping and frolicking through the grass of our favorite secret spot. Back in the buses, we then headed to Sliding Rock for a few trips down the rock. A rain shower from earlier in the day had swollen the creek a bit, making it a slightly faster ride, but it had also warmed up the water temperature a bit (though I suspect the girls didn’t really notice!). Sliding Rock is a real mountain treat, and is something Rockbrook campers have enjoyed for generations. Finally, we made a stop at the famous “Dolly’s Dairy Bar,” located at the entrance to the forest. Everyone picked out their favorite flavor for a cup or cone, like “Rockbrook Chocolate Illusion,” to top off the evening.

Happy Girl Loving Camp
This is awesome!!

Childrens Summer Camp Needlecraft

Children Needlecraft at Summer Camp

Another super popular summer camp activity for children at Rockbrook is something we call “Needlecraft.” It’s a craft activity where we make all kinds of things out of yarn, string, and thread, and as you might expect, use “needles” to weave, tie, twist and knit the strands into interesting patterns and shapes. Sometimes we do cross stitch (like in this photo), sometimes knitting, sometimes crocheting, or needlepoint, or other kinds of embroidery. It’s fun to learn these “old timey” crafts, and you can make some amazing things… hats, scarves, bookmarks, monograms, blankets, even socks! Plus, it’s the kind of thing that you can keep doing when you get home if you like.

Sitting on the back porch of Curosty, under the trees, listening to the creek and the birds, wiht lots of friends… it’s the perfect place to enjoy needlecraft.