April!

Episode 40.

The GAC PogCast is over the hill! We’re also over the moon that April joined us to talk about her role as a photographer at camp last summer. She also had great insight on how to deal with the fear that coming to camp sometimes creates in campers. Soy is back to playing guitar and telling Dad jokes and there’s a GACspiration too!

The Magic of The Campfire

Campers at Gold Arrow Camp, a summer camp in California, gather around the campfire

by Andy “Soy” Moeschberger

My single favorite time of day at camp is campfire. Every night each of our 31 cabins has its own campfire unless the cabin is at a social (a campfire with another cabin) or our dance. Why do I love this time of day so much? In part because I love the smell of woodsmoke. In part because it means the day is winding down and I’ll be in bed within the next 3 hours. But mostly because of the magic.

What could be so magical about a campfire? Some logs, some pine needles, a match, and some popcorn. That’s simple and fun, but it isn’t magic.

I beg to differ. I think that the time spent around a campfire is magic. It’s transformational and powerful in the way that nothing else I have experienced in my life is. When a group of 10 friends is gathered around the flickering flames under a blanket of stars they can and will share truths that are more lasting and meaningful than if they were in a game room or around a dining room table.

Campers at a summer camp in the High Sierra gather around a campfire with a lake in the background

But why? What is it about the campfire that makes this possible? Well, maybe it isn’t magic. Maybe it’s science. According to a study from the University of Alabama, adults who were exposed to a “fire with sound condition” (a video of a fire with the sound turned on) showed lower blood pressure and increased “prosocial” behaviors (such as smiling, making eye contact and engaging in conversation). And that was a VIDEO of a campfire with an adult by themselves! The authors hypothesize that this is an evolutionary development. They believe that for ancient humans the fire provided warmth and a way to cook, and also signaled the safety of numbers. Our ancient forerunners knew that by being around the campfire they could relax. Even a millennium after we moved indoors, our minds still subconsciously know that a fire is a place where we are safe.

Children need this more than ever today. The pressures of the world increasingly weigh on young people. If they can have an opportunity to feel, like the cavemen of old, relaxed and safe, then they can begin to become their best selves. The campfire is a natural way to do that. As I tell our graduating campers at their Paddle Ceremony, the most meaningful moments of their camp careers probably occurred around a campfire. 

Campers gather around a campfire with a mountain lake in the background

Many camps have only occasional campfires, or “flashlight” fires. While there are benefits to that, we know the nightly practice of an actual campfire is important. Our counselors are trained specifically on campfires. The training is far more than how to stack the logs and what the ideal marshmallow looks like. Indeed, they practice in our training how to lead a meaningful discussion around the fire. They lead campers in sharing their highs and lows of the day. They help to facilitate discussions about real life topics that campers are interested in or struggling with.

On our last night of camp, we gather for an all-camp campfire that we call Appreciation Campfire. There are songs and stories and skits. Off to the side of our amphitheater (which we call Big Campfire!), there is a campfire pit, where the logs crackle away merrily. As the night winds down, the flames grow lower and lower. At the end of the night, counselors share their appreciation for their cabins by candlelight as the last embers of the campfire glow.

That’s just a last tiny piece of magic before we go home.  

Counselors at Gold Arrow Camp, a summer camp in California, light candles to show their appreciation for their campers

Holly Feller

Episode 39.

On Episode 39, Soy is joined by longtime camp parent Holly Feller. Holly has sent her 3 kids to GAC for the last 7 years. She has really great insight into what changes camp creates in kids. She also talks about what she tells people who can’t believe she sends her kids to camp for 7 weeks and shares what job she would want if she came to work at camp. There’s a food-themed Joke of the Cast and a GACspiration from Kurt Vonnegut.

There’s still space available!

Though many of our traditional two-week sessions are full, we still have space in some of our teen programs and specialty camps.

For teens, we have spaces in both of our Junior Counselor sessions for boys. We also have space in our second Outdoor Leadership Course, which runs from August 4th through the 17th. You can learn more about the Junior Counselor program here, and our Outdoor Leadership Course here.

We also have space in our Mini Camp program, which is a one-week program. Mini Camp is a great opportunity to experience Gold Arrow Camp in a shorter format, or to get a last burst of positivity before you head back to school! More details about Mini Camp are available here.

Haiku Contest!

At GAC, we love the Poetry Corner. One of our favorite parts of PoCo is the reading of haikus. Haikus are poems that are three lines long, with the first line having 5 syllables, the second line having 7 syllables, and the third line having 5 syllables.

So we’re going to have a contest! Just send your best camp-related haiku to us (mail@goldarrowcamp.com) by Monday, April 15th. We’ll share the best camp-themed haikus on Wednesday, April 17th. Why the 17th? Because it’s National Haiku Day, that’s why! We can’t think of a better way to celebrate haikus than by sharing our favorites, and we can’t wait to read your haikus!

Parking Your Helicopter

A camper at a summer camp in the mountains of California

By Audrey “Sunshine” Monke

Originally published on Sunshine Parenting.

 

As parents of this generation, we’ve been told that great parenting means being super-involved with our children and always being in constant communication with them. We give them cell phones as soon as we feel they are ready to have a bit of independence so that we can be assured that they will call us the minute they need us.

A camper at a summer camp in California shows his friendship bracelet to the camera

There are many benefits to this parenting style. We know our kids well and have developed close family relationships. We also know each of their homework assignments (and assist with a few of them), the drills they did at soccer practice (because we either coached their team or stayed and watched), and what they ate for snack at school. The downside to our “helicopter” parenting, though, is it makes it difficult for our children to develop their independence, problem-solving, and decision-making skills.

Hooray for camp! Without a cell phone (or their parent next to them) to immediately turn to when they are faced with a decision, campers learn to use other resources – including their own great minds. Without us watching them and being a reminder of what they’ve been scared of in the past, they challenge themselves and try something new. The confidence that results from their accomplishments and independence can be life-changing, and the best thing we hear from our campers and parents is that camp truly makes their life better.

According to past staff member and camper, Renee “Zippy” Tucknott, “Gold Arrow Camp taught me early in life that I can survive in the world without my parents making my decisions, and I am able to make my own decisions and choices that will impact my life. When I got to college, I experienced some of the same decisions and choices and already knew I could survive on my own.”

A camper rappels down a waterfall at a summer camp in the California mountains

As technology has provided us with the ever-increasing ability to be in touch– immediately – with everyone, it has also given the children and young adults of this generation a crutch that we (those of us in our late 30s and up) did not have. When faced with a decision or problem with a friend, we had to rely on ourselves first and later discuss it with our parents. Now, kids are getting accustomed to calling their parents before attempting to solve the challenge on their own.

At GAC, we have a great support network to help our campers work through challenges, fears, and problems that may come up. They never feel “alone,” but they feel independent from their parents, and a lot of pride comes from that independence.

So, enjoy your child’s stay at GAC this summer and rest assured that while your helicopter is parked, your child is spreading their wings!

Online Q&A Sessions Are Coming!

We’re thrilled to offer online Q & A sessions with camp directors. There will be two opportunities for you to join us virtually to discuss any questions you have about camp for 2019. These discussions are tailored to first-year families, but anyone with questions is welcome to attend.

The meetings will be hosted on zoom and we ask that you RSVP if you intend to join us. There will be a short presentation followed by an opportunity for you to ask questions and have them answered by experienced camp directors. The first online Orientation and Q & A will be on Wednesday, May 15th at 7 PM Pacific time. The second event will be on Sunday, June 2nd at 4 PM Pacific.

If you are interested in attending, please RSVP at this link. While you’re there, you can also RSVP for our GAC Parties in Northern and Southern California.

Frames

Episode 38.

On this episode, former camper (and current Head Counselor) Frames joined Soy. They had a great chat about why being a camp counselor is better than taking an internship and what she was most nervous about when she came to camp for the first time at eight years old. There’s also a great oceanic Joke of the Cast and we learn all about Frames’ dog’s name, which Soy enjoys more than he should.

The Blessing Of The Least Favorite Activity

A camper sails an RS Q'ba on Huntington Lake California at Gold Arrow Camp

by Audrey “Sunshine” Monke

Wendy Mogel’s best selling book, The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, resonated with me. I can relate much of her message to camp and to my own family. I heard Dr. Mogel speak at a conference several years ago, and she continues to be active in the camp community. Many of our camp parents have heard her speak at school parenting events or have read her book. If you haven’t had a chance to read The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, I highly recommend it. In addition to sharing about the importance of letting our kids take healthy risks, and not always rescuing them from failure, Mogel gives many other valuable insights. She has recognized the value of camp experiences in the development of emotionally healthy kids, as you can read in the article “Camp Blessings” on her website.

A question I often get asked, especially by kids who haven’t yet been to GAC, is “What if I don’t want to do an activity?” Sometimes it starts with a statement, “I don’t like horses. Do I have to do that activity?”

My short answer is, “You won’t be forced to do any activities, but you will still go with your group, and you will be encouraged to try.”

I think there are three main reasons kids don’t want to do a particular activity, and they are the same reasons why adults often choose to forgo some recreational options:

1.  A previous negative experience with the activity, usually not at camp and not with experienced instructors.

A camper at Gold Arrow Camp falls off of a wake skate during a specialty summer camp on Shaver Lake in California

Falling off a horse, being dragged behind a ski boat and not getting up, or getting lost on a hike are all examples of negative experiences that make a person naturally inclined not to want to try again.

2.  Fear!

Fear of being humiliated. Fear of failure. Fear of heights.  Fear of deep lake water.  Fear of rocks.  Fear of going to the bathroom in the woods. Fear of getting hurt. The list goes on and on.

3.  Based on their perception of themselves or their past successes/failures, they think they won’t like it.

It’s not in their normal repertoire of things they like and/or are good at.

A camper at Gold Arrow Camp practices vaulting on a horse at a summer camp in California

I’m sure there are other reasons for kids to not want to do an activity, but these are three that readily come to mind from what campers have told me over the years. Interestingly, the reasons kids don’t want to do an activity are the very reason for trying the activity may be the best thing that happens at camp for that camper.

If a child doesn’t want to do an activity because of a previous negative activity, trying it at camp could lead to either a changed mind (and a new activity they like) or, at the very least, a not-as-negative experience to remember.

If a camper doesn’t want to do an activity because of fear, then trying the activity could be the most life-changing Campers work together to cross a high ropes course at Gold Arrow Camp in Californiaevent that occurs for that camper during their camp stay. Overcoming fears and challenging oneself to attempt something that seems impossible can lead to great feelings of accomplishment and improved confidence. With the support and encouragement from cabin mates and counselors, campers feel on top of the world after successfully trying something they feared.  For the camper with a fear of heights, climbing half-way up the ladder on the high ropes course will be celebrated as a huge accomplishment, and one that can make him/her proud. This is an example of something hard that leads to something good, a theme that Dr. Mogel stresses. The camp environment offers a supportive place for kids to learn how to overcome fears and accomplish things they didn’t think were possible.

If a camper doesn’t want to do an activity because they don’t think they’ll like it based on their preferences or perception of themselves, trying something different offers an opportunity for expanded confidence. A camper who sees himself as non-athletic and more adept at target sports may shy away from the more physical activities, yet trying and accomplishing them could change his perception of himself in a positive way. A camper who likes shopping and clothes and sees herself as not an “outdoorsy” kind of person may dread going on a backpacking trip. Yet, the experience of cooking and sleeping outdoors could lead to an expanded view of herself and an appreciation for the many different facets of a personality. Sometimes, the activity a camper thought would be their least favorite becomes a favorite!

So, when a camper tells us all the reasons why they “don’t want to” or “can’t” do an activity this summer, we will continue to encourage them to “give it a try,” because we know the hidden blessings in the least favorite activity.

Messages For An Anxious Camper

A camper smiles happily at summer camp while looking through a cargo net

Read more of Sunshine’s camp-related posts at her website, Sunshine Parenting.

“Children want to be independent, and they realize that they cannot be truly independent until they beat homesickness, even when they have a painful case of it.”
– Michael Thompson, PhD., Homesick and Happy

Recently I spoke with a mom whose 11-year-old son is coming to camp in a few days.  He’s nervous.  He had a negative experience at a one-week science camp.  He doesn’t think he can “make it for two weeks” and is worried he’ll be too homesick to make it at camp.   I chatted with the mom and gave her some key messages to communicate to her son.  She asked for them in bullet points in an email, and I thought there are probably others who might benefit from this same list, so I’m sharing this with anyone who has a child suffering from pre-camp anxiety.

Before I share my list, let me say that if you are not a camp proponent and don’t plan on sending your child to camp, you should probably not read any further.  I am a huge supporter of camp and recently had a JC (Junior Counselor) tell me that “Camp made her who she is today.”  So, I think that camp is a great thing for building kids’ independence and confidence.  I have also seen many kids work through some pretty painful emotions at camp, so I know that camp is not easy for all kids.

A summer camp camper gives two thumbs up on a backpacking tripWe have 7-year-olds at our camp who do great during our two-week sessions.   They are the ones who’ve begged their parents to let them come to camp and generally have older siblings who’ve attended camp. I also talk to a lot of parents with older kids who “aren’t sure if they’re ready for camp.” One thing I’ve learned after close to three decades at camp is that the same kids who are anxious and hesitant about going to camp when they’re nine or ten will still be anxious when they’re 13.  And they may not be interested in going away to college when they’re 18, either.

So, as a parent, you need to decide how to approach your child’s separation anxiety, as well as your own.  You can avoid it and not send them to camp and hope that they develop independence in other ways, which is definitely possible.  Or, you can bite the bullet, give them these positive messages, and send them off to camp with a smile, knowing that it may be hard for them, but they will grow from the experience.

Smiling campers pose at a summer camp in front of a covered wagon

In Michael Thompson, PhD.’s book Homesick and Happy, he says “It is the very challenge of camp that makes it such a life-changing experience for so many children.”  I know there are many parents and children who just can’t stomach the idea of going through some painful time apart.  Again, you need not read further if you are not sending your reluctant child to camp.

This post is for those of you who have decided that your child is going to camp, and especially for those of you who had a previously excited camper who is now having last-minute camp anxiety.   Here are some messages you can give prior to dropping your camper at the bus or at camp.  Pick and choose, and of course, use your own words, but acknowledge your child’s feelings and empathize with them while holding firm in your confidence in their ability to succeed and your belief that camp will be good for them.

Two campers in life jackets smile on a ski boat at an American summer camp

Without further ado, here are some messages to give to your anxious camper:

A group of backpackers looks at a mountain lake in the high sierra
Looking at a mountain lake

In Homesick and Happy, Thompson says, “Homesickness is not a psychiatric illness.  It is not a disorder.  It is the natural, inevitable consequence of leaving home.  Every child is going to feel it, more or less, sooner or later.  Every adult has had to face it and overcome it at some point in life … If you cannot master it, you cannot leave home.”

Campers smile for the camera at summer camp in California

I would like to note that you do not need to use all of these messages but instead choose the ones you think will resonate most with your child.  What’s most important is that you express confidence in your child and in the camp experience.    These same messages would be great as responses to a sad letter you receive from your camper.

I always tell the kids that the fun and happy feelings at camp usually far outweigh any sad feelings.  Many kids tell me they “don’t feel homesick at all,” but there are some who struggle, especially during their first summer.  Those kids seem to grow the most and feel the most pride in their accomplishment of staying at camp.   If you are feeling worried about how your child will do at camp, know that you are giving your child a precious gift by allowing them this special time where they get to grow their wings.