Author Archives: Joline Smith

Friendship: The Gold of Childhood

Friendship: The Gold of ChildhoodBy Audrey “Sunshine” Monke, Camp Director

“Friends are everything. They are always there if you have a problem or if you get hurt,
they can always help you up.”
– Patricio, Camper, Age 8

The commonly accepted trajectory of do well in school -> get into a good college -> make a lot of money -> flourish in life is not exactly accurate. You only have to know one unhappy wealthy person to know that’s not the path that will lead to happiness or fulfillment.

What is a more accurate trajectory? good interpersonal (social) skills -> positive relationships -> flourish in life.

Michael Thompson’s statement, “Friendship is the gold of childhood,” stuck with me long after I attended his conference session on the social lives of children. Friendship is not just the gold of childhood, but also of life. In my research for my Master’s degree in Psychology, I looked closely at studies related to friendship, social skills, and well-being. What I found was not surprising. For children, and adults as well, positive relationships are the best predictor of overall happiness and well-being. As parents, teachers, and counselors, we should be putting a primary emphasis on helping kids develop the social skills they need to make and keep friends.

Unfortunately, our culture is not supporting the development of healthy, solid friendships between gac-session1-06084kids. Friendship is more important than any academic subject or athletic skill, and yet the way our kids spend their time does not reflect this importance. For many kids, there simply isn’t time in their lives for developing strong, close friendships.

What are our kids learning about friendship in this Instagram, Snapchat, and texting era of “friends?” Many boast hundreds, even thousands, of “friends” and “likes” on photos. Yet some of those same kids don’t have one single person in their lives that meets the criteria of a true and trusted friend. Face-to-face social skills, such as being able to read non-verbal cues, are learned through practice. If communication is primarily through media, then those skills are not being honed.

Another cultural factor that is counter-productive to the development of solid friendships is the Girls-Laughing-7541constant, high-stakes competition our children are constantly in with their peers. Who’s ranked higher at school? Who made the “A” team? Who’s more popular? Often, instead of being truly supportive and encouraging of each other, kids want their peers to fail.

“Friends are those rare people who ask how you are and then wait for an answer.”
– Author Unknown

Making friends, and being a good friend, doesn’t come naturally to all people. And, coupled with theSailing-7832 crazy culture we’re in, it’s no surprise that many kids are struggling to form strong friendships.

Friends are the reason campers and counselors return to Gold Arrow Camp year after year. “Make Friends” is one of the three main goals we chant at the opening of camp each session. At camp, there is time for friendship — precious, relaxing time to get to know each other, spend time making memories, and communicating face-to-face. Our whole camp community is built around inclusion, respect, and kindness. There is no competition at camp, no “A” team or “popular” group. Just kids having fun together and learning to live and play with each other, work out disagreements, and become better friends to each other.

Friendship-0086“A friend is someone you’re not afraid to be yourself with.”
– Hannah, Camper, Age 14

Counselors are trained to help kids connect from the moment they get on the bus until the last good bye. Long talks at meals, around the campfire, and under the stars in sleeping bags are uninterrupted by cell phones and other technological distractions. Campers can’t “tune out” by putting earphones in. They stay engaged with each other and learn to connect. Counselors gently coach campers who need to develop social skills in areas such as listening skills, empathy, sharing, flexibility, initiating conversations, and understanding non-verbal cues. They encourage campers to be intentional about being good friends to each other and observant about what they appreciate about their friends.

On the final day of camp, our campers receive their session yearbooks, which include a space for them to share contact information with each other. We hope that campers use this tool to stay in contact throughout the year. 

“Friends are awesome, because they stand up for you, and they care for you.”
– Joey, Camper, Age 11

At one final campfire gathering last summer, the Randy Newman song, “You’ve Got a Friend in Me,” came on during the slide show. A group of four twelve-year-old boys sitting on the bench in front of me spontaneously put their arms around each other and started swaying back and forth, singing along to the song. I will never forget that vivid picture of the power of camp friendships.


Want to get some tips on Coaching Your Child to Better Social Skills? Join Sunshine for an online workshop on Thursday, September 29 from 11-11:30 am (PDT). RSVP here and the meeting link will be sent to you!

To read more of Sunshine’s thoughts on social skills, camp, and parenting, visit Sunshine Parenting. You can also follow Sunshine Parenting on Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest.

Resources/Related Posts:

3 Communication Skills Your Child Needs

Managing Difficult EmotionsMaking Friends Part 3

Best Friends, Worst Enemies, Michael Thompson, PhD.

Why Kids Flourish at Camp


Written by Audrey “Sunshine” Monke

Campers often describe camp as their “happy place” or “the best two weeks” of their year. And, from my own observation, I’ve seen that kids and the counselors who work with them are obviously happy at camp. They smile a lot. They look relaxed. There’s a lot of laughter. So many fun things happen at camp every day that it’s no surprise it’s such a happy place for kids.

Recently I’ve read several books about the science behind happiness and the research that’s being done to determine the specific elements that cause people to “flourish” in life. (See my reading list below.)

Traditionally, psychologists have focused on studying psychological diseases – depression, anxiety, eating disorders, etc. – and their cures. But led by Martin Seligman (University of Pennsylvania), a new breed of psychologists called Positive Psychologists have, for the past decade, been studying the positive side of people. They ask not what is wrong with people, but what is right. They research what makes us do well in life and the reasons why some people thrive and find success and happiness in life.

Originally, Seligman had a theory of “happiness” outlined in his book Authentic Happiness, but he moved away from only using the word “happiness” to a new theory that focuses instead on well-being or “flourishing.” Seligman determined that it’s inaccurate to use the term “happiness,” as some people simply don’t have the personality to appear outwardly happy to others, even when they are doing quite well in life.  I’m an extrovert who smiles a lot, so, objectively, people would probably say I’m pretty high on the happy scale. But how do we account for an introvert who doesn’t show a lot or emotion or display the outward symptoms that we equate with happiness? He may not smile a lot or appear outwardly happy, but, Seligman contends, he could still be flourishing. So, instead of using a one-dimensional definition that’s dependent on momentary emotions and personality traits, Seligman developed a more thorough theory of well-being that moved beyond his original happiness theory.

Seligman uses the acronym PERMA to define his theory and the five measurable elements he has determined lead to well-being. As I read about each pillar of PERMA in Seligman’s book, Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, I kept having “ah-ha” moments. “This happens at camp!” I would think. “And this, too!” In fact, as I read, I determined that ALL of the elements of flourishing that Seligman describes happen at camp. According to Seligman, “No one element defines well-being, but each contributes to it.”

I’ve always been sucked in by inspirational quotes and quick sounds bites about how camp contributes to happiness, but I love knowing the science behind why kids flourish at camp.

PERMA at Camp

P: Positive Emotion


Positive emotion is exactly what it sounds like: feeling happy and having positive thoughts about yourself, the people around you, or your surroundings. When someone reports they are feeling content, relaxed, or happy, then they are experiencing positive emotions. At camp, positive emotions are the norm, not the exception. We’re singing; we’re dancing; we’re doing skits that don’t make sense but that cause us to laugh so hard our stomachs hurt. Whether we’re telling jokes and stories around the campfire or just entertaining ourselves talking and hanging out together, positive emotion is literally swirling around camp. You can almost see a haze of happiness and fun surrounding everyone at camp.

E: Engagement


Seligman’s next element, engagement, describes when one is interested in and connected to
what they are doing. When you’re engaged in your hobby or book or job, you’re fired up about learning something new and energized by the activity. At camp, kids are constantly exposed to new experiences and challenges – both recreational and social – that get them interested and excited to learn. They’re pushed to get outside their comfort zone and really engage. For some kids, their stay at camp is the first time they’ve slept away from home and their parents, and they are engaged in learning to live with a group of new people. For others, the camp dance is the first time they’ve ever danced with other kids, so they’re being engaged socially in new ways.

R: Relationships


As Seligman and other researchers found, and most of us intuitively know, “other people are the best antidote to the downs of life and the single most reliable up.”

We all know that positive relationships are one of the main contributors to our happiness in life, so it’s no surprise that relationships are an important pillar of Seligman’s theory. Our life’s relationships – with our parents, our siblings, our friends, our spouses, and our co-workers – are key to our happiness. Everyone comes to camp to see their old friends, make new friends, and just spend quality time connecting with others and building positive relationships.  And camp is like no other place for that. You don’t have any of the competition or stress that often accompany kids’ relationships at home: Two bright students who are close friends are also competing for the valedictorian spot. Or two athletes who have grown up together are competing for the same position on a soccer team. The relationships at camp, without all the competition and “baggage” that kids have in some of their relationships at home, grow strong quickly. This is probably why so many kids have told me that, even though they are only at camp for two weeks, their camp friends are their closest friends and they stay connected with them all year, well beyond their time at camp.

M: Meaning

To flourish in life, we need to feel that we have a purpose and that we matter. According to Seligman, meaning comes from “belonging to and serving something you believe is bigger than the self.” Being a member of a cabin group at camp helps kids gain an understanding of how they are valued by others. For some kids, camp is the first place where they understand what it means to be a valued and accepted member of a community. Unlike at school, where some kids can be “invisible,” and go through a day without connecting with others, camp forces integration. Kids learn that they are an important and valued member of their cabin group, and they discover their character strengths through recognition from peers and counselors. While at camp, kids also have the opportunity to feel part of something bigger than themselves – a camp community that goes back nearly a century, where we still get to follow the same traditions our predecessors did. While learning about friendship, gratitude, and kindness, and practicing those skills, kids learn that they can positively impact others. They learn that they have value and that there is meaning in life.

A: Achievement

People flourish when pursuing goals or mastering a skill. So, while having a great achievement is wonderful, much of flourishing comes from the striving towards the achievement. Many people report that it was a lot of fun working their way up and accomplishing small steps on the way to a goal. In fact, many people feel a let down once a goal has been achieved and realize, as Ralph Waldo Emerson so eloquently explained, “Life is a journey, not a destination.”

Every day at camp, kids have the opportunity to try new things and master new skills. Some kids arrive at camp with a specific goal: a bull’s eye at archery or getting up on a slalom water ski. But others simply practice and work towards improving or challenge themselves to try something that frightens them – like completing the ropes course. And all of their progress and little achievements add to kids’ flourishing at camp.

At this time of year, when parents are busy completing camp forms and are possibly having cold feet about sending their child to camp for the first time, I’d like to remind you that camp can help your kid flourish like no school, sports team, or other activity they do. So, enjoy watching your child flourish at camp this summer.

Sunshine’s Happiness Reading List:

Coaching Your Child to Better Social Skills

Camp FriendsCoaching Your Child to Better Social Skills
Thursday, September 29
11:00-11:30 PST

Join Sunshine for this 30-minute online parenting workshop to:
• Learn the specific social skills researchers have determined are most important for successful friendships and other relationships.
• Identify your own child’s social skills strengths and deficits.
• Gain tools for coaching your child to improved social skills.

This is a free, online workshop offered for Gold Arrow Camp parents and Sunshine Parenting readers. Please feel free to invite other parents to join in on the discussion!

The workshop will last 30 minutes, and Sunshine will stay online for additional questions and discussion after the workshop concludes. Mark your calendars and join Sunshine on September 29 at 11:00 am PDT!

RSVP here to receive the meeting link, a reminder prior to the workshop,
and a pdf handout of notes after the workshop.

History Corner: Helmet Diving & Aqua Planing

“I believe […] that every boy should develop some sort of hobby […] a pleasant pastime that you choose when the day’s work is done; a love of doing something for the thing itself.”
– Manny Vezie, Founder of Gold Arrow Camp

Chuck “Woody” Radke, a 20 year veteran staff member, has been researching Gold Arrow Camp’s history for a book he’s writing about Camp. Many of the stories Woody has gathered from GAC’s early years have come through interviews and writings from people who were there, including Manny’s oldest son, Krieg Vezie (1932-2013) and Smoke Signals, the Camp newspaper that was published three times during the summer of 1945.


Manny loaded up canoes and took boys on river-running trips down the mountain. Photo: Ben Wetzel archive, 1939.

Most of the activities Gold Arrow campers participate in today are in fact the same ones Manny’s first charges enjoyed over eighty years ago, including Manny’s favorite: canoeing.

Krieg reported that Manny had “wonderful canoes” and that since his time at Red Arrow, they were always “one of his great loves.” Campers learned to properly paddle and mastered all the different strokes, and though it wasn’t that popular, Manny always made it a primary activity at camp. One of the ways he made it more thrilling was to take the boys out of camp on “river running” trips, said Krieg: “In the thirties boys ran the San Joaquin and King’s River by canoes […]. Few were experienced in river running and a canoe was totaled each trip.” It got expensive to lose a canoe each time out and, of course, it was a bit risky, but no one ever got hurt. Manny also took a few canoe trips in Yosemite “just to see the waterfalls and the deer,” Krieg said.


Sailing Skippers: Campers earned merit awards for sailing prowess on Huntington Lake. Photo: Robert Frampton

There was also a sailing program with “two classes of boats,” said Krieg: 12-foot-long Snowbirds and “Snipes that had a main sail and a jib.” The first two years, Manny didn’t have a huge fleet, but by 1940, Krieg reported the program featured “quite a few sailboats.” Campers were given instruction on the rules of the lake and rights of way before they launched, and there was a series of tests boys could take and skills they could demonstrate to earn the designation of “Skipper.” Once boys piloted their sailboats skillfully, they were awarded a white officer’s cap that had the Gold Arrow Camp symbol on the front. “I think I wore that cap for years, all through school,” said Krieg. People would ask him what it was, and he announced proudly “I’m a sailing skipper. I have passed the solo test to sail in some heavy winds.” It was this kind of pride in individual accomplishment that Manny wanted all of his Gold Arrow campers to experience and take home with them.


Camper exploring the lake in a platter boat.


Young Ricky Frampton on aquaplane. Photo: Robert Frampton

Among other water activities, there was swimming, motor boating, paddle boarding, log rolling, kayaking, and something Krieg called “platter” boating: “These were small boats […] about three feet long, and the boys would kneel in the boat and move it with their hands.” On Sunday afternoons, these water activities were frequently on display at camp “water festivals.” Campers battled it out in the “two way inlet platterboat race” or the “one lap plunge swim,” with winners earning points toward all-tent trips to Lakeshore for sodas; no matter where they finished, all participants earned a hearty “two hips and a hooray” from the counselors for giving it their best shot. Finally, later in the forties, Manny introduced “aqua planing” to camp, a milder version of waterskiing. Krieg said that Manny was actually “very scared of water-skiing because he felt if a person fell, the water-ski would come back and hit him in the head.” With aqua-planing, campers just fell off into the water, and the injury risk was minimal.


Helmet diving was an underwater adventure (1945). Photo: Robert Frampton. In the August 15, 1945 issue of Smoke Signals, counselor John Caddy wrote a farewell poem in which he described the activity as “diving down to the lake bottom’s goo.”

When they weren’t playing around on top of the water, they were skulking around under it. The activity was called “helmet diving,” where Krieg said campers “put a heavy steel helmet on [their] heads and went underwater and walked around the bottom of the lake.” Camper Thomas Wyatt (1945) spoke of his experience with the activity:

At the close of our session, when there were few campers in camp, I was at the swimming area and was offered a chance to try the diving helmet. It was a shoulder-mounted affair, with a face plate. I was given a rope to tug on to signal for more air or less air from the person manning the air pump. Well, I started out and became submerged, and the forgot the codes for more air! So, I swam out from under the helmet! So much for my first underwater adventure!

Camper Chas Luckman in the August 3rd edition of Smoke Signals described it as an activity that required “trusty assistants at the air pump” as campers “descended into the darkness of the lake’s blue waters.” Those same assistants then waited for “a tug and then a tug tug at the rope” before pulling the camper up. Luckman’s account also tells of the courageous Bill Brown, the junior counselor who descended “some distance down” to rescue a megaphone a waterfront lifeguard had dropped. He resurfaced to a hero’s welcome, megaphone in hand. Wrote Luckman, “As the frozen diver was being relieved of his helmet he shakingly commented, ‘I am never going down in such deep water again.’” Suffice to say that helmet diving is not among the offerings for current Gold Arrow campers.


Campers in the 1930s–1940s made their own arrows in wood shop. Photo: Robert Frampton.

Back on land, archery was one of the “primary sports in the early days” of camp, said Krieg. Manny had set up a number of archery ranges with targets at various distances as well as pop-up targets of small animals and a deer that would dart across the stream on a pulley. “You never knew when that deer was going to cross,” said Krieg, “but when it did you had a chance to see if you could hit this moving target.” Campers were always thrilled to hit the deer and to earn merit pins on the range from the National Camp Archery Association. To liven things up a bit, Manny even considered a “flu flu” range, said Krieg, where campers could “shoot an arrow straight up in the sky and land it on a target below.” The counselors badgered Manny to do it, according to Krieg, but at least in this case, he felt it was too dangerous.


Camp’s riflery program in the thirties and forties was a favorite among the boys. Back then, the rifle range was on the other side of Big Creek.

There was also riflery, of course, and campers shot .22-long rifles at targets set at a distance of fifty feet to earn medals from the National Rifle Association. All boys had to “take a special test” to use the rifles, and could qualify for awards under the NRA’s “Junior Marksman” program. Campers were given a rule book that described benchmarks like “Sharpshooter” and “Expert Rifleman” and bound them to a sportsmen’s code by which they promised, among other things, to “never allow the muzzle of [the] gun to point at anything which [they] do not intend to shoot.” Many a camper returned home with his prized riflery rule book and his scored targets to share with Mom and Dad.

When the boys weren’t shooting targets, they were likely riding horses, one of the two largest programs at Gold Arrow Camp. Smoke Signals editor Bob Shelton wrote that without horses, “half of Gold Arrow’s charm and color would fade into the afterglow.” It was a program that Manny insisted be a Gold Arrow focal point as he knew the appeal horsemanship and the romantic myth of the frontier had for the modern American boy. By 1945, Manny had twenty-nine horses in camp with “a dozen or so more […] scattered among the mountains,” wrote Shelton.


Giddyup: Campers showed their skills at the annual Greengold Rodeo. Photo: Robert Frampton.

With so many horses available to campers every summer, it was likely that a few would get loose from time to time, said Krieg. To keep track of them all, the horses were branded, an event campers were invited to attend when camp opened in mid-July. “The kids,” said Krieg, “loved to smell that horse flesh.” The men in charge of the horses and the rebranding event were “Kit” Carson Shade and Jim Gordon, with “Doc McClure in charge of heating the iron,” wrote Smoke Signals staffer Mike Millikan. Carson “actually did the dirty work” but “only one or two horses seemed to mind it very much.” As a result, wrote Millikan, “the boys began shouting for their money back.”  In the end, nine horses were branded in July 1945, indelibly registered with the capital letters “VZ,” which Millikan reminds us “stands for Mr. Vezie.”

Manny loved the horse program and frequently led campers on trail rides to the “Indian Swimming Hole” and Lakeshore, among other places. While on the trail, he shared a story with campers about two miners who were scared they’d be robbed of their gold, so they hid their stash in the mountains as it began to snow.

Upon their return, the miners couldn’t find their treasure: “I believe the gold is somewhere near Gold Arrow Camp, boys,” Manny would say. “Let’s see if we can find it.” It was a slow, methodical story, said Krieg, one that typically culminated in an open meadow, where one lucky boy would always spot a big canvas bag of gold-foil candy bars. “I found it,” the boy would yell, and Manny, in his slow, easy voice, would tell the boys that gold was not very good to eat, but candy bars sure were. “He handed the candy bars out to the kids,” said Krieg. “He told these stories all the time as part of camp.”


Manny leads a trip over Selden Pass. Photo: Robert Frampton.

Additionally, horses were the centerpiece of the pack trips Manny took every year, beginning in 1935. One Smoke Signals artifact from August 15, 1945 (“A Hundred Miles of Rugged Beauty”) describes how Manny ran short overnights and two- to three-day trips during the regular camp season, followed every August by a two-week post-season trip for “campers who [had] proven […] able to acquit themselves with credit in outdoor activities.” These postcamp trips were big productions, with anywhere from twenty to thirty adults and campers taking to the Sierra high country. It can be argued, based on the verbiage devoted to them in Smoke Signals, that Manny’s pack trips were, in fact, the highlight of every boy’s summer. There, we read of the “mighty” Rangers’ trip to Coyote Lake, “where the natives use mosquitoes for can openers” and the lake glistened “in the westing sun”; of tent five’s first pack trip to Red Lake, arriving after a “tiresome ride” to a “meal of sandwiches and soup” followed by “snow fights” and a thunderstorm; and of tent four’s “short mile horseback ride” to the Indian Swimming Hole, where they set up camp and had a dinner of “brown potatoes, gravy, emerald string beans, and a whole watermelon,” before a “pinecone fight […] without a casualty” and a campfire with “ginger snaps and stories.” Indeed, the pages of the camp newspaper are full of descriptions that seem to come straight from the pages of cowboy adventure novels.

But before any boy could participate in one of these memorable experiences, they had to pass what Krieg called “test camp,” an area set up below the road, overlooking the lake in what is now called “The Ridge” (Cabins 23, 24 and 25). Boys had to go to test camp for one night to “make sure [they] kept a clean camp,” said Krieg. Boys did all the things they would do at a normal campsite, then counselors came the next day to check them out. If they passed, they were eligible to go on a pack trip. According to Krieg, there was no camper who ever failed test camp, but there was some sport in casting a shadow of doubt when the counselors did their final checks. “You left a paper over here,” they might say, or “You didn’t do the right thing over there.”  It was all in good fun, said Krieg, and in the end, they all learned to be good campers.


Manny cooks flapjacks on a pack trip. Photo: Robert Frampton.

Arguably, the post-season pack trips were Manny’s finest hours and perhaps the excursions from which he derived the greatest satisfaction. He planned the itineraries himself, changing them each year while keeping them under wraps until departure as a way to build anticipation in the boys. Invariably, he led the rugged company to places “in God’s Great Grandeur […] where the gold trout are seldom bothered by man.” All trips began with a truck ride from Huntington Lake to Mono Hot Springs where explorers found their horses and supplies waiting. Imagine the thrill the boys must have felt to have their own horses for two weeks. In one abridged travel log, captured in Smoke Signals, Manny led the group to Bear Creek before heading over Selden Pass, 11,500 feet “up to Heaven where the view stretches out a hundred miles over Marie Lakes on one side and Heart Lake on the other.” They camped and fished for three days at Sally Keys Lake before dropping for two days into Blaney Meadows, “where the fishing is fine and hot springs gush forth.” The final leg of the journey took them to Florence Lake, where the truck to take them back to camp awaited: “In all, we have been twelve days on a trail we will cherish forever”:

Mix this up with outdoor cooking,
And miles and miles of joyful riding.
And the smells of pine and fir trees,
And the chores of trail and camplife.
Flavor with friendship and brand new tales,
Told over the campfire nights on the trail;
And you’ll find you’ve done something
You’ll talk of for years!
– Smoke Signals, August 15, 1945

Indeed, it is difficult to imagine a boy who—presented with glorious, untrammeled views, gushing hot springs, and his own horse on which he beheld it all—wouldn’t talk of the cherished experience for years. Manny wanted his boys, through the pack trip experience, to leave feeling like confident trailblazers and frontiersmen: “In all the pack trips,” wrote Shelton, Manny “never yet found a disappointed camper!”

History Corner: The Cohen Family at Gold Arrow Camp

“To be able to experience all of the amazing activities in such a supportive and friendly environment has been such a gift.” – Courtney Cohen

For the Cohens, Gold Arrow Camp is an important family tradition. With a combined total of 38 years, they’ve created a second home at camp. According to mom Lisa, “Gold Arrow has been, and will continue to be, an incredible part of our family’s life.”


Scott during his camper days

Dad Scott Cohen discovered both ceramics and sailing, two hobbies that he still enjoys, during his days as a camper in the 1970s. He enjoys ceramics so much that the Cohens have a kiln in their garage, and Scott has incorporated creating and installing ceramic tiles into his clients’ projects (he has a landscape design business). Scott sails as often as he can and has his captain’s license, and he has passed along his love of sailing to his three daughters, all of whom have attended GAC for 10+ years!


Scott sailing at GAC

Oldest daughter, Kinsey “Tootles” Cohen, taught sailing at GAC in the summer of 2015, is returning for 2016, and is the captain of her university sailing team. Says Kinsey, “Being able to come back to GAC as a counselor after being a camper for so long was an amazing experience. I got to pass on my stories of how much fun I had to my campers, as well as teach them that it’s ok to be yourself all of the time, and that people will like you for you. It was amazing to give back to the GAC community.”


Kinsey & Cassandra, 2015

Kinsey attributes a lot of her personal growth to her time as a camper. “I was really shy when I was a kid, but whenever I was at camp I was never shy. I became a completely different kid, and eventually as I got older, I used what I learned at camp to burst out of my shy shell in the ‘real world’ too. I wouldn’t be as confident, as accepting of myself, and as free to be me no matter what without camp.”

According to Kinsey, “GAC has been a HUGE part of our family. Camp gets brought up all of the time whenever we’re all together, and it’s usually Courtney, Cassandra, and I talking about funny moments during our years there. Dad will try to throw in a story from his time too, to be included in the conversation. It’s given us something to bond over, and without GAC we wouldn’t be the kind of family we are today.”


Bus drop off for the Cohen girls

Courtney Cohen, who is excited to come back in 2016 as a counselor, says, “GAC has made me a much better person. I have developed a love and respect for nature, an understanding of why it is necessary to step back from technology every once in awhile and enjoy what life can offer. Being able to interact with people from multiple nations has expanded my worldview and allowed me to have and maintain friendships from across the world. Camp taught me a lot about recognizing my fears and being able to conquer them. Not only that, but to help support others conquer their fears as well. It also helped me break away from my shyness and feel safe being my silly weird self.”


The Cohen family at family camp in 2008

Courtney also thinks GAC has brought her family closer together over the years and appreciates her time at camp: “To be able to experience all of the amazing activities in such a supportive and friendly environment has been such a gift. I have learned to be more patient and understanding when it comes to mistakes and arguments. Also, I think there is a more positive attitude after being around a family like environment with all the friends at camp.”

Youngest sister, Cassandra “Mystery” Cohen, participated in our new month-long Junior Counselor program last summer. She says, “Being part of GAC has impacted my family because it brings my sisters and me a lot closer to each other through our fun experiences of going to camp together. Also, being that my dad went here as a kid, it also allows the whole family to share fun memories and have a good laugh.”


Cassandra Cohen, surrounded by her family, receives her ten-year jacket and patch, 2015

For Cassandra, “GAC is another home to me and to have been going here for 10 years is absolutely amazing and I wouldn’t want it any other way. I can’t imagine my life without GAC. I have made life-long best friends from camp and I wouldn’t have met them if it wasn’t for camp.”


Showing their GAC Spirit at the 75th Reunion, 2008

Says mom Lisa, “I am thrilled that we were able to give our children the opportunity to spend so many summers at Gold Arrow Camp. They each have grown more confident, independent and mature through your guidance. They have learned to overcome fears, work in group environments and have gained leadership skills that will help them throughout school, the work environment and life.”

It looks like the Cohen family will continue to be part of GAC for a long time, because, according to Kinsey, “I know that once I have kids, they’ll be attending GAC and continuing the tradition.”

Activity Spotlight: Rocks & Ropes

By Camp Director, Alison “Bean” Moeschberger

“On belay.”
“Belay on.”
“Climb on.”

Although this exchange of commands between climber and belayer is simple, they represent the final gut-check before engaging in Rocks & Ropes activities, which are among the most fun and challenging activities at camp.


The Ropes Course gives campers the choice to complete the lower course with friends or the upper course independently. Both courses have difficult elements that require agility, balance, and concentration. There are also several other activities at the ropes course area that provide campers with additional climbing and adrenaline-inducing challenges. The Zipline and Big Swing give campers an opportunity to soar through the air, and the Vertical Playpen and Giant’s Ladder test campers’ climbing strength and teamwork.

Campers also enjoy Rock Climbing and climbing on the Wall, a wooden tower with climbing holds. Counselors help improve campers’ climbing technique and guide their hand and foot placement as they are climbing. The large granite formation we use for Rock Climbing has climbs set up that range in difficulty from very easy to expert level. Campers cheer each other on as they strategically inch up the rock faces.


Rocks & Ropes activities at camp are a fun and exciting way for campers to build their grit and practice teamwork. It takes a lot of physical strength and mental toughness to conquer these activities, and campers find new ways to challenge themselves each year.

A Favorite Camp Recipe: Caprese Salad

A favorite of many campers and staff, Caprese Salad is a fresh, delicious salad we often serve with salmon or tri-tip at camp. It’s a simple recipe, with just a few ingredients, so it’s one that campers may enjoy making at home for their families. It’s also a great dish to bring to share at a potluck! We hope you enjoy making Caprese Salad!



  • 10 ounces cherry or cherub tomatoes, chopped in half
  • 8 ounces whole milk mozzarella, cherry sized. Chopped in half or fourths
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
  • 2-3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • (note: you can also add 1 tablespoon of olive oil if you’d like the added flavor, but it’s not necessary)


  1. Toss all of the ingredients in a large bowl.
  2. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve. Enjoy!

(We got the recipe from here:

On Target

At Gold Arrow Camp, we strive to not only provide our campers with memorable, happy, and life-changing camp experiences during the summer, but also to provide resources to our camp families that enhance our campers’ lives year-round. On Target, our Magazine for Camp Families, is an annual resource we provide for that purpose.

In each edition, we feature articles from parenting experts, best-selling authors passionate about positive youth development, and long-time staff members.

Our current On Target features articles and excerpts on several topics that directly impact our children’s (and our own) happiness. Camp Director and parenting blogger Audrey “Sunshine” Monke shares the five ways that camp grows grit and why kids need to get uncomfortable.  Happiness expert Christine Carter, author of Raising Happiness and The Sweet Spot writes about grit vs. intelligence. We also have an article on how much screen time is healthy by the filmmaker Delany Ruston.  Renowned child therapist Bob Ditter joins us to share four simple words for better communication with your child. Educator, writer, and speaker Jessica Lahey, who has also been featured in The Atlantic and The New York Times, shares an excerpt from her book, The Gift of Failure

In addition to those experts, we have stories about some of our activities from Alison “Bean” Moeschberger and the growth mindset from one of our long-time camp doctors, Emily “Fish” Andrada. And for people who have been a part of our Gold Arrow family, there’s a feature on campers who have become staff members. To top it off, Steve “Monkey” Monke shares some of his favorite healthy camp recipes. 

You can read previous On Target issues here.

Have you received your 2018 copy of On Target, our magazine for camp families? Click here to request yours today!

What’s the Best Age for Camp?

You probably want a number here. If you’re only going to read these first two sentences, then I’ll pick the age of nine.

G-C15-6601But my real answer is a bit more complex. When to start sending your child to sleep-away camp is a decision that depends on you, your parenting style, and your child’s temperament. Many kids have extremely fun and successful camp experiences as young as six years old, but that’s too young for most kids. And, for some parents, the thought of their child EVER going to camp (without them) is unimaginable. If you’re one of those parents, please read Five Reasons Great Parents Send Their Kids to Camp. Sometimes, “he’s not ready for camp” actually means you’re not ready. Realizing that your child can be okay without you is sometimes hard on parents, and it’s a big step to let them have the independent experience of summer camp.

These are the guidelines I recommend to parents who are ready to send their child to camp but aren’t sure what age is best.

If your child is 5 or under, that’s too young for overnight camp alone. Go to a family camp together, or try an American Camp Association accredited day camp program in your area, which is a great way to get the feel for what camp is all about!

 G-C14-0259Only send your 6-8 year old to camp if:

• Your child is a fairly independent kid (not clingy to you) and can take a shower on his/her own. If your child happily goes to school and is fine at day camps and other activities without you constantly by his/her side, then he/she’s probably ready for camp. Parents often worry about the logistical stuff with young kids. “Will someone make sure he eats? Puts on sunscreen? What if he wets the bed?” Know that, at a well-run, accredited camp program, counselors are trained to take care of young children well. Counselors will make sure your camper gets enough water, eats properly, and puts on sunscreen. Most camps work with families of bed wetters to help them feel comfortable coming to camp. You just need to make a plan on how to manage the bed wetting with the staff at your child’s camp (using a pull-up and keeping small plastic trash bags in the bottom of the sleeping bag for the counselor to throw away privately works well).

G-C15-9998• Your child is ASKING to go. This usually occurs with younger siblings who visit or hear about camp from older brothers and sisters. They’ve been watching and hearing about the fun for a few years and they want “in.” I’ve often been at camp events where older kids are coming to hear about camp, and the younger siblings in attendance end up begging their parents to let them go to camp, too.

• You, as the parent, are confident in your child’s ability to be away from you.  And you are able to express that confidence to your child. And YOU can handle the separation.

For young kids, focus on if your child is ready. This is not the age to force camp upon a hesitant child.

G-C09-9999Once your child is 9-10 years old, I have three different guidelines, depending on your child and you.

1. If your 9-10 year old is excited to go to camp, go for it! Find a camp and sign him/her up!

2. If your 9-10 year old is hesitant about going to camp:

• Talk with other families whose kids go to camp to expose him/her to the idea.  Hearing how much other kids like camp might encourage him/her to want to go.

• Attend camp information sessions and browse websites. Watch camp videos to show your child the fun that happens at camp.

• If exposing your child to the idea of camp gets him/her excited, then forge ahead with signing up and sending your child to camp. If he/she gets “cold feet,” use these discussion strategies to let him/her know why camp will be good for him/her.

TB-C20-87343. If your 9-10 year old child is STILL hesitant, you have two choices:

The Hard Choice (Michael Thompson, PhD. would say the better one):  Tell your child, “I know you’re ready for this experience and it will be a good experience for you that I don’t want you to miss out on. I know you’re nervous, but this is something that is important for you to do.” Read the book Homesick and Happy as your homework before you broach the subject with your child. Explain all the benefits of camp and how you think camp will be great for him/her and how it is an important step in his/her growth and development.  Let your child know that you, as the parent, think it’s an important experience that you don’t want him/her to miss out on. And then, sign up for camp that is a good fit for your child and offers activities he/she is interested in! Making this choice requires being able to stand your ground and not give in to whining. Better to not dwell on the topic until it gets closer to summer. Sign up but don’t talk about it too much, too far in advance if your child is especially anxious about it.

G-C20-8600The Easier Choice (for now): Give your child a one year “pass,” but follow through! “Okay, no camp this summer, but next year you’re for sure going to a camp we choose together that is a good fit for you. I know you’re ready, and it will be a great experience for you that I don’t want you to miss out on. I know you’re nervous, but this is something that is important for you to do.” Read the book Homesick and Happy as your homework over the year! Follow through and make going to camp next summer non-optional. Talk with your friends and research an accredited camp program that’s a good fit for your child. Attend “meet and greet” events or camp tour days to meet other camp families.

G-C20-9361Know that kids who are hesitant about camp at 9 or 10 are likely to still be hesitant at 13, and possibly hesitant at 18 about going to college. Kids who are nervous about being away from home and parents need to figure out how to work through those feelings, and a week or two at camp is an easy way to start! It’s actually easier to start camp at 9 or 10 and work through those difficult homesick emotions without also contending with puberty. So… knowing that it’s great to get your child some independent experience early, forge ahead confidently (or at least pretend you’re confident!).

If your child is 11,

It’s REALLY time.  See above steps but don’t do the easier choice. Remember when you were 11? Your best memories were not hanging out with your parents. Time to get some fun, independent experience!

TEM-C06-1539If your child is 12 or older and has never been away to camp, please let them go! Seriously. I’ve been at camp fairs, where a mother with a child taller than she is tells me, in front of her child, “He’s WAY too young to be away from me for two weeks.” I look at the young person standing next to her and want to say, “He’s not too young. You just don’t want him to be away from you.” But, I can’t say that unless it’s a friend who I can be really frank with. So, I just feel badly for the kid, who longingly looks at camp pictures but knows that his mom won’t ever let him go.

Your older child will likely not be the only first year camper his/her age. There will be fewer new kids at camp in that age group, but camp kids are welcoming, so don’t worry. Let your child be part of the process of picking a camp, but please send them to camp! I’ve met many families who waited until their child was 12 or 13 years old to start camp, only to be disappointed that they had so few summers to enjoy at camp before they were too old. Plus, the kids who tend to have the most extreme homesickness are the older ones who’ve never been away. But, if your child is one who may experience that extreme homesickness, isn’t it much better that it happen during a 2-3 week summer program than when they’re a freshman in college? Too many kids are not making it in college because they don’t have the coping skills to be away from home. Give your child the gift of early independence to help them develop the skills they need to thrive as a young adult!

G-C04-9260So now you see why I couldn’t give a short answer.  I hope this helps you make the decision of when is the best age to send your child to camp!

Enjoy your kids today!

Audrey “Sunshine” Monke
Camp Director at Gold Arrow Camp
Writer at Sunshine Parenting


Should I Make my Kid go to Camp?

Homesick and Happy, Michael Thompson, Ph.D.

Camp Parents, American Camp Association

Find a Camp, American Camp Association

Five Reasons Great Parents Send their Kids to Camp, Sunshine Parenting

Why Kids Flourish at Camp, Sunshine Parenting

What Experienced Campers Love About Gold Arrow Camp


Session 1 Five Year Campers, 2015

Over the summer of 2015, we asked some of our experienced campers, who were spending their 5th summer with us, what they love about Gold Arrow Camp and why they keep coming back. Here’s what some of these experienced campers had to say: