Author Archives: Andrew Moeschberger

Do Camp Experiences Improve Academic Performance?

Camp Director (and former high school teacher) Andy “Soy” Moeschberger

By Andy “Soy” Moeschberger

In all probability the educationist of the year 2000 AD will look back upon us and wonder why we, the school people of 1938, failed to include the camp as an integral unit of our educational system.
– The Kappan Magazine, the official magazine of Phi Delta Kappa – 1938

If you ever have the opportunity to visit us at camp, you’ll have the opportunity to sing the GAC Song. While many people love the “wadda-ing” that takes place in the chorus, my favorite part comes in the final verse. We sing, “I sure did learn much more here than I ever did at school.”

My love of this line comes from my teaching before I came to work for Gold Arrow full time; I was a high school social science teacher for 14 years.

It may seem odd that a teacher would love a line about learning more at camp that we did at school. But I do, because camp and school operate symbiotically. While those of us in camping and education have known this anecdotally for many years, there is an increasing body of evidence that supports that belief with data. 

Some of that research has been supported by the American Camping Association, and I was privileged to hear one of the leaders in the field, Lance W. Ozier Ed.D. speak on this at a recent conference. He has written on the history of camps and schools (you can read it here). In that article, Dr. Ozier lays out the reasons that camp blossomed in America after the Civil War. As people moved to the cities, adults began to worry that their children were losing touch with nature, and so they sent them to live in nature. How familiar does that refrain sound to us today? 

And yet the challenges for young people are even greater now than they were then. The rise of computers, social media and cell phones have had as great a social impact as urbanization a hundred years ago. Today, camp serves not just as a way to reengage children with nature, but as a way to help them learn vital social skills in a systematic way. We are fortunate that one of our camp owners and directors, Audrey “Sunshine” Monke, has studied the impact of camp on building social skills.  Her research shows that a significant majority of campers report having improved social skills because of camp. She believes that this is because camp counselors are specifically trained in helping campers to improve skills like making friends and listening to others. 

It isn’t just Sunshine that has found these results. According to research conducted by the American Camp Association, campers and their parents report that campers have more social skills, higher self esteem, and more independence.When a child returns to school more comfortable socially, they have more confidence, and are more likely to sit up front, ask questions, ignore distractions and choose a seat near the front. When they do that, they are setting themselves up for more academic success.

But wait, there’s more! Camp also provides an opportunity for children to struggle in a safe and supporting environment. Sunshine has written about this as well. That post is about Growing Grit, a concept that has been moved into the public discussion about education by Angela Duckworth’s research. We think that grit is so important we made it our theme for an entire summer! But there is increasing research that shows how struggling actually changes the way the brain grows. This research in neuroplasticity shows that the brain grows much more when it is engaged in something difficult. So every time a camper tries to waterski another time, or climbs the rock wall, their brains are growing! 

(Interestingly, that same research shows that the brain also grows more and stronger synapses, in mice at least, when they are allowed to roam openly in nature.)

None of this is news to people who send their kids to camp, or those of us who work at camp. We can see anecdotally that kids are more confident and more “alive” after camp. But this research simply confirms what so many educational researchers knew in the early 1900s: going to camp when you’re not in school will help your education. 

Related Posts:

Research Finds Kids Learn Social Skills at Camp

How Camp Teaches 21st Century Skills

Visit Sunshine Parenting for more of Sunshine’s articles about the benefits of summer camp, children’s social skills, and parenting.

Meet Your 2017 Head Counselors!

Head Counselors provide leadership and support for our counselors and campers and make sure each camper is having a fantastic experience at GAC. Each Head Counselor has five to seven cabin groups with whom they work closely. On the first evening of camp, Head Counselors stop by each of their cabin groups’ campfires to introduce themselves and let campers know that they are someone campers can always go to if they need anything. Throughout the session, Head Counselors join their cabin groups for meals, activities, and campfires. They also get feedback from campers on evaluations and follow up with campers to make sure they have the best experience possible at GAC.

Our 2017 team of Head Counselors includes an experienced group who bring 49 summers of GAC experience with them to camp. Three of them (Mocha, Punkie, and Wonder) started as campers here at camp!  Because of all their years of experience at camp, Head Counselors are able to assist both campers and counselors with any challenges that come up at camp.

Bambino, Swag, and Wonder

We’re excited to introduce you to our 2017 Head Counselors: Swag, Bambino, Wonder, Punkie, Puddles, and Mocha!

Punkie, Mocha, and Puddles

Swag:

Fort Wayne, Indiana native Collin “Swag” McCracken is excited to be back at GAC for his 5th summer. His favorite part about camp is the kids, and in his spare time he enjoys sports, writing, movies, laughing, adventures, camping, and traveling. Swag has been a group counselor and has hosted morning assembly for several years. 

Bambino:

Tyler “Bambino” Munoz joins us for his 3rd summer in the Sierras this year. Last year, as a group counselor in Cabin 28, he introduced camp to The Energy Bus, which we adopted as our camp-wide theme for this summer! He’s really looking forward to connecting with campers this summer. When he isn’t passing out tickets to get on his energy bus, Bambino is a Teaching Assistant at California State University, Fresno (Kinesiology) who enjoys Sports, reading, exploring the outdoors, talking to others, and hanging out at the beach.

Wonder:

Stevie “Wonder” Goodrich is back at Gold Arrow for the 12th summer this year. His favorite part about working at camp is watching the kids grow and change from year to year (though sleeping under the stars comes in a close second!). Wonder just graduated from USC and is starting at UCLA’s School of Law in August. He enjoys hiking, rollerblading, spontaneous adventures, and watching movies.

Punkie:

Paige “Punkie” Mueller is a student photographer who enjoys painting, photography, hammocking, and running when she’s not at camp. This is her 11th year at GAC, and she keeps coming back because she loves that she can be herself while helping others grow in their abilities, strengths, and pursue their passions.

Puddles:

Lynsi “Puddles” Nauman comes to the high Sierra from the midwest, where she is a student at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. At camp she enjoys stand-up paddle boarding, canyoneering, and sailing. When she’s back at school, her hobbies include hiking, biking, and learning about personality types. She’s really excited to be at camp because she gets to meet and get to know campers and counselors from all over the country and the world!

Mocha:

Meredith “Mocha” Monke has been spending her summers at GAC for as long as she can remember, literally. The daughter of directors Steve and Audrey Monke, Mocha has been at camp since 1996. For the past few summers, Mocha has been a group counselor with younger campers. She recently graduated from Westmont College with a degree in English. She served as an RA (Resident Assistant) and writing tutor. One of Mocha’s favorite parts of camp is reading aloud to campers. Recently, her favorite read aloud book has been Wonder.

We are thrilled to welcome such an experienced group to lead our 2017 campers and counselors!

Ep. 17 – Delta

Ep. 17 

On Episode 17 of the GAC Pog-cast, Soy is joined by longtime GAC staffer Delta. He and Delta chat about what she’s doing while she’s not at camp, how she brings camp into her classroom and what keeps Delta coming back to camp. 

Of course, there’s a Joke of the Cast (it features a wedding in space!) and the inspiring words of Roald Dahl in a GACspiration. 

Ep. 16 – Henry Yeary

Episode 16

On episode 16 of the GAC Pog-Cast, Sunshine talks with long-time camper and Junior Counselor Henry Yeary. Henry has some great insights into what makes the Junior Counselor (JC) program good for teens, as well as thoughts about taking a gap year before college and why he lives the flip phone life. Soy drops in with a joke of the cast that vampires will enjoy as well as a GACspiration from John Muir. 

Ep. 15 – Swag

Episode 15 .

On episode 15 of the Gold Arrow Camp Pog-Cast, Soy is joined by head counselor, morning assembly MC, and disc golf living legend Swag. They talk about vulnerability, Swag’s favorite activity, and Swag’s favorite salad bar item. (It rhymes with “smacon”). Of course, there’s a joke of the ‘cast as well as a GACspiration. If you’d like to make a submission of a poem or a wow for the Pog-Cast, email us at wow@goldarrowcamp.com. We’d love to hear from you!

5 Life Skills Teens Get on OLC (Outdoor Leadership Course)

By the end of high school, teens need to have mastered more skills than just reading, writing and math to be successful, thriving adults.

Gold Arrow Camp’s Outdoor Leadership Course (OLC) helps campers develop important life skills that stretch them far beyond academics: Leadership, Independence, Communication Skills, Resilience, and Responsibility.

The OLC is a two-week program for young people interested in developing important life skills. Trained leaders guide OLC participants on a challenging, six-day, 30-mile backpacking trip into the High Sierras. Throughout the session, campers develop backcountry navigational and survival skills, practice wilderness first aid skills, and participate in GAC activities.

The purpose of OLC is to challenge teens to learn and grow in self-awareness, develop maturity, discover the value of community and working with others to solve problems and accomplish shared objectives. While growing and learning, participants develop five skills vital for success: Leadership, Independence, Communication Skills, Resilience, and Responsibility.

1. Leadership

“Being a part of OLC has influenced my life after camp because it taught me how to be a leader and being a part of a high school swim team, being a leader is a big part of staying together as a team.” – Sophia, OLC Participant

After arriving at camp, OLC participants receive leadership training before departing on the backpacking trip. They do exercises in team building, learn conflict resolution techniques, and practice positive communication. While in the wilderness, campers have the opportunity to learn and practice map and compass navigation, outdoor cooking, Leave No Trace principles and ethics, sustainable backcountry living, and wildlife biology.

All OLC participants serve as “Leader of the Day,” which means they use navigational skills to determine which path to take, when to stop for breaks, and what to do about any situations that arise while hiking. At the end of the day, the “Leader of the Day” receives feedback from trip leaders and peers.

 

2. Independence

Achieving independence is essential to making the transition to adulthood, and participating in challenging outdoor program with other teens is a perfect way to develop the self efficacy needed to feel confident away from home. The hard skills learned during the OLC — navigation, outdoor cooking, wilderness first aid, camping, and hiking —  require independence, curiosity, and creative problem solving.

 

3. Communication Skills

“I really enjoyed getting to discover myself in the woods, thinking and hiking and communicating with my fellow campers.” – Blake, OLC Participant

Effective communication is arguably the most important of all life skills. Trained trip leaders use positive guidance to facilitate reflection, dialogue and group
discussion throughout the program. Leaders encourage campers to think about what happened that day, what their successes and challenges were, and how to grow from those experiences. At the end of the course, all OLC participants have improved communication skills with peers and counselors.

 

4. Resilience 

Research shows that wilderness courses are well-suited to teach outdoor skills, self-confidence in general and confidence during adversity. Participation in an outdoor leadership program have a positive impact on emotional intelligence, specifically on stress management and adaptability. All OLC participants set personal and group goals before leaving on the backpacking portion of the course and work to accomplish those goals throughout the session with the help, direction, and encouragement of trip leaders. 

A multi-day backpacking trip through the rugged terrain of the High Sierra has days that tax participants both mentally and physically. In the Outdoor Leadership Course, teens learn to push through challenges through encouragement from their trip leaders, supportive group dynamics, and building their self leadership. While surrounded by their peers, they learn just how far they can push themselves. They learn, literally, that they can climb mountains. After their OLC accomplishments, finding a way to make it to sports practice or finishing up a college admissions essay seem easy. 

 

5. Responsibility

OLC participants are responsible for managing their equipment, completing tasks carefully and on time, admitting their role in mistakes, and working to correct those mistakes. The OLC equips campers to take the initiative to make their own decisions, fulfill obligations, and grow from their experiences. 

In addition to the skills OLC participants learn and the growth they experience from the program, there is something else that too many teens don’t have the time to find; genuine face to face FUN!

“What I enjoyed about the OLC was that everyday was different, some days we would do longer hikes, and others we would have lot of time to relax and the enjoy the people and scenery. One of my favorite days out in the backcountry was when when we hiked about 5 miles and then hung out in a river for the rest of the afternoon, and then made quesadillas for dinner. The food was always amazing, and there was always plenty to eat. My favorite lunch was probably Nutella and English muffins. We had a lot of Nutella.” – Charlotte, OLC Participant

If you have any questions or would like to know more, visit the Outdoor Leadership Course page, email us, or give us a call at 1-800-554-2267 ex. 0.

Read more at Sunshine Parenting:
Five Reasons Every Teen Should go to Summer Camp
“Ready for Adulthood” Checklist

Ep. 14 – Joss McGrath

Episode 14.

On this episode, Soy is joined by veteran camper Joss McGrath, who shares her thoughts on food at camp, what to pack, her favorite activities and favorite counselor. She also has advice about being homesick and making friends at camp. Soy plays guitar and has the Joke of the Cast and Sunshine delivers a GACspiration.  

Ep. 13 – Nash

Epiosde 13 of the Pog-cast

On Episode 13, Soy talks with Nash about ultimate frisbee, staying positive on the trail, and experiencing the Perseid meteor shower in the wilderness. There’s also a magical joke of the cast, WOWs, and a GACspiration. As always, you can submit WOWs to wow@goldarrowcamp.com

Ep. 12 – Bambino

Episode 12.

On Episode 12, Soy is joined by Bambino, and they talk about the theme for 2017, Hop on the Energy Bus. Bambino is the man who brought the Energy Bus to camp in the first place, and he shares about his experience sharing the book with 13 and 14 year old boys. There’s also a Joke of the Cast, TSwift, and Soy reads WOWs and a haiku. As always, you can send suggestions or WOWs to wow@goldarrowcamp.com  

The Transformational Power Of Camp

By Audrey “Sunshine” Monke.

“You’re sending Chase to camp for TWO WEEKS?”

Shock is a common response parents get when discussing sending their child to sleep-away camp.
They often face criticism for allowing their young child out from under their direct supervision. In this over-involved parenting age, the thought of allowing an eight year old to go away to camp for two weeks is incomprehensible to many parents. What “non-camp” parents don’t understand is that allowing your child to have a camp experience is a gift that has positive, life-long benefits beyond learning how to sail or rock climb. Camp parents aren’t bad parents who “send their children away.” They are parents who see the value in letting their children have an experience that enriches their childhood.

Parents who went to traditional summer camps as children themselves are more likely to send their children to camp compared to other parents. Many of these parents still keep in touch with camp friends and worked as camp counselors during college. They understand the life-long benefits they gained from their camp experiences and want the same thing for their kids. Experienced camp parents need not read further. This article is for parents who want to know why many families choose to send their children to sleep away camp.

A Taste of Independence

Being super-involved with our children and always being in constant communication with them has become something modern parents brag about. But when do we start letting go and giving our kids a chance to feel independent from us? With cell phones attached at our (and their) hips, our children are in constant communication with us. Forgot their lunch? A friend says something mean? Stubbed their toe? We know right away and swoop in to rescue them.

Intuitively, we know that it’s better to let our kids deal with consequences from their mistakes, face some problems on their own, and get through the day without us, but it’s SO HARD to let them. We feel fortunate to have a close relationship with our child and we don’t want to jeopardize that relationship by turning off our phone or saying “no.” It’s difficult to let them face a problem or bad day at school on their own. Unfortunately, we are setting our kids up for much more difficulty later in life if we don’t start letting them have some independence when they are younger.

Camp experiences at younger ages may help children adjust to later independent experiences, including college. A Stanford Magazine (May/June, 2009) article called “Students on the Edge” published results of research on the psychological health of current University students:
“Unlike previous generations, young people often speak with their parents several times a day. And while family closeness is usually a positive force, it can come with a downside. Administrators at Stanford and elsewhere describe a level of parental involvement that often limits choices and has altered the cultural norms of college life. That includes parents who insist on choosing their child’s area of study and then show up to negotiate his or her salary after graduation.”

Sleep away camps, especially those that do not allow cell phones and phone calls, offer a great opportunity for kids to develop independence in a supportive, safe setting away from their parents. Some parents today think that it’s a comforting thought that their child may end up living with them, or at least calling every day, well into adulthood. Most of us know, however, that when you truly love your children and want the best for them, you need to give them more freedom, responsibilities, and independence as they grow through their different stages of childhood and into adulthood.

These words of a first-time sleep away camp family from the summer of 2016 are especially poignant:

“Our daughter came to us with the idea of sleepaway summer camp. We weren’t completely sold on the idea, having never done camp as kids ourselves. But, she researched camps, fell in love with GAC, and sold us on how great it would be. Having gone through the process now, we agree that GAC is great! It gave our daughter an opportunity to try new things in a new environment, break expectations (her own and others’) and to just be a kid without the worries and complications that kids have in their day to day lives.”

First-time camp experiences are much harder on parents than they are on kids. The relief parents feel when they see their child after a camp stay is palpable, and the amazement at their child’s growth is an equally strong emotion. The independence kids experience at camp can open their eyes to many new dreams and opportunities, and may lead to them feeling more confident about pursuing schools, travels, and adventures further from home. Although it’s hard to let kids go, the words of singer Mark Harris sum up what most parents dream of for their children:

“It’s not living if you don’t reach for the sky. I’ll have tears as you take off, but I’ll cheer you as you fly.”

Read more of Sunshine’s writing about summer camp and parenting at Sunshine Parenting.