For many of us this was an especially emotional evening because we held our last Spirit Fire of the summer. The Spirit Fire is another of the long traditions at Rockbrook, something that’s been a closing ceremony for every session since the camp’s founding more than 100 years ago. It’s a campfire ceremony held on the large rock ("Vesper Rock") overlooking the camp lake. Surrounded by huge white oak and hemlock trees, the entire camp gathers there dressed in our red and white uniforms. In the same fire ring as generations of Rockbrook girls have done in the past, we build a great campfire. We begin near dusk, so as the surrounding woods turn from green to blue to grey and finally to black, the orange glow of the campfire looks gorgeous. With crickets and frogs chirping, and the sound of the waterfall into the lake faintly splashing in the background, we create an almost dreamy setting.
The Spirit Fire program provides an opportunity to recall and reflect upon the rich experiences we shared during the session. We sing favorite
traditional camp songs
and listen as fellow campers and counselors share their thoughts about their time at camp. For example, we sing “How Did we Come to Meet Pal” and “The Streams and the Mountains,” just two favorites. The speakers are selected from all age groups (Juniors, Middlers, Seniors, and Hi-Ups) and from both first-year and returning counselors.
The speeches tonight confirmed what we’ve all been experiencing this session- a profound closeness, a special feeling of connection and comfort shared with the others at camp. One word that kept coming up was “home.” Campers described feeling “at home” here at Rockbrook. One simply said, “When I’m at camp, I’m home.” And a counselor put it perfectly, “Rockbrook is my home, not because of the place, but because of the people.” All of these speakers realized that as camp enlivens the best part of ourselves, as we live those core relationship values of
and caring, we make the best friends of our lives. Through the day, we find our true selves relaxing into the generous arms of a supportive community.
That’s why the Spirit Fire is bittersweet. It’s a wonderful reminder of why these girls love camp, of why, for many, it’s their favorite time of the year. Nowhere else do they feel this good and have these kinds of close relationships. But the Spirit Fire also marks the end of the session and the time when we must soon say goodbye. Camp friends are the best friends, but they are also usually seen only once a year. Closing camp for this reason is always sad.
It’s been especially gratifying this session to see your girls enjoy the special experiences of camp, to
learn and grow
individually, and to forge so many close camp friendships. We are so grateful to everyone- campers, staff, and parents alike -for helping make this session so successful. Thank you! We know Rockbrook means as much to all of you as it does to us. We are already looking forward to being together again next summer.
The surprise everyone was waiting for was finally revealed last night. Planned from the very first day of camp, this was a well-kept secret all session long. The CA campers (9th graders) presented their banquet, an all-camp party to celebrate the session and our time together at camp. What’s kept a secret is the theme of the party. Only the CAs and their counselors know the theme- until the event happens.
Based on the theme, the CA girls decorate the inside of the dining hall, dress in costume, serve particular food, perform skits and choreographed group dances, and play special music. So what was the theme this session? It was a “slumber party” banquet!
Imagine going to a huge slumber party of 160 girls all in the same room. That’s what we had at this banquet. The CAs all dressed as party guests in pajamas and slippers, while their counselors dressed as “moms” in velour tracksuit loungewear. All of the campers first removed their shoes before entering the “bedroom” where the sleepover would take place. On floor-to-ceiling paper panels, the CAs had painted all sorts of things to make the dining hall look like a bedroom set up for a slumber party. They painted balloons, bedroom furniture, a TV with Netflix, a diary, a telephone, an invitation, board games, sleeping bags, slippers, nail polish bottles, a book shelf, a closet of clothes hanging, eye masks, pajamas, a lava lamp, and Polaroid photos. These colorful wall decorations, plus the streamers, fairy lights and party hats made the whole scene fun and festive.
For food, they served Rick’s homemade pizza as the main “movie night” entrée. They had popcorn too, of course. And with a nod to the moms, they also served carrot and celery sticks. They gave each camper a small can of soda to drink and for dessert offered ice cream sandwiches, adding to the candy treats scattered across the tables.
In addition to playing a few classic slumber party games like Charades, painting nails, and Telephone, some interesting drama unfolded when one of the campers went “missing” during a game of hide and seek. Where was Virginia!? A little later someone dressed as a ghost appeared at the party to scare everyone as a prank! And it was Virginia! The velour tracksuit moms got in on the fun too when they performed a dance number for everyone. At one point a counselor dressed as a pizza delivery guy arrived to announce the main course of the meal.
Between scenes in these skits and the CAs delivering platters of food from the kitchen, everyone was up and dancing. It was an explosion of joy at times with the entire camp jumping up and down to a favorite song. That’s the feeling of a banquet. It’s incredibly fun, with friends all around, loud singing and dancing, and enough food and treats to fuel the energy.
These girls have grown so close over their time together at camp, it’s completely natural now to celebrate like this together. Toward the end of the banquet, emotions rise and even a few tears get mixed with the non-stop hugging. This makes it the best kind of party- one that brings you closer to your friends attending. The girls loved this banquet. It’s easy to see why!
A Rockbrook Slumber Party
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Rockbrook Summer Camp
My friend recently visited Rockbrook with her daughter, a prospective Rockbrook camper. They had a wonderful visit, and I wasn't surprised when she described Rockbrook as “magical.” If you read the camp blog on a regular basis, you know that the magic of Rockbrook is a recurring theme. Over the past few years, there have been numerous posts on this topic: “A Magical Day at Summer Camp,” “The Magic of Moments,” and “Reliving the Magic,” just to name a few.
It seems it would be easy to understand the magic of Rockbrook if you're on the inside. Campers, counselors, staff members, directors, and even the owners get to witness this magic on a daily basis. For those of us on the outside, however, it's not as easy to wrap our heads around this idea of magic – especially if, like me, you've never had the opportunity to experience Rockbrook (or any other summer camp).
As I write this, my daughter is at Rockbrook for her third summer. I think maybe I am starting to understand a little more of what the Rockbrook magic is all about. Over the last couple of years, I have seen hundreds of photos of girls smiling and laughing as they participate in camp activities. As I see photo after photo of girls living out the Rockbrook principle of "
be kind, be silly, be brave,"
it’s impossible to miss all of the magical moments taking place at camp.
I pick up on a little bit more of that magic with every letter my daughter sends from camp. In a recent letter, she told us about the "polar plunge," where at 8:05 AM one day, she would jump into a "freezing cold lake." It may not sound very fun but when that lake happens to be at Rockbrook and you get to share the experience with your Rockbrook friends, it becomes something magical. The chance to earn a special bead (a fun Rockbrook tradition) only adds to the magic.
I've even been fortunate enough to witness some Rockbrook magic in person. If you ever visit Dolly's (a Rockbrook favorite) on a summer evening, you may see a large group of campers enjoying ice cream after a trip to Sliding Rock. And if you're lucky enough, you may be treated to a live performance featuring classic camp songs that have been passed down through generations of Rockbrook campers. As these girls sing at the top of their lungs without a care in the world, you can feel the magic in the air. And while some may disagree, I think it's more magical than a Taylor Swift concert.
The magic of Rockbrook goes beyond the heart of a wooded mountain. When I pick my daughter up in a few days, I know she'll be bringing some of that magic home with her. And maybe she, along with her fellow Rockbrook campers, will spread a little bit of Rockbrook magic into the world – because wouldn’t that be wonderful?
Robbie Francis of
visited camp again and has produced a final short video for us. He spent the day filming, worked his editing magic, and now we have this new wonderful snapshot of camp life. The video does a beautiful job of depicting the mood at camp this session... so much action and so many happy girls!
Click below to watch the video…. and let us know what you think.
At Rockbrook, our goal is to create a space that encourages
. One way we do this during ordinary camp days is to preserve blocks of free time for the girls. For example, there are two free swims when the lake is open- one before lunch and the second before dinner. Free time is also great for a quick game of gaga ball or tetherball, to join the Rockbrook runners, hang out on the hill enjoying the mountain view, or just to take a shower. Campers are free to wander around and decide what they’d like to do. These are our typical times of beloved unstructured time that fosters room for exploration.
Something new this summer is Free Choice Saturday! This is a unique Saturday schedule we plan for only certain weeks of the summer, like today when only our Third session campers are here. It begins with all of the campers and staff coming together for an Assembly on the Hill. This lets us introduce the fun activity options happening around camp later in the afternoon. We also explain to the campers that they are able to visit any of the activities and are free to stay for as long as they would like! We are granting them the freedom to explore the options, and spend the afternoon as they like.
How does this work? We make sure to involve all of our staff to create some REALLY fun and unique activity options. This excites our campers to want to do them all! We also try to include a variety of different types of activities- some that are outdoorsy, some sports related, and others crafty, for example.
This Saturday, campers had the option to:
Watercolor at the creek by Curosty – On a hot day, what better way to cool off and unleash your creative side by dipping your toes, and your paint brush, in the cool water of the creek?
Gaga with Gagas at Gaga – A silly spin on the much beloved game of gaga ball! To make things more interesting we played gaga ball, dressed as “gagas” or grandparents, and listened to Lady Gaga.
Coke dives at the lake – A classic game that campers and staff love. Did you know Coca Cola, or any other non-diet soda, sinks when thrown in water? Well, it does! And it makes quite the game when you throw 48 cans of soda to the bottom of the lake in order to fish them back out to enjoy.
Flower crowns – A popular choice we have been doing all summer! Campers stopped by the dining hall porch to make the flower crown of their dreams.
Rockbrook Biathlon – Ever heard of a biathlon? It’s an olympic sport involving snow skiing and riflery. We put a Rockbrook spin on the sport and had a group of campers running/walking our Rockbrook Runners Loop, while making pit stops at archery and riflery to enjoy some fun at the ranges, before finishing their lap.
Metalsmithing with Keri Zink – We brought in a local artist and metalsmith from Brevard for a metalsmith workshop. Campers went down to our
and Keri helped teach them the art of metalsmithing by making bangle bracelets.
We also had two of our junior cabins visiting the wonderful Pucker Up Berry Farm, a cabin of middlers flying by on the zipline, and some friends finishing up glazing their pottery before the kilns were loaded last night.
We had so many fun options making it almost impossible to choose what to do!! Luckily, there wasn’t a wrong choice so everyone at camp got to partake in lots of Free Choice Saturday fun.
Room for Exploration
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Rockbrook Summer Camp
Returning to the idea that camp is “educational” because it provides a life filled with new experiences, I’m again left wondering how it’s educational. I’ve already considered how Rockbrook’s emphasis on community and the quality of our relationships with each other, namely them being guided by strong values of kindness, caring and generosity, creates a context for fostering creativity, compassion, and courage. Camp uniquely empowers children to engage new experiences, to explore and marvel at the wonders of nature, and to build connections with the people around them. We know that camp is a place to grow in all of these important ways.
There seems to be more we might say about this. What about the campers? You might not guess it, but they too understand camp as place where they learn things. To understand this, Naomi, one of our assistant Directors, and I wandered around after dinner and asked a few campers what they thought. We asked, “What is something you learned while at camp?” And, “Is there something you learned at camp that you’ll use back at home or later in life?” We asked girls from all the age groups and were pleased to hear what they said about what they “take away” from camp. It’s memories of the fun and a huge set of friends, but also even more.
Here are some of their answers. I think you’ll be impressed.
Certainly there are many skill-based activities campers try at camp and then find themselves keeping as an interest or hobby. It might be sewing, horseback riding, painting, archery, tying knots, etc. “I learned how to paddle a canoe!” one camper said proudly.
“The importance of kindness.”
Rockbrook girls know this instinctively. They expect kindess from others just as they aim to be nice themselves. One girl put it like this- “Being unkind just isn’t worth it.”
“How to share my space.”
This makes great sense when the girls are living so closely in 100-year old cabins. “You have to respect other people’s space.”
Working together as a cabin group each day for cabin chores, clearing the dining hall table, and evening program skits are good examples of teamwork at camp.
“It’s OK to be myself.”
This is a testament to the supportive and accepting character of the Rockbrook community, a place where girls can escape the kind of social criticism and judgment they often endure at school, freeing them to be more genuine. The girls feel the difference.
“To try new things.”
This can take some courage, but here too the support of the camp community, and the enthusiasm for everything we do at camp, makes this a common experience.
“To live without my phone.”
I love this response! I believe learning to moderate one’s phone use is a critical modern skill, and these campers already understand the importance of that. Good work!
At camp the girls learn to see the bright side when things don’t always go perfectly, to be open to compromise for the needs of others, and to adapt to the environment of camp despite it being so different from life at home.
“How to get along with others who are different than me.”
Here too, joining the camp community means meeting diverse people, supporting and encouraging them, and receiving that same friendship in return.
“To be more grateful.”
There is so much at Rockbrook to be thankful for. From what we get to do, to who we are doing it with, to the beautiful setting where we live- the whole experience inspires us to say “Thank you.” You hear it said out loud all the time.
Aren’t these amazing answers!? It impressed me to hear how these Rockbrook girls, amidst the fun of camp life, also appreciate the good it is doing. They seemed to understand that they were learning and growing in ways they would continue to value later in life. Yay! That’s exactly what we hope happens at Rockbrook. Camp should be
Perhaps when you pick up your camper you’ll have a chance to ask her what
learned at camp. On the drive home, I think you’ll be impressed by how much she’s grown and understood while here.
I’ve been meaning to share an article I found back in March. It’s an overview written by Emily Oster on a Commentary published in the
Journal of Pediatrics
entitled, “Decline in Independent Activity as a Cause of Decline in Children's Mental Well-being: Summary of the Evidence” (Published first online, February 23, 2023). The
is entitled, “What's Behind the Decline in Teen Mental Health?”
You may have read that different organizations are observing a troubling trend among young people, specifically a marked decline in their sense of well-being. Especially recently, professionals that work with children and adolescents are puzzled why reports of feeling unhappy, dispirited, and anxious are rising. The data shows that this trend began around 2012 (long before the COVID pandemic, by the way). This article attempts to explain why we are seeing this trend among our young people.
Essentially, it claims another trend is (at least partially responsible for) driving this decline in well-being, namely a “decline over decades in opportunities for children and teens to play, roam, and engage in other activities independent of direct oversight and control by adults.”
The authors worry that kids nowadays have very little free time to act independently. Instead they are supervised in school for most of the day and then equally structured during after school activities like sports and clubs. They point out also that current parenting styles tend to emphasize safety so that children aren’t able to do things on their own. Helicoptering and snowplowing, these parents might be protecting their children, but they are also impairing their confidence and ability to act independently. They note similarly, contemporary kids are rarely given the opportunity to play with other kids without adults, to play freely on their own terms. Rare, they lament, are the kids who get to play outside all day until dark.
Smartphone use may be another force contributing to kids having fewer opportunities to act independently. The claim here is that time scrolling on your phone is inherently isolating. It’s a solitary, passive experience rather than a physical activity that connects you with others in the real world. If anything, kids nowadays are more
on their phones for their socializing, entertainment and knowledge of the world. Their sense of self is largely filtered through this technology, rather than built through the rich nuances of their five senses. Especially for kids, time on a smartphone is a tragic substitute for living. And as it steals your life, reducing your capacity for independent action, your mental health may suffer.
You can probably guess where I’m heading with this, and why this article caught my eye. Life at camp is the exact opposite of these modern trends, and so can be understood as a counteracting force. After all, kids at camp are extremely independent. Being away from home, they act independently throughout the day. Without their phones, they explore the world around them at their own pace. At Rockbrook they have hours of free time. Each day, they make a multitude of decisions, figuring things out along the way. Camp gives kids an incredible degree of self-directed agency, empowering them far beyond what most parents would grant. By the way, I think this is another reason why girls love Rockbrook; they really appreciate this kind of agency. With friends by their side, they feel good when they do things without the adults in their lives guiding every move. In so many ways, life at camp is custom made for independence. It helps build the confidence and even the desire to act independently in the world.
If all this adds up, then we’re really helping our kids by sending them to sleepaway camp. The opportunities they have at Rockbrook to act independently may be strengthening their overall well-being, serving as a buffer for some of the challenging influences of modern life. At the very least, we know that girls love camp. They’re both independent and happy while here. That seems like a great endorsement.
There are two historic log cabins at Rockbrook that are older than the camp and were moved here when the camp was established. Each has a stone fireplace, rustic wooden floors, and a shaded porch on one side. The “Goodwill” cabin is named after the estate in South Carolina where
, the camp’s founder, was born. The other is called “Curosty” and is the home of our fiber arts activities, both Weaving and Needlecraft.
The Needlecraft activity meets on the back porch of the Curosty cabin, right next to Rockbrook creek and in the shade of a nearby hemlock, a beech tree and rhododendron bushes. With the creek sounds and summer breezes blowing through the shaded porch, the campers and needlecraft instructors sit around a red painted table sewing, stitching, cutting fabrics, knitting and crocheting yarns. For more than 100 years, this has been a place for creative expression using threads, yarns, and ribbons.
Sara Green, one of the Needlecraft specialists this summer, describes this porch as “a truly magical and inspiring place where creativity flourishes, friendships are formed, and campers have the freedom to explore their artistic passions.” She explains how they take and expressive art approach. “On the porch, we embrace an expressive approach to needlecraft. This allows each camper to discover her own artistic voice and create projects that are meaningful to them.”
“We start with basic techniques like threading needles, sewing seams, and crocheting chains. By practicing the basic skills and learning new stitches, campers gain confidence in their abilities and become more comfortable with the crafts. We encourage the campers to slow down into the craft... to let go of what the finished project will look like and any time restraints. This patient and mindful approach creates a supportive environment where campers can take their time to hone their skills, relax, and get comfortable in their chosen craft.
“In their own time, each camper's creativity and desire for self-expression naturally emerges. Whether it’s through a bit of gritty frustration or focused mindful practice, we witness a noticeable shift. This is a magical time on the porch! Campers begin to envision and design their own projects, guided by their creative hearts and empowered by the support of the specialists. Campers that were persevering through the basic crochet stitches are soon designing their own clothes. Campers that have never threaded a needle are soon creating personalized embroidered gifts designed for loved ones at home and here at camp.
The porch becomes a place of laughter, learning, and meaningful experiences as the campers stitch their way through big ideas and challenges. There’s something incredibly special about taking raw materials and transforming them into a completed masterpiece. By letting go of a strict focus on the final product and allowing the process to guide them, the campers can embrace the beauty of artistic expression and feel the joy of creating something truly their own. This pride in their work can build a strong sense of accomplishment, and the knowledge that they can create something beautiful with their own hands. We hope this is a gift that stays with them for life.”
- Sara Green
If you think about it, one of the core aspects of coming to an overnight camp is all the newness. New experiences fill every camper’s days. They’re sleeping in 100-year-old rustic wooden cabins with eight or more people. They’re walking down the path at night with a flashlight to visit the restroom. Instead of air-conditioning, they’re feeling the cool night air and hearing crickets and frogs as they drift off to sleep. They’re trying new foods, meeting new people, hearing new stories, and of course, trying all kinds of new activities. Each of those activities provides a new experience, like shooting a real gun or bow and arrow, or riding a living, breathing creature in horseback riding, or zooming down a 50-foot waterslide, for example. It’s one new thing after another at camp. The list could go on and on.
At home young people experience new things too- subjects in school, for example -but all too often this novelty is more passive than active. Like watching something on a screen, or glimpsing things out the window when on vacation, what’s new often passes by without really engaging. At camp, the girls actively live this regular novelty. Being away from the familiarity of home and spending the night away from parents, this kind of engaging newness is inevitable. We might say “habits at home and novelty at camp.”
A clear example of how actively engaged in new things camp girls find themselves is all the decisions they make on their own. Without the prescription, intervention, and instruction that flows freely from mom and dad, kids are automatically considering options, looking to friends for advice, and deciding for themselves how best to proceed. It can be about personal hygiene (shower in the morning of before bed?), about what to wear (do I need another layer this morning?), or whether to sign up for a canoeing trip, for example. When away from parents, girls naturally figure a lot of things out for themselves. They’re empowered to fill their own free time,
however it suits them, and consider their own solutions to problems. Of course, camp is filled with helpful counselors and other adults to guide this new freedom, but we also know that giving girls the opportunity to decide things on their own plays a crucial role in developing valuable confidence later in life.
Another new experience that arises at camp is the feeling of belonging and support that permeates a close-knit community like Rockbrook. Unlike the competitive atmosphere of school and the inherent judgment and common insecurities it breeds, camp is defined by compassion,
kindness and generosity
. Instead of being left out, at camp girls are included. Instead of feeling criticized, girls here are respected and affirmed. At camp, nobody cares if you’re “good” at a particular activity or even notices if your hair is messed up. In this kind of trusting and supportive community, girls are empowered to let their true personality, spirit and character shine through. More confidently, they can express their true self in surprisingly new ways. They’ll tell you; “At camp I can be the real me.” That kind of newness feels really good.
Earlier in the summer, I wrote about how
camp is educational
in the best sense of the word. This makes good sense if camp is also a life filled with new experiences. We might say it’s this engaging active newness that gives camp its educational power. It’s a place for girls to grow because it provides these kinds of new experiences that are hard to replicate elsewhere.
Put this all together and you can see how camp is incredibly special and valuable for these Rockbrook girls. It all wraps together into something new, something educational, and something definitely fun. The resulting friendship and joy make it truly marvelous.
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Rockbrook Summer Camp
Sundays at Rockbrook slow down a bit. We paused our regular activity schedule to give us some time to reflect about camp life and to enjoy an afternoon all-camp event of some sort. It begins by letting everyone sleep an extra 30 minutes and come to breakfast in their pajamas. Cabin chores can be done later in the morning, so most everyone sleeps in and stumbles to breakfast in a warm sweatshirt over their pajamas.
By mid-morning, everyone dresses in their camp uniform (white shirt and shorts with a red tie for campers) and assembles around the flagpole on the hill for a short flag raising ceremony conducted by the Hi-Ups. They raise the flag and we all recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Today the weather was threatening rain in the morning, so instead of walking to the Chapel area located past the end of the lower line, we made our way to the gym for the ceremony.
“Chapel” is not a religious ceremony at Rockbrook, despite its traditional name. Instead, we understand it as a time for us to recognize some of the important values and concepts we all hold as a community. We’ve started to understand “chapel,” for this reason, as an acronym standing for “Celebration of Happiness, Adventure, Peace, Earth and Love.” In addition to these, past chapel themes have been Friendship, Honesty, Compassion, and Community, to name a few. These are all experiences that we find at camp and we can endorse no matter what a camper’s religious upbringing. The different age groups take turns selecting the theme for Chapel, and then designing the program of songs and speeches that address the theme. Sarah always contributes a few thoughts on the theme too. She usually does this by reading a children’s book, and then commenting on how the book speaks to the theme.
Today, the Juniors presented their theme: “Adventure.” They sang a few Disney songs about adventure and the bravery it often requires. Sarah read
The Fossil Girl
, a story about Mary Anning, who lived in England and discovered the world's first complete fossil of an Ichthyosaurus when she was just 10 years old. It’s a true story of a young girl whose persistence and daring makes her success possible.
The day’s highlight came after rest hour when we held a Candy land themed Carnival down on our grassy landsports field. This all-camp event featured 2 water based inflatables, silly games, upbeat music and special food. The girls came dressed in their swimsuits, and in the bright sun of the afternoon, climbed an inflatable waterslide to splash into the pool at the bottom. The other was a wild two-person race obstacle course that ended in another pool. We had a lawn sprinkler going too, so anyone could cool off if they wanted.
There were several carnival games to play as well: a life-sized Candy Land game that involved “rolling” a giant die, tossing an inflated donut challenge, a beanbag toss game, a dance competition game, and a strange game that challenged players to use only their feet to unwrap a giant ball of candy encased in plastic wrap. In all of the games, there were small candy treats and small toys to win.
For food, we had a special treat made by Jenny’s Mini Donuts, a local food truck. Each person from each cabin group got to choose between cinnamon sugar or powdered sugar mini donuts. They were a huge hit!
Bare-footed and excited, the campers zoomed from game to game, cooling off in the water events, eating the candy they won, and dancing with their friends to the music. The girls cheered for each other on the obstacle course and laughed with every splash at the bottom of the water slide. It was an exciting event, really an ideal way to spend the afternoon at camp.