Letting Go

“Letting go” is a phrase that seems particularly apt when you consider life at camp, even more so at an overnight camp like Rockbrook. In so many ways, the campers let go of the familiar while they’re here. Think about it. They find themselves sleeping in rustic, 90-year-old wooden cabins with eight or so other people. When they look up in their bed, they more than likely can spot a spider or two. Instead of the whir of an air-conditioning system as they fall asleep, the sounds of crickets and other nocturnal forest creatures linger in the background. Even what they eat— homemade hummus, grilled barbecue tempeh, corn tamales, and strawberry white chocolate muffins, for example —is foreign to many of the girls. All of their familiar screens— TVs, computers, smart phones, and tablets —gone! And of course, most of the activities at camp offer new experiences, from shooting a real gun, climbing a real rock, and using a vintage floor loom, to diving into the freezing cold water of our lake. With so many new things, it’s impossible to cling to what you already know.

Girls Aiming Archery bow and arrowThere’s more. Camp girls, simply by virtue of being away from home, also let go of their parents in certain ways. Free from the prescriptions, intervention, and inspections of mom and dad, this means making all kinds of decisions on their own. It might mean deciding to adjust certain habits of personal hygiene (brushing hair or taking a shower less often for example) because more important (i.e., more fun) things are happening like a ga-ga ball game before lunch or great conversation before bed. Being at Rockbrook, girls don’t depend on their parents to fill their free time, to dictate what always comes next, or to solve every problem. Of course, there are excellent counselors here, wonderful people to guide this freedom, but camp gives girls the opportunity to experiment with things and gain more confidence after seeing how their decisions turn out… good and bad.

Camp Yoga KidsAsking the campers themselves about how they feel at camp, I’ve heard the older girls say camp is their “happy place” where they can let go of their worries.  Different from the competitive atmosphere of school and the insecurities it can breed, the Rockbrook community is defined by compassion, kindness and generosity. Camp is a place of encouragement where, instead of being left out, ignored, or put down in some way, girls feel supported, respected, and affirmed. In this kind of community, girls don’t worry about how they look, whether or not they’re “good” at a particular activity, or if they’re “cool” enough to be included. All those worries fade away at camp when the point of things has nothing to do with evaluation and everything to do with simply having fun.

Letting go of worries like this also empowers a girl to let go of her polished persona, that “face” she believes others want her to be. Joining a camp community like Rockbrook, knowing she’s truly a part of it, trusting the people around her and caring for them in the way they care about her, inspires her true personality, spirit and character to shine through. It can be a remarkable transformation for a person. By being so supportive, camp opens up a space for a girls’ authentic self to emerge and grow.

So after letting go of all these things at Rockbrook, what’s left? Simple stuff: Authenticity, Nature, Friendship, Joy, Creativity, and Community… a life that feels really good. That is camp.

Zip Line Camp Kids

Like a Girl

Ceramics Glazing KidTake a brief tour of camp, and it will quickly by obvious that these Rockbrook girls are doing amazing things. Yesterday I mentioned hand rolling kayaks, but there’s a long list of other extraordinary accomplishments we could name. Girls are riding and jumping horses over 2-foot rails. They are swimming laps in the lake, smashing tennis balls on the courts, and doing gymnastics flips off the balance beam in the gym. Rockbrook girls are showing their creative talents by sewing pillows, weaving cloth on wide floor looms, and tying intricate friendship bracelet patterns. Their pottery is as beautiful as their shooting form in archery. These Rockbrook girls are light on their feet and quick with a song. Seeing them interact with each other is equally impressive. They’re happy to help one another, to be kind and caring, and incredibly generous, knitting our community tighter everyday.

Climbing KidsAnd they’re doing all this themselves, being remarkably successful without their parents’ continual guidance. This is significant, of course, because it reminds us that camp, particularly a sleepaway camp like Rockbrook, provides consistent experiences that boost girls confidence and self-esteem. At camp, it’s simple to feel good about your individual achievements because you see the results. Our days here are filled with moments, thanks to the enthusiasm and support from the community of great people around us, when girls think “Wow! I did it!” No matter their age or experience, their abilities or talents, and without too much concern for the outcome— whether the pottery mug is straight, or every serve clears the net —Rockbrook girls know they are competent and strong. They are given the freedom and responsibility to make their own decisions. They are empowered to be themselves, and celebrated when they do. Camp proves their “personal capacity.” At Rockbrook, girls “can do it,” all while having fun with whomever they’re with.

Cool Kayak KidRockbrook shows what it means to do something “like a girl.” And as you can see, it’s awesome.  Have you seen the #LikeAGirl video that’s making the rounds? Documentary photographer and filmmaker Lauren Greenfield made it and it’s got more than 47 million views on YouTube. The video reveals how often “like a girl” is used derogatorily, and thereby can have a significantly negative effect on young girls and women. The video also proves, however, like camp, that doing something “like a girl” is amazing. Being a girls’ camp, you don’t hear that phrase very often because after all, everything we do here is “like a girl,” but it’s clear to me that the experience of camp is having a powerful effect on the meaning of this phrase for everyone here. We’re all helping each other build skills and abilities, become more confident and self-assured, and be our authentic selves no matter what we do. It’s obvious; these girls have power, talent and insight.

The video hopes to “Champion Girls’ Confidence.” At camp, we’re doing exactly that.

Goofy Kids

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. You may want to read the article. 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

A Treasury of Firsts

Over the last two days, Rick and his friends in the Rockbrook kitchen, have been preparing a special treat for us, and today we all enjoyed it. You may be able to tell from this photo, but the treat was authentic homemade, completely from scratch, tamales. A tamale is an ancient, traditional Mesoamerican dish made from finely ground corn, lime, oil and stock combined into a paste, spread into a corn husk with meats or peppers as fillings, and then cooked by steaming.
Fresh Tamale Making crewEach one requires the masa (corn dough) and filling be combined and rolled in the corn husk by hand. But it doesn’t stop there. In addition, the chicken used for the filling is first roasted an shredded off the bone, but then combined with a homemade Guajillo chili sauce, which gives it a bright red color. They also made a green variety using tomatillos, serrano peppers, onion and garlic. For the vegetarians, they steamed a cheese and Ancho chili pepper variety. Can you see why this took two days, especially when almost 700 tamales needed to be made? And the results… Unbelievably delicious. Certainly many of the girls and a few of the counselors had never before tasted a treat like this, but like many of the “firsts” experienced around here— first ride on a zip line, first time shooting a gun, first time cantering a horse —camp is a great place to give it a try. There’s just the right amount of encouragement and “positive peer pressure” to give hesitant girls a little nudge outside of their routine, to challenge their assumptions.

Girl show success on the pottery wheelCamp girl show success on loom weavingNaturally, at a camp like Rockbrook, with almost 30 different activities and a special event or surprise planned almost everyday, the opportunities for first experiences are diverse and abundant. The girls here can do some amazing stuff, and even if they’ve already felt the chill of Sliding Rock in Pisgah, climbed a real rock using those amazing “sticky” shoes, or enjoyed a long-range mountain view after hiking a steep trail to a rock cliff, for example, it will be a first for them to do it with these people, with this all-girl group of comfortable friends. The same is true for throwing their first pot on the wheel, seeing beautiful cloth take shape off their loom, learning the “trick” to a one-handed cartwheel. There are so many examples! A girl’s experience at camp is a treasury of firsts that she’ll hold dear for many years to come.

Camp Girls Friends SuccessIt’s significant, too, that this special place for first experiences, this close-knit camp community defined by respect and cooperation, makes it easy to feel successful, and thereby fosters girls’ self-esteem. We’ve written before about the link between success and self-esteem at camp, so please take a look. There’s the good feeling of discovering a hidden talent when you first try something, a sense of personal achievement, but there’s also success to be found in general “social competence,” and in being included in group endeavors. Since so many of the firsts at camp happen in this positive social setting, they tend to be far less frightening. Knowing that you’ll be supported no matter what individual outcome occurs, seeing other girls laugh and enjoy unfamiliar activities, really helps make any first experience a success and thereby a real boost to a girl’s growing self-esteem.

Our twilight activity tonight was everyone’s favorite, a shaving cream fight down on the grassy sports field. It began with everyone interested (like all twilight activities, it was optional), dressed in their swimsuits, lining up along one side of the field. On the other side, we scattered about 120 cans of plain shaving cream. At the signal, everyone ran to grab a can and then to let their foam fly. Complete mayhem ensued, and in about 30 seconds, everyone had shaving cream on their backs, stomachs and in their hair. That’s basically the point of it, like this photo shows so well; it’s to sneak up on your friends and mischievously “get them” with the white foam. And oh what big fun this is!  It almost feels a little naughty to spray people, but it’s also pretty hilarious to do. We also pulled out the slip-n-slide for a now extra slippery ride. With everyone basically covered, in some cases completely covered, and all the shaving cream cans emptied, we rinsed off a bit under the hoses and headed up to camp for a warm shower. Another first at camp? Perhaps, but certainly a good one too.

Camp girls are mischievous with shaving cream

Camp Girls with shaving cream Camp girls in group shaving cream fight

How Camp Helps Build Self-Esteem

Camp girl showing self-esteem

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!

5 Ways Camp Helps Children Grow

Summer Camp Foster Youth DevelopmentSummer camp professionals around the country, largely encouraged by the American Camp Association, have begun to refer to camps as “Youth Development Organizations.”

Being at summer camp, we all agree it seems, is more than just “fun and games.” It’s beneficial for children in unique and lasting ways. Summer camps are dedicated to helping children grow, certainly also to have a good time, but perhaps most importantly, to gain valuable skills and foster personal development.

But what are the ways children grow while at camp? We’ve often said Rockbrook is “a place for girls to grow,” but what kind of growth can we expect?

Here are 5 powerful ways a summer camp experience fosters youth development and growth for children:

1. Social growth: Going to a sleepaway summer camp means joining a close community of people living and playing together 24/7. It builds inter-personal skills like sincere communication, conflict resolution, a willingness to share, and an enthusiasm for working as a team. Perhaps more importantly, the highly social nature of camp really encourages children to make friends easily. It’s a fun, down-to-earth, friendly environment that naturally draws children together.

2. Character growth: Summer camp, simply because it’s living away from home, is an ideal opportunity for children to become more independent. As they make decisions for themselves, for example when selecting their activity schedule, children learn to embrace the freedom (opportunities) and responsibility (consequences) their choices entail. With its non-competitive activities and with the care and support of the camp counselors and staff, camp provides children fantastic opportunities to succeed. It’s a real boost to campers’ self-confidence and self-esteem when every day includes accomplishment. Of course, it can also include setbacks and disappointments, but summer camp is always supportive and encouraging. It inspires resilience by providing role models of courage and determination.

3. Humane growth: An overnight camp like Rockbrook is also a great place for children to strengthen and develop greater humane values. Starting with a general warmth and sensitivity toward others, camp fosters cooperation and respect. Camp is also a place to meet children from different countries with perhaps unfamiliar cultural assumptions and religious traditions. It provides real world reminders, despite these differences, of our common humanity.

4. Practical growth: Residential summer camps provide an incredible variety of activities for children. They combine quality instruction, equipment and facilities specially designed to challenge kids’ sports abilities (like tennis and horseback riding), nurture their artistic and creative talents (painting, ceramics, and dance for example), and build their outdoor adventure abilities— all practical, real world, life-long skills.

5. Physical growth: Camp is chock full of action! Whether it be swimming, jumping, climbing, dancing, riding or running, Rockbrook keeps girls in motion. It introduces them to all kinds of ways to develop physical skills. With all the great food (made from scratch!), outdoor living, and big active fun, camp has important health benefits for children.

Everyone knows Rockbrook is super fun, but in these five ways, it’s powerfully formative as well.

teen girl grows climbing

Is Camp a Threatened Tradition?

For quite a while, we’ve been writing on this blog about the benefits of summer camp for children. For more than 100 years now in the United States, sleepaway camps have been organized and generations of children have grown stronger, more confident, become leaders, forged close friendships, and acquired all kinds of physical, personal and social skills as a result. There really is little doubt that the sleep away camp experience of “getting away” for a few weeks is valuable for children in long-lasting and profound ways.

Even while recognizing all of this, however, there is a growing awareness that certain modern forces are threatening this great American tradition. Today, much more than a generation ago, there is competition making claims on our kid’s summer time. A recent article by Mary Beth McCauley in the Christian Science Monitor entitled “Sunset for Summer Camp?” claims as much. Quite correctly, the author observes that demand for shorter camp sessions is increasing, as opposed to longer “all summer” camps. A number of factors are contributing to this trend. School systems are shortening summer vacations. Competitive school sports teams and their coaches driven to win are requiring summer workouts (e.g., soccer “camp”) and scheduled practice days before school opens. Parents are reserving parts of the summer for family travel and vacations. Students are taking summer classes “to get ahead” (SAT prep, for example), and local, short-term day camps abound. With so many options, each claiming to be most important, it’s easy to understand why some parents find it difficult to place longer camp sessions at the top of the heap.

cabin mates girls friendships at summer camp

Fortunately, understanding the camp experience, seeing the dramatic positive effects it provides all year round, there are those, and so many Rockbrook parents are among them, who know camp is one of the most important things you can do for your child.  For these parents, camp isn’t just a summertime diversion, some kind of extended amusement park; it’s a core part of their child’s personal development.  It’s a place for kids to grow and discover who they are.  Sure it’s fun, but it’s the kind of fun that means something long afterwords.

We hear it all the time from our parents; camp means the world to their daughters, and they are committed to providing a camp experience for them.  This helps explain why, despite economic pressures and competing summer demands, Rockbrook enjoys strong enrollment, with sessions filling and waiting lists forming each summer.  Camp is important to our families, and to the girls who attend and make Rockbrook their own.  Around here, camp is stronger than all of the forces that may be threatening the traditions we’ve all come to appreciate.

Camp as Community

Girls Camp Community TogethernessSpending time at Rockbrook, it becomes clear just how strong the sense of community is for the girls at camp. It’s remarkable really how quickly and easily girls from so many different home towns and different schools can grow so close and care about each other in personal and meaningful ways. After this most recent long session, and probably because these girls have spent 4 weeks together, it was even more apparent that camp is a community in the best sense of the word.

It begins with a group of well-trained, caring adult role models who exhibit the kind of personal character that fosters community. From the directors to the cabin counselors and staff members, we know the importance of compassion, generosity, contribution and patient understanding. Quite naturally, but also intentionally, we set the tone at camp so everyone can feel loved, capable and included. Through encouragement and enthusiasm, the leaders at camp nurture positive relationships.

And the results? Well, the benefits of camp are clear. Kids feel good about themselves (improved self-esteem, self-worth, and self-confidence), are better communicators (both expressing themselves and listening to others), and are more aware and responsible. Becoming a member of this kind of community is the secret here. It has a powerful, wonderful effect on the girls at Rockbrook. Sure, the activities, special events, the food, and the sheer fun of it all go into it, but a girl knowing wholeheartedly she is a member of the camp community, knowing Rockbrook is “my camp,” helps explain why she loves it so much.  Pretty cool.