A Huge Helping of Goofy

camp child parent

Today we welcomed another group of eager, excited girls to Rockbrook as we opened the August Mini session. There’s something really special about driving into Rockbrook, early in the morning at the start of a camp session. It’s a reveal of sorts. The gravel driveway slowly winds up the hill from the main road, and then suddenly there’s cool stuff to see: the archery field to the left, the lake to the right with the green and blue water slide on the far end, stacks of colorful kayaks and canoes, and at the crest the hill, a mob of cheering enthusiastic counselors. It feels like you’ve entered another world, and in many ways you have. So many things are inviting and intriguing right away, but it’s obvious also that the people here are good folks. The returning campers already know it, but the energy of camp— friendly, supportive, adventurous, with a huge helping of goofy —is definitely special. These campers have been waiting all year (and all summer) to experience this energetic fun, so finally we can all start. Finally!

flag raising at camp

While these new girls were arriving, the full session campers began their day like other Sunday mornings with a late breakfast (egg and sausage burritos, yogurts, cereals, and freshly delivered Krispy Kreme doughnuts), our traditional flag raising ceremony (led by the 10-grade campers), and chapel program (this time discussing the theme of “Gratitude”). Afterwards, these girls also had a “choice period,” an opportunity to sign up for a hiking trip to Castle Rock or Rockbrook Falls, a flower picking expedition in the garden, or time in the jewelry-making activity area.

The first event involving the whole camp was an “assembly on the hill,” as we call it. This gathering under the walnut tree on the hill is a chance for everyone to sing a few songs, watch a skit or two, meet the various directors at camp, and hear announcements. The Hi-Ups led everyone in learning a canoeing song, complete with hand motions. The Line Heads awarded, “bend-a-back,” camp spirit, and manners beads, and also announced which cabins would be recognized for having the highest overall inspection scores (winning the “mop award”). For the benefit of the new campers primarily, Sarah also reminded everyone of the boundaries of camp and how our lightning warning system works. Rick’s amazing homemade mac-n-cheese for lunch fueled us up for the swimming demonstrations, quick camp tours, and cabin meetings that came afterwards in the early afternoon.

The main event of the day was an all-camp festival that tapped into different science-related activities, experiments, challenges and games. We held the event right in the center of camp with the different activity stations positioned about, and counselors and Hi-Ups staffing each spot. One challenge was to make a working parachute from a large coffee filter. Another was to build different organic molecules using toothpicks and tiny marshmallows. At a different station, the girls were challenged to build a boat (or anything that floats) using aluminum foil and popsicle sticks. Another group made green sticky “Oobleck” with corn starch and white glue.

A particularly fun challenge was to use only rubber bands to crack open a watermelon. The girls would stretch rubber bands, one by one, around the middle of the melon, gradually adding more pressure. As a couple of cracks began to form after approximately 200 bands wrapped the melon, the group of girls huddled around screamed with delight when the melon suddenly exploded into bits leaving a sticky ball of rubber bands behind.

Of course, a “mad science” event would be incomplete without eccentric costumes— wild teased hair (or wigs!), lab coats, safety goggles, beakers and lab notebooks. Snacks and music helped keep the mood festive while the girls zipped among the activity options. The event was a nice opportunity to play outside together, be a little silly, and perhaps learn a little science along the way.

Tomorrow, we’ll have all the activities filled with enthusiastic campers, ready to give everything a try. It will be a full day of action.  Stay tuned!

laughing camp girls

Answering Questions

Today we all felt the thrill of opening a new session of camp. The Rockbrook cabin counselors, specialist activity instructors, and directors all assembled for the third time this summer to welcome a new bunch of enthusiastic girls to the “heart of a wooded mountain.” It was a gorgeous morning, cool and foggy, when we opened the gate for cars to make their way up the gravel driveway, and the check-in process to begin unfolding. Once again, there was more eagerness than uncertainty, more excitement than apprehension, on the girls’ faces when they arrived for their session. These girls weren’t hesitating though; they were ready to jump right into life at camp. As the sun warmed up the morning, and the last few parents made their way back to the parking area, we could finally get things started, our patient anticipation finally satisfied. Camp!

Girls dressed as twins at summer camp
laughing swimming girls

The rest of the day we started answering questions, all kinds of questions. Already, we learned where our cabin was located, who were the other girls in our cabin (a mix of old and new friends!), and who our counselors would be for the next few weeks. At the assembly on the hill, we met this session’s line heads, directors, Hi-Ups, and camp dog Felix. We learned, or had our memories clarified, about the camp song, what to do when we hear the camp bell or the lightning warning horn.

At lunch, we had our dining hall questions answered: Where does our cabin sit? What can we find on the salad bars? Where are the vegetarian and gluten-free options, the peanut butter and jelly station, the extra fruit, and supply of milk? What happens when the Hi-Ups ring their bell and begin singing a funny camp song? Who makes the announcements at the end of the meal, and what is that wheel on the wall? How do we clean our tables and take care of the dishes at the end of meals?

Our afternoon was filled with tours of the camp, a chance for everyone to take a dip in the lake to demonstrate their swimming ability, and an assembly in the gym for a series of counselor skits presenting the different activities available at camp this session. We found out how refreshingly cool the lake feels, where the activities meet around camp, and which staff members will be teaching the various activities. It was exciting to learn, for example, that the camp musical this session will be the Little Mermaid and that auditions for specific parts would begin on Monday.

Parents may have questions too— How do I send my daughter an email? Where can I see the daily photos of camp? What do I do if I receive a troubling letter about her feeling homesick at times? All of these questions (and more!) are answered in the parents section of our Web site, but you can always give our office a call to talk with someone too.

It’s been a great opening day, the girls already adjusting to the rhythms of camp. All of this energy ready to launch, we’re set for an excellent few weeks!

sunny day swimming at camp

Hustle and Bustle

Bright sunny weather is such a nice backdrop for opening a session of camp, as it was today when we welcomed slightly more than 200 girls to begin Rockbrook’s second main session. It added to the enthusiasm of the day, to the cheers from the counselors as cars drove up into camp, to smiles from everyone as the check in process unfolded smoothly.

Camp Trunk Moving

With this many people involved— the campers, their parents, and almost 100 staff members —the whole morning was quite a show of hustle and bustle. While some carried trunks, others set up their bunk. Some girls played tetherball, while others were introduced to the art of making a friendship bracelet. The morning included relaxed conversation too, as parents and campers reconnected with friends from last summer. The weather also just makes everything at camp look more inviting, more beautiful. Several parents commented that camp was looking “really good.” The flowers tucked in here and there, the massive boulders, old-growth trees, stone lodges, grassy hill, gurgling creeks —everything seemed to really pop in the bright sunshine.

We received a similar comment last week from two important visitors to Rockbrook. They too marveled at the woodsy feel of camp, the gently cared-for natural beauty of our setting, and the happy community of girls they met. These visitors were conducting an inspection of sorts, an on-site check that Rockbrook is meeting almost 300 health, safety, and program quality standards for summer camps as defined by the American Camp Association. As you may know, Rockbrook is accredited by the ACA, and has been for 30 years now. These periodic “visits” are part of the process to retain that accreditation, which by the way only about 17% of the camps in America have achieved. I’m happy to report that the inspection/visit this summer went extremely well, and after reviewing all of our policies and procedures, and examining every area of camp from the kitchen to the climbing tower, Rockbrook earned the highest marks.

Girl Camp Assembly

Once everyone arrived today, we launched right into a few orientation activities. The whole camp assembled on the hill under the walnut tree to hear Sarah welcome everyone to camp, meet the leadership staff, and sing a few camp songs. Rick’s homemade mac-n-cheese, and fresh fruit (plus the super-stocked salad bars) made a tasty, comfortable lunch before the girls went back to their cabins for rest hour. But instead of resting, today they played name games, talked about cabin and camp safety rules, and learned more about the rhythms of camp life. During the swimming demonstrations where we check everyone’s swimming ability at the lake, the warm sunshine was a nice addition to the chilly water. We had fun music playing at the lake, all the directors helping, and a mob of lifeguards encouraging each girl as they jumped in. Later in the gym, we introduced all the girls to the different activities at camp, all the crafts, sports, and adventure things to do while they are here. The counselors teaching each activity took turns performing a skit or song about what they do, and with costumes and a dose of silliness, it was an entertaining hour. There was time to tour camp before dinner, which was another camp classic: grilled burgers, burger fixings, homemade french fries, and blackberry cobbler for dessert.

Tomorrow we will all scatter throughout the camp and get started making, climbing, shooting zipping, riding and playing in so many ways. Stay tuned. It’s gonna be great!

Camp Girl Swimmers

Starting Something New

true camp friends

It’s the start of something new! It’s a new season of summer camp at Rockbrook, and we couldn’t be more excited! Today was the day that all of us— staff members, campers, parents, and camp directors —have been waiting for, and beginning about 8:30 this morning that wait was over as we opened the gate and the campers began arriving for the first session of 2019. Our staff members seemed like they were about to pop with eagerness and enthusiasm because for the last week we have been training, talking about camp life, learning about activities and other camp rhythms. The training week was wonderful fun and everyone finished up with even greater bubbling anticipation for having campers back with us. As girls and their families arrived throughout the morning, making the usual stops in the dining hall to check in with the nurses, office folks, and “hair specialists,” the camp took on the special energy we all love.

camp community assembly

Rain early in the morning happily turned into an occasional drizzle, but that didn’t seem to bother us.  Soon the tetherball was swinging, girls were beginning their first friendship bracelet, arranging their cabins, rocking in the porch rockers, and everyone could marvel at the beauty of the rich green forest that makes up Rockbrook. Several parents commented on how stunning the camp looks— just the right points of color blending with the trees, rocks and native plants… all made somehow more rich with the rain. As wisps of cloud rolled northward, we all gathered on the hill for an assembly, singing a few songs, meeting key staff members, and hearing a brief introduction to camp from Sarah. It took no time for the whole camp to be standing, clapping and singing together. Finally, it felt like camp.

Rick prepared his signature opening day lunch, mac-n-cheese, and once again it was a huge hit.  The crusty top, blend of 4 different cheeses all warm and gooey with the macaroni— it was particularly delicious. On a cool, misty day like today, it really hit the spot.  Happily, the rain mostly held off for the afternoon (even with an occasional blip of sunshine!) as each age group made their way to the lake for our swim demonstrations, brief tours around the camp, cabin meetings, and activity skits in the gym. Despite a very wet start of the day, the weather didn’t force us to change our opening day plans.

A new season at Rockbrook always means new things around camp, and while some won’t be very noticeable, others will be really fun for the campers. Mostly hidden from view this year are things like 4 different roofs, new skylights in the kitchen, several underground (very important!) pipes, electrical wiring of an activity building, road grading, tree removal, and a huge backup generator to protect us if we lose power. More interesting and fun improvements this year are a complete renovation of a camper cabin (floor, rafters, roof, electrical wiring and lights, shelves, screens, and an added porch out the back!), new wooden tennis court fencing with the addition of three pickleball courts, and a new hammock campsite set up in a very unusual location on the camp property (more about that in a future post).

So welcome to Rockbrook everyone. It’s a pleasure to welcome so many girls back to camp and to meet new staff members and campers alike. We have wonderful plans for the session, but no matter what, we’ve also already seen the spirit of Rockbrook begin to shape the caring community so many of us love. Things are certainly damp as the rains came again this evening, but our eagerness to be here together and to enjoy camp life is as bright as can be.

camp friends assembly

A ‘Chill’ Opening Day

If you ask some of the older campers to describe the differences between the three sessions at Rockbrook, they usually answer something like this. “First session has the ‘sweet girls.’ Second is for the girls who are most ‘into’ camp. And third session is the most ‘chill.'” Of course, these are broad generalizations with plenty of variation to be found in each characterization, and it’s a little difficult to imagine how a camper would know much about sessions she does not attend, but today as we opened our third full session of the summer, there was some truth to label of “chill.”

summer camp opening day

Sure, there was loads of excitement— twitchy girls in the cars as they drove up, counselors leaping with enthusiasm as each camper arrived, and friendly directors ready to welcome everyone throughout the morning. These third session campers were all smiles and clearly ready for camp. After waiting weeks of summer for their session to start, how could they not be?  At the same time though, the morning felt easygoing, unfolding smoothly and cheerfully. Arriving at camp seemed like the most natural thing for the girls this morning. It’s true that most (a bit more than 80%) had been to Rockbrook before, so familiarity was guiding them, and the gorgeous, cool sunny weather probably helped as well. It really was a delightful, smooth, almost “chill,” opening day. So welcome to Rockbrook!

Once everyone had arrived, we all gathered under the walnut tree on the hill for a chance to sing a few songs, meet some of the directors and special staff members, and be reminded of a few camp protocols (about the Thorguard lightning warning system, for example). When Sarah introduced Felix, the new camp puppy, the girls were thrilled to see him do a few tricks like a “high five” and a leap over her extended led. Felix just turned one year old and he’s an Australian Labradoodle. He has a wonderful disposition and is always happy to interact with the campers. His coat is so soft, you can’t help but give him a quick rub when he passes by. You may spot him in the photo gallery. We’re looking forward to him being a member of the camp community for years to come.

Girl with buddy tag after completing camp swim test

After lunch, which was a meal of Rick’s homemade mac-n-cheese, fruit and salad, we launched into cabin meetings and a visit to the lake for our swimming demonstrations. Each line (age group) took turns meeting Lyndsay, the head of the waterfront, learning about the tag system and the opportunities to swim each day at camp. Then each girl took turns jumping off the dock, swimming and treading water to demonstrate how comfortable she is in the water. With only a couple of exceptions, all the girls did great and received a blue tag for the board. We had hot chocolate ready for everyone when they finished up, since the chilly lake can feel extra cold on a cool day like this.  Despite the scattered thunderstorms that were threatening in the area, we were lucky to complete all the “swim demos” with no rain.

The counselors presented their activity skits in the late afternoon.  These are entertaining presentations with costumes, songs, and dances all designed to advertise each activity to the campers.  Seeing who is teaching each activity and hearing something about what each activity entails is helpful when the girls select their first schedule later this evening.

Charcoal-grilled hamburgers and crisp watermelon filled our dinner plates (or veggie burgers for those with that preference).  The evening program included more name games and skits, prepping everyone to jump into camp activities tomorrow.

A quick word about sending mail… Do it!  The girls check their mailboxes after lunch each day, and having something to grab before heading off to rest hour is always appreciated.  Here’s the info you need about staying in touch.

We’re off to a great start.  Perhaps it’s been a little “chill” so far, but you’re about to see a lot more!

camp swim girl friends

Phenomenal First-Day Vibe

girls campers

Sometimes writing these blog posts about Rockbrook, I feel like I’m preaching to the choir, like most of the folks reading already believe. They already know there’s something special that happens at camp, that girls love it for all kinds of reasons, and that the social-emotional learning embedded in camp life is priceless for growing children.  But still, for the sake of those unfamiliar, let me preach a minute.

Today, as we opened our second session of camp, it was clear that this group of girls was already on their way to having a great time. There was certainly plenty of excitement and bubbling anticipation for their camp session to finally begin, but there was also a surprisingly immediate comfort, even contentment apparent when the cabin groups found each other. Maybe the amazing weather had something to do with it— sunny, breezy and warm —or perhaps the easy, relaxed pace of the opening day process, but right away everyone seemed to have a set of friends to run off with.  They were off for a quick tetherball game, the scavenger hunt around camp, adding beads to their name tags, and exploring the creek by Curosty. The cabin groupings, which are carefully assigned by Sarah, encourage that too, making sure new and returning campers alike felt included and welcomed by the grouping. Everyone will tell you that camp is mostly about the people, the friendships and positive relationships fostered between everyone here, so it was very gratifying to see how quickly the campers were bonding.

girl camp kids

The first all-camp event provided more opportunities for this. Just before lunch, we gathered under the big walnut tree on the hill (which provides a beautiful, long-distance view of the Blue Ridge Mountains) to meet some of the key people at camp, to learn and sing a few camp songs, and to be welcomed to Rockbrook by Sarah. The girls sat in their Crazy Creek chairs, sometimes laying them flat to share the seat, while the Hi-Ups led songs. One celebrity made his first appearance too, Felix the camp dog. You’re bound to see photos of him in the online gallery now and then, but he’s an abstract caramel/cream colored, one-year-old Australian Labradoodle with a very sweet disposition. He’s always happy to have a quick scratch on the back, even by six or eight hands at the same time!

The swimming demonstrations where the lifeguards assigned swim tags to everyone, the camp tours where the girls found the location of each activity (for example, the Alpine Climbing Tower and the Nature Nook, which are both hidden in the woods on opposite sides of camp), the activity skits where the instructors staged silly “commercials” about their plans for the session, the cabin meetings where the girls learned a few important safety rules for camp, and the evening program of name games and signing up for activities —filled the remainder of our day, all contributing to that phenomenal first-day vibe.

Tomorrow we’ll launch into all the activities, get out of camp for some adventure trips, clap and sing over some fantastic scratch-made meals, and continue banking experiences that define this unique community.  It really is true; “There’s no place like camp.”  We’re all excited to dig in, and show what that means!

teen campers

Like We Never Left Off

Maybe it’s a sign of anticipation, or something related to being busy with preparations, or perhaps simply our craving for camp life, but as we opened Rockbrook today for the 2018 season, we all couldn’t help but feel a surge of excitement and enthusiasm. There have been plenty of camp-related projects occupying our time over the past year— facility improvements (new bathhouse for the lower line, for example), program development, new camp puppy training, and hard work assembling a fantastic camp staff for the summer. But there’s nothing like having camp filled with people again. It felt absolutely great to finally have campers and their families join us creating the community of camp.

So welcome everyone to Rockbrook! And such a wonderful opening day it was. The cars arrived at a steady pace throughout the morning to the cheers of the eager counselors on the hill. The lush gardens and colorful containers glistened in the sun from the recent rains. The check-in sequence in the dining hall seemed smooth and relaxed, everyone happy and at ease all morning long. Returning campers reunited with camp friends as new girls slipped right into cabin groups. Soon there were groups for girls just walking about, immersing themselves in camp, visiting the lodges, marveling at the rushing creeks, and likewise beaming with excitement.

first summer camp assembly

By about noon, all but a few campers had arrived and we were ready for our first assembly on the hill under the walnut tree that looks out across the mountains. The weather was still beautiful and sunny with a light occasional breeze, making the camp songs we sung seem even more lively. Sarah introduced the directors, line heads and other special staff members, and the Hi-Up campers said hello by teaching everyone a new song. A fun highlight was when Felix made his appearance. Felix is our 10-month old Australian Labradoodle who has the enviable job of being the camp dog. We’ve been training him since he was 8 weeks old, and while he’s still getting used to camp, he’s already enjoying all the attention he’s getting from the girls. I’m sure you’ll see photos of him throughout the summer.

Everyday, in fact, you’ll find newly posted photos in our online photo gallery. You have to login to your parent account to view them, but you can send a login invitation to friends and family members once logged in. You should check the gallery often because I think you’ll really enjoy seeing what we’re up to at camp.

It’s become a popular Rockbrook tradition to serve Rick’s homemade Mac-n-Cheese for the first lunch. Today we continued that tradition with hot trays of bubbling cheeses with a crunchy breadcrumb topping, peas and watermelon plus our super-stocked salad bars that included other fruits and vegetables. The gluten-free and vegan version seemed popular too. Delicious comfort food for everyone.

The lake became our focus after lunch as we invited all the campers to demonstrate their swimming ability and receive a swim bracelet and buddy tag that qualifies them to sign up of paddling trips (whitewater rafting!) and enjoy free swim times each day. It’s a simple test that assures the lifeguards that girls can be comfortable in the water and can tread water for a minute without struggling. We paused the demonstrations for a passing thunderstorm between the Middler and Senior groups, but easily finished up everyone, and now the tag board if full of colorful plastic discs.

Activity skits in the gym introduced everyone to the activity instructors we have this summer, and announced several of the new craft projects available. Set to pretty silly songs, and at times with dance moves and plenty of costumes, we all enjoyed a fun variety show for about an hour.

It’s been a marvelous opening day, full of songs, laughter and girls already relaxing into the spirit of camp. It’s like we never left off from last summer. The fun and friendship has started right back up. Amazing!

camp swim buddies

Active Right Away

Assembly Fun kids

Welcome friends! Welcome to the group of campers who arrived this morning to begin their session at Rockbrook. We’re all very happy to have you arrive, and are just as excited as you are to get started. Finally, the agonizing wait… all summer! …is over and you can meet all the great people here and begin exploring the many different things available to do at camp. The beautiful weather this morning added to the enthusiastic mood, and I suspect made the arrival and check-in process run even more smoothly. All 84 of the girls arriving were quickly settled in the cabins and happily touring the camp with their bunkmates before noon— checking out the different activity areas, trying things out a little (making a simple friendship bracelet, for example), and having their questions answered by staff members. Part of this tour involved a scavenger hunt where the new girls collected different colored bracelets hidden at different landmarks around the camp, like the gym, the flagpole, and the infirmary. It was a fun way to get to know each other, learn more about Rockbrook, and be active right away after arriving.

Let me mention the Chapel gathering that also happened this morning for the full session girls. At Rockbrook, these Sunday morning events are intended to provide an opportunity to slow down and reflect on some of the principles and values that help shape our camp community. Camp is mostly about big fun, but it’s also about so many other important things, it’s good to pause and discuss what we’re learning along the way. These Chapel gatherings are not religious services, though, and they do not refer explicitly to any religious texts or doctrines. Instead, the events focus on broader themes that can be understood and appreciated by any religious tradition. The campers themselves plan and present the songs and poems they think illustrate the theme, and Sarah always reads a short children’s book she thinks is relevant.

So today’s chapel theme was, “We’re all in this together,” a recognition of community and the importance of including each other. Sarah read the book Odd Velvet by Mary E. Whitcomb to show how someone (or something) who first appears strange, can turn out to be wonderful, interesting and make all our experience more rewarding and fun. Whether considering new foods, activities, or even new campers arriving today, our community impulse to be accepting and curious is something we value here at Rockbrook. As we begin with kindness, compassion, and generosity, we foster the sort of positive relationships that cement our camp community. Including those different from ourselves is a simple extension of those values.

Camp Swimming test

We took time after lunch to orient all of the newly arrived campers to the waterfront, and to allow the lifeguards to evaluate everyone’s swimming ability. The cold mountain water of our lake, its different depths and diversions— the water slide and diving board for example —can be challenging for certain swimmers, so we ask all the girls to show us they can swim and tread water comfortably before letting them take full advantage of the waterfront.  The girls earn one of three colored “swim necklaces” to indicate their swimming ability and corresponding lake activity. The weakest swimmers can still come down and cool off in the lake, but we require them to remain in the shallow area where they can stand up, and to wear a life jacket while in the water. With everyone’s buddy tags labeled with their name and proudly hung on the tag board, it was next time for the big all-camp afternoon event.

Jedi Training Academy! Tapping into all things Star Wars related, we held a carnival combining costumes (of course!), music, dancing, surprising challenge games with prizes, and an unlimited supply of snow cones grinding out of our snow cone machine. We also arranged for two huge inflatables: an obstacle course called “Leaps and Bounds” that reminded everyone of “American Ninja Warrior,” and a 25-foot tall water slide that let two girls slide at the same time racing.

The senior campers, with some help from their counselors, helped run the event, teaching and explaining the 10 different stations like “Pin the saber on Yoda,” “Death Star Destruction,” “Defeat Darth” with an arrow dipped in paint, a “Mars Matching” game, face painting (“The Face is with You”), a light saber duel that involved balancing on a slippery beam, and a way to make a light saber using a rod of foam and different colored tape. With snow cone in hand, the girls had a great time zipping between activity stations, cooling off on the water slide, and dancing and posing for photos in their costumes. Of course, Princess Leia (actually several of them) made an appearance, along with Darth Vader, Rey, Chewbacca, and a couple of storm troopers. Many girls wore a Star Wars t-shirt too. Two hours seemed to fly by, every minute filled by smiling energized girls. An active Sunday afternoon, just how we like it.

Rockbrook Summer Camp Girls