Habits of Wonder and Joy

There were several special off-camp adventure trips available for the girls today. Beyond our regular short hikes, ziplining, and rock climbing here at camp throughout the week, these were chances to get out and see more of the amazing natural beauty of this area.

camp girls on backpacking trip
Camp girls paddle boarding

A nice group of Middlers and Seniors signed up to go backpacking and camping in the Pisgah Forest. With their gear and provisions stowed in their packs, the crew began by hiking for a little less than an hour to a secluded camping site nearby John Rock. This rock is a fantastic destination. At an elevation of about 3200 feet, it provides a stunning view of the larger Looking Glass Rock across the valley formed by the Davidson River. When the girls emerged from the forest to reveal that view, jaws literally dropped and gasps of “oh wow!” proved how incredible it was. Cooking s’mores over their campfire, sleeping in a cozy tent, and enjoying that view together made everyone happy they signed up for the trip.

The next morning, several of those same backpacking girls wanted to join a rock climbing trip heading to Pilot Rock, another slab in Pisgah. So without returning to camp, these high adventurers joined the group heading out for a day of climbing. Two routes, one called “Chopped” and the other “400 Foot Rope,” kept everyone busy, and at the top thrilled by another amazing view of the surrounding mountain peaks.

Meanwhile, a full van of whitewater kayakers left camp for the day on the Tuckasegee river in Swain County. Including our three instructors, this was a group of 15 boats, making an impressive, colorful sight as these Rockbrook girls navigated their way through each rapid.

And then out at Lake Julia in the Dupont State Forest, another group of girls joined a session of paddle boarding. They enjoyed the warm sunny weather to explore the calm secluded lake, and even to do a bit of yoga balancing on the boards. Another gorgeous location for a day of adventure.

water slide plunge

In addition to the wow factor, the intensity of these outdoor experiences, there’s a subtle lesson they teach. It’s that the natural world is a wonderful place, quite literally full of wonder. By getting outside and immersing ourselves in a natural environment, like we do everyday at Rockbrook, we inevitably have unfamiliar yet fascinating experiences and encounter amazing things. Around here we almost come to expect that fascination— the pounding roar of a waterfall, the sharp call of a whippoorwill, the jolt of swimming in a chilly lake, the flash of a skunk waddling across our path at night, for example. Over time, as the days unfold at camp, we learn that if we open ourselves to new experiences (and this is made easier in a caring, supportive camp community), the world will provide rewarding moments of beauty, amazement, and wonder. Instead of feeling suspicion or hesitation, Rockbrook girls grow more curious and inspired to explore new things, fully expecting to be delighted in the process. Camp life fosters this habit, and later we hope, can serve as a resource enriching your girls experience long into the future.

happy camp kid
Camp shaving cream friends

At camp, there’s also the habit of joy, of unbridled hilarity, that we all relish. What illustrates this better than a shaving cream fight? Tonight’s twilight event proved it as more than 100 bottles of shaving cream were squirted, slathered and re-smeared all over the girls (those who chose to participate). Dressed in their swimsuits, the girls wasted no time emptying those cans, racing about slapping the slippery white foam all over each other. They would run to get away from a pursuing friend, slowing down just enough to be caught and splattered, laughing hysterically the entire time. We pulled out a sheet of plastic for a slip-n-slide too, which works beautifully when you are covered with shaving cream, by the way. No soap needed! It was another camp moment when the simplest thing elicited incredible happiness. The girls were having such full-out fun, they were beside themselves, falling down almost unable to get up, laughing so completely they were speechless.

It was an excellent day of adventure and silly fun, and of wonder and joy.

camp child slip and slide

Our Common Spirit

Counselor and two campers

Earlier this week I had an interesting conversation with our Education Intern Hayley about motivation, specifically about how we as educators can motivate children. This internship is focused on the concept of “Social Emotional Learning,” an approach to education that holds central both the emotional lives of children and the social landscape they navigate as they grow. SEL simply recognizes that educational efforts should address the “whole child,” not just her intellectual development. In fact, many educators are recognizing that ignoring kids’ emotional triggers and social conflicts is a serious impediment to their academic learning, and perhaps more importantly, to their ability to make responsible decisions. In classrooms, schools, and even some school districts there’s a growing awareness of the importance of SEL if we are to help our kids gain the wide range of skills they’ll need to be more successful and content later in life.

One important point to make in all of this— and it’s the reason we offer an internship in social emotional learning here at Rockbrook —is that SEL has a lot to do with community, with the nature and quality of our relationships with those around us. And you see, as we’ve said many times, camp is also about community. It’s about being aware of each other, about practicing a common spirit of kindness, caring and generosity so that we treat each other with respect. We talk about being a “Rockbrook girl” as someone who contributes enthusiastically to this positive spirit, who is encouraging and helpful as a result. What’s neat is that there are so many people here modeling these values, the character is contagious. It becomes a powerful force that not only inspires girls to be their best selves (particularly in how they treat each other), it also deepens their relationships with everyone in the community and draws us all closer together.

Grinning sliding rock camp girls

For this reason, we believe Rockbrook is an ideal environment for social emotional learning. In addition to what we do together and all our shared experience, Rockbrook is a tight-knit community defined by how we relate to each other: again, with an explicit ethic of kindness, caring and generosity. When girls join this sort of intentional community, when the culture of camp inspires everyone to be more kind, caring and generous toward each other, they naturally grow more self-aware and develop greater social awareness along the way. This community builds relationship skills like cooperation and compassion, and of course all these forces are what drives the incredible camp friendships your daughter is enjoying.

So the answer to Haley’s question about motivation springs from this focus on community. Around here, girls are less driven by extrinsic rewards and goals, and more motivated by how an action will affect their relationship with someone. We discussed how girls make decisions within this web of relationships, and are generally careful to consider the emotions and needs of others. Thanks to the powerful community spirit at camp, behaviors are motivated by being a “Rockbrook girl,” being the caring, kind, generous, and sympathetic person we all admire. It’s what we mean around here by “RBA:” “Rockbrook Appropriate.” There’s a culture defining ethic at camp we all understand, and that serves to both motivate us and guide our decision making.

I may sound like a broken record when it comes to talking about the benefits of camp, so please forgive me. I’m just constantly made aware of how great this experience is for girls. Even though it’s wrapped in the guise of silly fun, thrilling adventure, and liberating creativity, camp really makes a difference in these girls’ lives. And it’s my daily joy to be a part of it.

Camp Paddle Boarding
Mountain lake paddle boarding

A group of adventurous girls signed up for a special stand-up paddle boarding trip we offered today. It was a short drive from camp south to the Dupont State Forest where they met Charmaine Saulsbury of Dancing Trees Yoga, who would be the girls’ instructor for the morning. Charmaine teaches “SUP” and other yoga classes here in Brevard, and is one of the few yoga instructors in the country certified by the American Canoe Association.

With absolutely perfect weather, and with enough boards for everyone, the group made their way to Lake Julia, a gorgeous forest lake with a mostly undeveloped shoreline. This lake is also usually deserted, as it was this morning, providing a wonderful, quiet, calm setting for the paddle boarding. After giving them a few simple instructions about standing and balancing on the boards, Charmaine led the girls out in the water where they practiced several yoga positions. Attentive balance is already important for yoga, even more so when perched on a narrow floating board! The whole morning was a nice blend of relaxation and physical activity in a beautiful setting, something completely new and engaging for the girls.

Camp girls with eye and ear protection