The Need to Meander

goofy camp girls

It’s no secret that life at camp for kids is very different from the rest of the year. Many of the differences are obvious: the activities (archery!), the food (tamales!), the weather (all of it!), the beautiful setting (mountains, waterfalls!), parental involvement (very little), close contact with nature (spiders!), access to technology (none), even our friends (the closest). But there are more subtle differences too: the shared experience and strong sense of community, the lack of academic and social competition, the regular exposure to singing, the opportunity to be creative and face adventure, the almost constant physical activity, the genuine kindness and caring shown and practiced, the face-to-face communication, the celebration of our silly sides, and the regular feelings of contentedness and joy, for example. All of these differences, and certainly more, collectively define camp life. They shape the sleepaway camp experience for your girls.

And that’s a good thing! A great thing! After all, it’s these differences that make camp inherently educational, surprising and delightful for everyone at Rockbrook. These are differences that make a difference. They are the core reason camp is great for kids, how the experience of camp life is so beneficial, even transformative in the long run.

young girl horse riding

Today another word came to mind that helps describe camp life as it differs from our kids’ ordinary experience. It’s meander.  I think it describes well a cherished freedom the girls have at Rockbrook, the regular opportunity to wander and explore what camp has to offer.

Different from the hectic pace required to balance school, sports teams, clubs, afternoon activities and home responsibilities, camp allows girls to decide for themselves how to spend their time.  We provide some structure by organizing activities (times, places, staff and supplies) and scheduling certain aspects of our day (like meals, rest hour and evening program, for example), but also build in several blocks of free time when the girls can play freely, link up with friends, and enjoy a relaxed, less goal driven pace. When there’s no grade, championship or parental praise at stake, girls can truly meander. At Rockbrook, we really value that flexibility, and believe there’s a great benefit for girls to meander, so we encourage it and support it everyday.

Girls Adventure Campers

Meandering, this self-directed exploring, is valuable because it affirms the girls’ personal choices. Not being told which activities to take, which trips to sign up for, and what to do during free time, is not just liberating; it’s empowering. The girls have great options in front of them at camp— play in the creek, or finish a craft project, or join a gagaball game, for example —so no matter what they choose, they can feel happy about what they end up doing, who they are spending time with, and what they are learning. Most importantly though, they can gain insights into their true preferences, and in some ways, who they really are. Granting children this level of agency, in other words, provides an opportunity for self-exploration and character development, no matter how subtly or explicitly.  Maybe we should say kids need to meander, for this reason. And if so, this is another reason a camp experience is so important. I’d say it’s certainly another reason why girls love Rockbrook, and again, why “there’s no place like camp.”

camp girls cheering

The Best Day of the Year

Excitement rippled up and down the Rockbrook hill all morning. We had seen this lunch being prepared for days, and now it was finally here. This would not be just any lunch; it would be a lunch so good that, upon entering the dining hall, people looked at the table and said, “This is the best day of the year!” It was tamale day.

Tamales coming from the steamer

These were authentic homemade tamales, expertly prepared by Rick and our friends in the kitchen. Finely ground corn flour, oil, lime and stock combines to make a paste called “masa,” which is then spread into a softened corn husk, filled with chicken, peppers, vegetables and/or cheese, and then rolled/folded to make each tamale. Cooking and shredding the chicken, soaking the corn husks in water, preparing the Guajillo pepper sauce, and mixing the masa all take time, not to mention the effort required to assemble the tamales, one by one. The last step is to steam the tamales in large pots (one holding 20 gallons!). Can you see why this took three days, especially when a little more than 1000 tamales needed to be made?

We sat down to eat, and the room was filled with joyous gratitude. The freshly steamed tamales, homemade guacamole, salsa, sour cream and salad made a delicious meal. This day is legendary around camp, and only happens once throughout the entire summer. It felt special today that it was happening second session this year, and there was a pure kind of contentment about being together with this wonderful food.

Campers enjoying Mariachi music
Rockbrook girl fiesta fun

BUT THEN our day got even better! The dining hall doors opened and in came a mariachi band! When they began to play, dressed in their amazing costumes, the entire dining hall erupted with elation and excitement. Everyone was full of pure joy. One counselor was so excited, her campers remarked that it was “as though she had just gotten a new puppy.” They played classics like “Canta y no llores” and “La Cucaracha,” and other songs like “Despacito” and “La Bamba.” The dining hall broke out in dancing, with girls jumping up and down, counselors spinning them around; a conga line even began. The performers had such joy and excitement in their eyes, which was reflected back to them by every girl. The amount of bliss in the dining hall today was truly unparalleled.  Here, take a look!

If you were to take a snapshot of the best of Rockbrook, you might choose this meal, this moment. It included so many of the best things about camp that we have come to love. It was delicious food made with love, it was a surprise that sparked pure happiness, it was spontaneous dancing and singing, and enjoying all of this together. Even as it was happening, everyone knew that this was going to be a time to remember, a time that makes us step back and remember that, at camp, a meal can be magical.

Rockbrook mariachi musicians

Rockbrook in New Orleans

Inside New Orleans Camps Magazine


Have you seen the latest issue of Inside New Orleans? It’s a bi-monthly magazine published about the arts, events, interests, and people of New Orleans and its surrounding areas. Each issue is full of regular columns about fashion, music, exhibitions, and food, as well as featured articles on unique aspects of the city and culture of New Orleans, LA.

The current issue (February-March 2015), for example, has a painting by Gretchen Armbruster on its cover— a fantastic New Orleans Artist — articles about the Metairie Cemetery and the costumes of the Louisiana State Museum, but also a piece about summer camps for kids. Overall the article describes the difference between day camps, specialty camps, and sleepaway camps, mentioning several examples and promoting many of the benefits kids gain from camp.

It was fantastic to see that the author highlights Rockbrook as an example of an overnight camp, describing it as the “ideal place to explore what it means to live a ‘wholehearted’ life rich with true connections.” Wow! That’s such a nice complement! It’s something that sounds very familiar, and right in line with the philosophy and feel of Rockbrook. Thanks Inside New Orleans!

Thorough Happiness

Today we closed the First Session of the summer, and from all accounts— from campers, their parents, and staff members alike —it was an amazing few weeks. We heard rave reviews, and received so many complements about how well camp turned out, both exciting the returning campers and pleasing the new campers and their families. The flip-side of this success, however, is that many of the campers were a little teary when their parents arrived to take them home. It’s just hard to say goodbye to these great people, to the freedom of this place, to the life we enjoy at camp. Even as we know Rockbrook will always welcome everyone back, ending a camp session is tough… For all of us.

Girl holding an inch worm

The emotion of this day reminded me again about how deeply meaningful camp is for everyone here. Far beyond the fun, in ways so much more important than the entertainment, camp matters. During the session, parents see in the photo gallery the zany activity of life at Rockbrook, all the songs, activities, and dressing up that goes on, for example, and they can tell their girls are having the time of their lives being kids in this magical place. But it’s on closing day, when they see evidence of the love and support their girls receive in our close community, when they see the tear-filled eyes and the lengthy goodbye hugs, that they understand a little bit how this time at Rockbrook means so much. It’s enough to tug on the emotions of parents and staff members as well, and the next thing you know, we’re all crying while saying goodbye. In these tears, there’s such thorough happiness!

So thank you for sharing your children with us. They truly helped make this session wonderful.

P.S. I’ve been meaning to share an article by Todd Kestin published last August in the Huffington Post entitled, “What’s Needed to Prepare Your Child for the Future? The Answer May Surprise You…”  Here’s the link. You’d be correct to guess the answer is “camp.” He writes, “I believe if kids spent their summers in camp, they’d be better prepared for later decisions like […] how to make the best life for who they are.”  It’s a short tribute to the power of camp to transform children and make a real difference in their lives (gaining confidence and independence, taking responsibility for decisions, and learning to value meaningful relationships). Go check it out. I think you’ll enjoy reading it.

Teens Seeking Sensations

Girls Camp for Teens Thrive on Sensation

If you spend time around teenagers, it’s easy to see them exhibit “sensation seeking” behaviors. They thrive on new experiences and stimuli of all kinds, and tend to take surprising risks. In fact it’s widely accepted within psychology that this personality trait is a dominant force in the lives of teen girls and boys. This sensation seeking is thought to be an evolutionary skill, something that helps teens learn new things, become more independent from their parents and to increase their social competence. Overall, it’s a good thing.

On the other hand, chasing novelty like this, even if they’re unaware of it, can sometimes get teenagers into trouble. As a young teen girl or boy is bombarded by urges to experience new things and to be included in their peer group, they may lack the cognitive development to temper risky behaviors, or blindly hold the perceived benefits of that behavior supremely important over everything else. For example, a girl may experiment with drugs at the urging of her friends, effectively ignoring the personal, legal and health consequences of that decision, because she values the approval of her peer group more. Put differently, it’s thought that risky teenage behavior can be understood as “sensation seeking” run amok.

It’s a dilemma; we want our teenagers to experience new things and meet new people, and thereby to learn and grow from that novelty, but we also want them to choose less risky behaviors and seek out positive experiences and peer influences. How to land on the right side of that equation?

Summer camp is well suited to provide this kind of positive sensation seeking for teens. Everyday at sleepaway camp, girls can enjoy new experiences, whether they be climbing a rock, the excitement of shooting a gun, or just making friends with new and different people.

Camp is a pool of positive peer pressure. Chock full of excellent role models, it promises to help teens channel their urge for novelty and their desire to connect with friends. Camp is also a place where teens can take acceptable risks, challenging themselves in exciting new ways, even as parents can be assured their children are kept safe, encouraged and supported. It’s just an ideal environment for teens seeking sensations. It’s no wonder they love it so much!

Interrupt the Race to Nowhere

Crazy Summer Fun

After discussing the rigorous, driven parenting style recounted by Amy Chua, the recent documentary film Race to Nowhere adds fuel to the fire. In their desire to do “what’s best” for their kids, to provide them “every opportunity,” and to cheer them on to “work hard” toward their goals, the film shows parents pushing their kids to the brink. It’s heartbreaking to see in the film the anxiety both school kids and their parents are dealing with as they race between school work, team practice, and other responsibilities. The quality of what they eat and the amount of sleep they get are the first to be sacrificed in this pressure to excel, but kids are also, I would say, giving up important parts of their childhood. In the name of “getting into a good college” and later, “getting a good job” they have hopped on a treadmill that’s speeding past valuable opportunities to develop as healthy, happy human beings.

Here again, we have to applaud the power of a traditional sleepaway summer camp to act as a welcome relief from these pressures. Rockbrook is a down-to-earth community of people who simply love to relax, be themselves, make good solid friendships, and enjoy the pure freedom of summer. We’re a zany bunch, always in motion, and always ready to try something new for the fun of it. Camp, like the best moments of childhood, is full of unexpected pleasures. Surrounded by equally enthusiastic people, it’s easy to be excited about everything!

The lasting benefits of a camp experience are very well documented, but here’s another. It’s simply wonderful for kids to take a break from the pressures of school. Interrupting the “race to nowhere” with camp is a very good idea.

Is She Ready for Camp?

Child Ready for Camp

Is my child ready for sleepaway camp?

It’s a common question, even from parents who went to camp themselves. Children have such individual needs and develop at so very different rates, there’s no age or school grade to point to. One girl might be perfectly ready for camp after kindergarten, and another may want to wait a couple more years before starting. Sleeping away from the comforts, familiarity and consistency of home is a big step for a child, so how is a parent to know if the time is right?

Here are 5 ways to know if your daughter is ready for an overnight camp experience.

1. Emotional Health: This is important to consider because children who are generally happy and enthusiastic do very well at camp. They seek out new experiences and are quick to participate. They recover from setbacks easily, and are comfortable expressing their emotions.

2. Social Proficiency: A sleepaway camp is a very social environment, so being able to make friends easily is an important skill. Children who are outgoing and friendly have fun joining group activities. They feel valued and get excited about being “on the team.”

3. Self-Care Skills: Living away from home also requires children to take care of certain personal habits. With minor assistance, they should be able to dress themselves, take a shower, brush their teeth, and sleep well through the night.

4. Following Directions: Joining a community of people means understanding and following a set of rules and expected behaviors. Campers should naturally comply and be happy to follow adult instructions and requests.

5. True Excitement: Girls are ready for sleepaway camp when they are truly excited about the idea. They may have learned about it from friends or family members and now are convinced it will be a super fun way to spend part of their summer. When it’s truly her idea, it’s a good sign.

Ask yourself if these 5 traits are true for your daughter. If she’s honestly excited about camp, follows directions well, can take care of her own hygiene, makes friends easily, and has a happy disposition about most things, then she is probably ready for summer camp. Of course, she doesn’t have to be perfect in all of these areas, because camp is a wonderful opportunity to improve them as well.

Going to a sleepaway summer camp is always an adjustment for kids. To one degree or another, each child is stretched in new ways, but with the excellent counselors and long traditions at Rockbrook, each is given phenomenal opportunities to grow as well.

Miss RBC

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Sunday at Rockbrook offers a change of pace. It is a much more relaxed schedule that allows both time to recuperate and to reflect. Everyone got to sleep in an extra hour this morning and come to the dinning hall in their pajamas where we were all treated to donuts at breakfast. After our leisurely breakfast, all the girls and staff had plenty of time to return to their cabins and change into the traditional Rockbrook Sunday uniform of white shorts, white collared shirt, and the red sash tied in a square “friendship knot.” When the bell rang, the whole camp lined up around the flag pole to watch the color guard raise the flag. The privileged honor to perform as the color guard is one of the many responsibilities reserved for the the oldest group of campers called the “Hi Ups.” After the flag raising, and the pledge of allegiance, the campers and staff walked in silence down the lower line to Rockbrook’s open air chapel in the woods where they sat on rustic log benches. This week’s chapel was led by the Middler and Junior lines on the theme of “friendship.” Campers and counselors from these lines prepared and presented readings, personal stories, and songs centered on the topic of friendship. Sarah Carter read a book, “Our Friendship Rules” and led a brief discussion about the story before opening the floor to any campers who wished to add their own thoughts or experiences about friendship. Chapel at Rockbrook is always a positive welcoming environment where campers are given the chance to observe, express, discuss, and reflect on some of the many experiences they are learning about here at camp.

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Then this afternoon, they changed out of their uniforms to dress up and show off their talents at the much anticipated Miss RBC pageant. The campers were given a few days notice to prepare a performance of their own invention. Cabins worked together as groups to come up with dances, skits, and songs to perform for the rest of the camp with everyone from the cabin participating. Today we saw lots of impressive gymnastics, circus tricks, dancing, singing, and fun. Many of the silly costumes campers brought from home came out of their trunks today to make an appearance and add to the fun, colorful atmosphere of the pageant.