A Haven for Friendship

Camp friends hugging

One of deepest and longest lasting rewards of a residential camp experience, particularly true here at Rockbrook, is the quality of the friendships formed between the girls. Camp friends are special for some reason, closer and more satisfying than the people you know at home or at school. Why that’s the case is interesting.

Rockbrook is a “haven for close friendships” partly because it is a community built foremost upon warmth and caring for everyone. Camp is a place were every girl here belongs, and is fully included, respected and valued. From the directors and staff members on down, we begin with compassion and generosity, with spirited communication and cooperation, and end up with genuine encouragement. This is powerful stuff when you experience it everyday from everyone around you. It becomes a positive force that encourages the girls, indeed the counselors too, to move past what they believe others (parents and peers, for example) want them to be, and to explore their true personality, spirit and character, their “authentic selves.” This is a welcome feeling of freedom, but it’s also the secret to making really deep friendships. Camp has the power to dissolve that common artificiality driving so many “real world” interactions, and thereby also to fuel the genuine connections that bind true friends. Camp proves how posing is the enemy of friendship.

Combined with the shared experience of camp— the activities, meals and free time together —and the “boy-distraction-free” environment we enjoy, Rockbrook empowers girls to make friends by having the confidence to be themselves.

Camp girls geocaching

This morning our friend Matt Christian arrived to offer the campers an introduction to “geocaching.” Geocaching is essentially a “real-world treasure hunt” where players use GPS devices to find hidden “caches,” often waterproof boxes containing notepads to sign when found, and other surprising knickknacks. Matt carefully positioned several caches around camp for the girls, and after teaming up into groups of 2 or 3, and learning to use the GPS units, they explored the camp property looking for their “treasures.” Some were easy to spot, being out in the open, but others were truly camouflaged. Geocaching is a worldwide phenomenon, and can be something fun to do even at home. Here’s the official Web site to learn more.

Tonight we held a camp tradition that seems to always send a shudder of excitement through the dining hall when it’s announced. The deafening roar proved it today at lunch when the girls learned we would be dancing with the boys of Camp Carolina tonight. Fire up the showers, bust out the clean shirt, find your hairbrush (or in one case I noticed… your hair curlers), and for some, devise your best silly costume… dance night can take some preparation! We held 2 simultaneous dances, one here at Rockbrook for the youngest girls, and the other at Carolina for the Seniors and Hi-Ups. This made the number of children manageable at both camps, and allowed for more age-appropriate dances and music. The younger campers had a great time dancing together and with their counselors, mostly oblivious to the boys, while the older girls jumped around, laughing, singing (and sweating) to the beat. Tonight was also fun to see several brothers and sisters finding each other and being happy to reunite after being away at different camps. The whole evening was sweet and lighthearted with your girls being polite and gracious in every way.

Camp girls at dance party
Brother Sister Pair at Camp Dance

Lastly, I wanted to pass along news that Rockbrook is being briefly recognized in the current summer issue of Preservation: The Magazine of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The article mentions our 19th-century log cabins, “Goodwill” and “Curosty,” as examples of well-preserved summer camp architecture still in use today.

Hopping and Hustling

Camp girl jumping in the lake
Free time for reading at summer camp

Just before lunch, for about an hour, our daily schedule includes a period we call “First Free Swim.” It’s a time when Chrissy, our waterfront director, and her team of lifeguards open the lake for anyone who would like to come down for a dip. This can be quite a few campers and counselors, so Chrissy stations extra guards and adds additional “Lookouts” to watch every part of the lake. During this time, we also open our 50ft water slide (affectionately known as “Big Samantha”) for those brave enough to climb the tower and hurtle themselves down the slick ride into the lake. Today, while the slide was open, some girls did tricks off the diving board and others simply wanted to float on a tube, relaxing in the sun. Lots of girls swam laps too, trying to reach the number needed to join the “Mermaid Club.”

“First Free Swim” is also simply a block of free time for the girls, a time when they might choose to go swimming, but just as frequently do something else. They might sit and read in the shade of the walnut tree on the hill, work on a friendship bracelet perched high in a red porch rocking chair, meet at the tennis courts to hit a few balls, race flip flops down the creek, play a quick game of tetherball, or perhaps plan to take a shower. And these are just a few of the options… There’s a “Rockbrook Runners” club, the “Green Team,” play practice, hunting for the Rockbrook Gnome, re-checking your mailbox, and of course, just hanging out talking with your friends. What’s important though, is that we have multiple times (there also a “Second Free Swim” period before dinner, and “Twilight” after dinner) built into our schedule when the girls have the freedom to choose what they would like to do. Different from their busy schedules at home, their extensive commitments and expectations associated with school, life at Rockbrook provides time for our girls to pursue their own interests, to set their own pace, and to enjoy this kind of independence. It’s a little strange for children to have this kind of freedom— after all, we adults are constantly telling them what to do —but these Rockbrook girls handle it quite well. They easily stay busy and happily engaged. They love being empowered in this way. In the end, being given this freedom is another boost, experienced firsthand, to their self-confidence.

aiming archery arrow
Child aiming a rifle

In both the riflery and archery activities, we’ve got girls with a serious look in their (one) eye. With this many days of experience banked, with this many bullets and arrows successfully striking their targets, these girls are really becoming great shots! They’re pulling back their bows and loading their rifles with resolute confidence. They’ve mastered being steady, and honed their powers of concentration. For some of the girls, this is serious business because they know that next week Rockbrook will challenges the boys of Camp Carolina in a Riflery, Archery and Tennis tournament. We’ve held this match each session for decades, and no matter what the outcome of the contest, it’s always great fun for the girls to show off their skills.

It’s also a tradition for the girls of Rockbrook to attend a dance with one of the local camps for boys. Earlier in the summer we danced with the boys of Camp High Rocks, but tonight we held an event with Camp Carolina. Actually we teamed up to hold two events, a dance for the younger boys and girls at Rockbrook, and another for the older teenagers at Carolina. This allows us to play more age appropriate music and to reduce the number of children at one venue. The girls anticipated having the dance and were excited to wear a special outfit or crazy costume. One girl dressed as a pumpkin, another a crayon, and another a clown. Several girls wore tie-dye t-shirts and shorts, but in every case this was a time to clean up a bit.

Kids at summer camp dance

At Rockbrook, our favorite local DJ, Marcus, played current pop songs and plenty of group dance numbers (The Cha Cha Slide, for example) making it easy for everyone to join in the dancing. Overall, the dancing was pretty silly, with lots of jumping to reach one hand in the air. The thrill isn’t particularly about individual dance moves or polished displays, but instead is derived from the whole group, crowded together, hopping and hustling simultaneously. As each familiar song was played, the girls screamed and sang along, having an absolutely fantastic time. Also— and this was surprisingly true for most of the teenagers as well as the younger girls —the dance wasn’t much about the boys. It was rather another chance to dress up (silly or not), laugh and act a little crazy, be together with friends, and have a really great time. These girls know how to do all of this, and it’s impressive!

Teen girls at summer camp dance

Your Child’s Time Away

Girls Tennis Camp shot

An article published in The Atlantic and written by Jessica Lahey caught my eye, and I wanted to pass it along because it speaks about how parents often feel when they send their children away to an overnight summer camp like Rockbrook. The article is entitled “A Summer Camp Lesson: Good-bye, and Go Away, Thank You Very Much” and argues that children benefit from time away from their parents because, as Michael Thompson author of Homesick and Happy claims, there are critical “developmental milestones” children must achieve on their own, separate from their parents. I found it a nice affirmation of our mission at Rockbrook. Through our camp program activities, trips, and special events, enlivened by our camp culture that emphasizes caring and kindness, and as modeled by so many admirable, friendly staff members, camp is a place of wonder, excitement and adventure for our girls. It’s a welcome haven ideally suited to foster the kind of growth we parents simply can’t provide our children… how to be happy despite setbacks (resilience), how to make friends (social confidence), how to feel good about our true self (high self esteem), and how simply to be more independent. It might be hard to admit, but it’s really good for our children to be challenged on their own, and camp is the perfect place to do it.

Camp Water Slide girl

The sheer fun of camp life and the encouragement quick to bubble up around here, make facing these parent-free challenging moments much easier too. For example, it can be pretty intimidating the first time you climb the tower and stare down from the top of our 50-ft water slide, “Big Samantha.” It looks like a long way down from up there, and the slippery ride is fast enough, and the splash at the bottom big enough to create some hesitation. Fortunately, the slide is described as “super fun” around camp, and for those a little nervous, it’s reassuring to see plenty of other girls racing back around the lake excited to do it again. Conquering that hesitation, and others like it, feeling the exhilaration of just doing it, can be a powerful boost to a child’s confidence… Even after camp.

Camper with bumble weaving loom

Here’s something fun. That flower-shaped item she’s holding is something called a “Bumble Loom,” and it’s used to weave cool thread bracelets and necklaces.  It’s just a flat piece of smooth wood with a hole in the middle and notches cut around the outside. The basic pattern uses 7 strands of thread (embroidery floss), all first pulled through the center hole, tied, but then divided so there’s one thread per notch. The girls then repeat a pattern of crossing one thread over to a different notch, twisting fibers and weaving as they go. The result is a colorful rope-like braid that can be tied and fastened to a lucky friend’s wrist, or perhaps given to someone special at home.

The Hi-Ups (our oldest campers: 10th graders) took a waterfall hike this morning to both Moore Cove and Looking Glass Falls in the Pisgah Forest. We’ve been having our typical afternoon scattered showers recently, and with that rain, the creeks are full, making all of the waterfalls around here more dramatic. The girls were particularly impressed by the sparkle of the sun as it caught individual drops of water gently falling at Moore Cove. Photo opportunity? You bet. Delightful forest experience? Absolutely.

Hi-Up campers at Looking Glass Falls

How Camp Helps Build Self-Esteem

self esteem girl camper

How does summer camp help children gain self-esteem?

Parents know it’s important for children to feel good about themselves, to be proud of their abilities and accomplishments, and to be accepted socially. That’s why we take such great care to provide experiences where children will succeed. Music lessons, organized team sports, even the “right” haircut and clothing— we hope all of these will help our kids be more competent, confident, and ultimately happier in life.

Many times this strategy works. Our child may find a talent, rise above the ability of others, gain some praise and recognition for it, and thereby feel good about being “good.” Being recognized for an outstanding ability, winning the competition for social attention, can be a real boost to a young person’s self-esteem. But what if a child doesn’t quite measure up, and she’s not the prettiest, the smartest, the most athletic, or the most talented in some way? What about her self-esteem? Is winning some unspoken competition the only way to feel good about herself?

Fortunately, there’s more to self-esteem than just individual success. It’s also about feeling competent in the face of life’s general problems, having a sense of “personal capacity.” It’s also about being able to simply have fun with others, to be able to make decisions for oneself, and feeling included in group endeavors. Interestingly, self-esteem is also about cooperation and community. In an environment defined by encouragement, mutual respect and collaboration, it’s not important if a child doesn’t stand out as an individual because of some extraordinary talent. Instead, a sense of self-worth and dignity can arise from doing something great together, from being a part of a group accomplishment.

And that’s why camp is so ideal for helping children grow their self-esteem; it is exactly this kind of environment. On the one hand, summer camp is a place for kids to make their own decisions, try new things, and discover individual achievement.  There are small moments of personal success everyday.  And on the other, there is incredible community spirit at camp, with groups of kids working together to solve problems, taking care of each other, and collaborating on creative projects. Regardless of their age or ability, their experience or talent, children at camp are reminded everyday that they can do it, and that they can believe in themselves. Everyone’s in it together at camp, and while we each may not hit the target with every arrow we shoot, there’s laughter and joy among friends no matter what. It’s through building this kind of community that all the girls at camp strengthen their self-esteem. Around here, you can count on it!