Author Archives: Audrey Monke

The Gift of Handwritten Letters

by Audrey “Sunshine” Monke, Camp Director

Recently, I’ve been going through the many boxes of letters, photos, and memorabilia which I have collected over my first five decades. It’s been a time-consuming task, but I’m trying to organize into a smaller number of boxes what has been accumulated over the first half of my life.  What has struck me most is the huge number of letters I amassed from my childhood, high school, and college friends. Until this week, I didn’t remember how much we corresponded, but I just finished going through hundreds of letters.  I now have proof of the many friendships that were solidified over hours of writing to one another.

I mostly have the ones written to me, but I can assume from the “Thanks for your letter”s that I was writing at the same rate as my friends were. Maybe some of my letters are in a box out there somewhere?

Not only was there a huge volume of letters (see picture), some of the letters were ten pages long, with tiny writing. Others were short notes or fun greeting cards. Most of them were in beautiful, cursive writing, even some from boys!  What an amazing thing to think about. Back then, without the distractions we all have today, we had TIME to write letters like that!  Plus, we enjoyed it and were good at it!  We wrote letters, because often long distance phone calls were too expensive.  Many of us traveled and studied overseas, so the letters chronicle our trips.

The process of trying to get rid of most of this paper required that I at least skim through each one. I pulled out many that I simply can’t bear to throw away.  I found letters from my late grandparents, with their words of wisdom. I found letters my parents had written to me over the years.  I also found letters from friends showing major teen angst, which is a good reminder now that I have teens of my own. We weren’t that different back then after all! It’s just that we didn’t splash our anger and sadness at each other on Facebook. We wrote each other heart-felt notes.G-2589

One thing I realized is that my kids will not have a big box of letters like mine. They don’t write letters like we did in the pre-computer, pre-email, pre-social networking, pre-cell phone era.  But then I had a revelation! They DO still get to send and receive letters.  It’s when they’re at camp!  I have told parents how much campers enjoy getting “real” mail while at camp (the kind with a stamp), but now I have realized another benefit – they will have these letters as keepsakes and memories of their childhood. And you, as parents, most definitely should save all of the letters you get from your camper!

Among my box, I came across a postcard I sent to my parents in 1977, when I was a camper at Gold Arrow Camp. This is what it said:

My postcard home from camp, 1977.

“Dear Mommy,

I think it’s mean that you have to write a letter to get into dinner, but I’m glad to write a letter to you because I love you. It’s been raining since we got here. But we still went horseback riding. I wrote a letter to daddy this morning and sent it. Camp is so fun. I can’t wait to tell you. My counslers name is Liz. She’s nice.

Love, Audrey”

Let me tell you, we have gotten some good laughs in our house over this postcard. Not just about how I spelled “counselor,” but about my comment about the “Mail Meal” (dinners on Wednesday and Sunday that you need to have a letter or postcard home as your ticket in). The dreaded “Mail Meal” has been a camp tradition for as long as anyone can remember, but I didn’t even remember thinking it was a bad thing.  My adult view is much different than my ten year old one! I now understand how much parents need those letters.  I hope most kids get beyond the “I have to write this letter” part, and share some of their feelings and memories of camp. The resulting memorabilia will be priceless.

So, here’s to another benefit of camp I’ve only this week realized. We have the chance for our kids to experience the (almost) lost art of writing and receiving hand written letters. And you, as a parent, have a chance to write down words that your child will be able to read and keep long beyond any email you’ve sent them!

P.S.  Did you see this hilarious book?  P.S. I Hate it Here:  Letters from Camp  Some really funny, real letters kids wrote to their parents from camps.

Fun Ideas for Letters to Campers

5 Fun Ideas for Letters to Campers

5 Fun Ideas for Letters to CampersBy Audrey “Sunshine” Monke, Camp Director
Originally published at Sunshine Parenting

Because we’re not in the habit of writing letters to our kids much these days – with brief texts being the primary form of written communication between us – it can be challenging to come up with what to write to our campers. This is especially true when you’re writing more letters than you’re receiving, which will most likely be the case, because while your child is busy at camp, you will be at your home or office glued to your computer, looking at photos of the fun they’re having.

To keep letters fun and entertaining for your camper, here are some creative ideas:

1. Create a “fill-in-the-blanks” response letter

Especially for younger campers (or for kids who think writing is torture), make it easy for them to send you news without having to worry about writer’s block or grammar. Create a funny, fill-in-the-blanks response letter for them, or choose something from one of these websites:postcard

Joy in the Works (free printables)

Fine Stationery (fill-in-the-blank pad to purchase)

Another easy, fun idea is to provide a small return postcard with something like, “The fun things I could be doing right now instead of writing home:” and provide three blank spaces.

Include the fill-in-the-blanks letter with a self-addressed stamped envelope. Ideally, your camper will take 60 seconds from their fun to complete the blanks and send it back! However, I offer no guarantees.

2. Provide a “Top 10” List (à la David Letterman

You can create your own Top 10 list and provide an entertaining letter to your camper, or you can try one of these:

  • Top 10 Foods We’ve Been Eating While You’re at Camp (and include some really gross sounding stuff)
  • Top 10 Parent Activities While You’ve Been at Camp (include items like cleaning out closets, fumigating the house, repainting the garage)
  • Top 10 Reasons to go to Camp (don’t have to do dishes, clean room, listen to mom nagging about getting off Xbox, etc.)
  • Top 10 Events at Home this Week (include boring stuff like dusting, toilet cleaning, eating leftovers)

3. Write a letter from a pet or favorite toy

Mix it up by writing a letter from the perspective of your family dog, a stuffed animal, your camper’s blanket, or some sports item (skate board, bike, etc.)

4. Make up a story about a picture you’ve seen of them

Why not think up a funny story to go along with a picture you’ve seen of your camper on the camp’s website?

“I saw you climbing up a huge wall at camp. I’m guessing that you were escaping from the camp cook who was trying to make you eat Brussels sprouts?”

5. Have everyone in the family write a “warm fuzzy” for your camper

This is always such a great activity – even when your child isn’t at camp. But camp is an especially good time to think about what you love about your camper. Get each family member who’s still at home to write a sentence or two about what they love about your camper. You could even collect sentences via email from grandparents and extended family. What camper wouldn’t love to hear how much they are loved and appreciated?

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Postcard from camp to my parents, 1977

Have fun writing letters to your camper, and enjoy the hand-written letters you’ll get in return. You’ll want to save those forever!

Here are some additional letter-writing tips:

Make an envelope out of their favorite magazine, a sports article from the newspaper, or something else fun or colorful.

Type the letter in funny fonts or backwards, or hand write it in a circle or in a bunch of different colors.

Ask simple questions and try to just include one per letter.

Include a joke or riddle

Letters to Camp is a whole blog dedicated to letter-writing ideas! Check it out!

Visit Sunshine Parenting or follow Sunshine on Facebook or Pinterest for links to other articles and ideas about camp and parenting. 

Related:

Hand Written Letters; sunshine-parenting.com

 

Messages for an Anxious Camper

By Audrey “Sunshine” Monke, Camp Director

“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.

We 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.

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.

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

  • Let them know that missing home is okay.  “You may feel homesick, and that’s okay.  A lot of kids feel that way. That just means that you love us and you love home. I feel homesick when I’m on trips, too. Missing home is part of life. But I know you can still have fun at camp, even if you feel sad sometimes.”
  • Reassure them that there are people at camp who will take care of their needs. “There are adults at camp (counselors, directors) who are there to take care of you and help you with anything you need.  They can help with things you normally come to me about.  Let them know if you are feeling sad, and they can help you.  They have lots of experience working with kids who are away from home for the first time.”
  • Talk with your child honestly about the importance of starting to develop some independence.   Something along the lines of:  “It may seem like a long way off, but in a few years, you’ll be ready for college.  I want you to feel confident in your ability to live away from me, so that you can choose any school you like, even if it’s far away from home.  Think of camp like your practice time for when you’re older and ready to move away for school or a job.  You’ll get better at being independent by starting now, when you’re young, with short spurts of time away.  Some kids aren’t doing well when they start college because they don’t have any experience being away from home.  I want you to feel great when you go to college, because you’ll know that you’ve already been successful with short camp stays.”
  • Share the reality that many good things in life come with some pain and failure.  If you have a story from your own life of something that you had to work hard at or had to go through difficulties in order to master, this is a great time to share.   Something along the lines of, “Many good things in life aren’t easy at first.  Learning a new sport or trying something new is really hard.   Sometimes you have to get out of your comfort zone to discover something you really love.  If you never go through anything hard, you’re going to miss out on some great experiences.  The first few days of camp may be hard, and that’s okay.  I know you’ll work through it and figure out what makes you feel better.  I have confidence in you, and I am so proud of you for going to camp and trying this new adventure!
  • Let them know that you are confident in them.  “I am so excited that you get to go to camp this year.  I know it’s going to be such a great experience for you and that you are ready for this.”   If you went to camp, share with your camper what you liked about it and how you grew from the experience.
  • Make sure they know you want to hear about everything.  “Every day comes with its good and bad parts.  When you’re at camp, I want you to write me letters and tell me all of the stuff that you’re doing and feeling.  If you feel homesick at rest time, tell me about it, and also tell me what you did to help yourself.  Did you talk to your counselor?  Keep yourself busy playing cards with friends?  Write me a letter?  I also want you to share good stuff.  Did you get your favorite food for lunch?  Try rock climbing?  Get up on a knee board?  I want to hear both the good and bad things about camp in your letters.”
  • If your camper asks you if you will pick him up if he’s sad, you need to let him know that you are not going to pick him up early.  “Even if you’re a little homesick for the whole time you’re at camp, you’re going to feel so much better about the experience if you stick it out and make the best of it.  Most kids feel better after a few days of getting settled in and adjusted, and I know you’ll feel great once you let yourself relax and just start enjoying all the fun things at camp.  I’m not going to pick you up early, no matter what, because I know you will feel really proud of yourself for making it through camp, even if you have some hard days.”

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.”

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.

Related articles

Why Kids Need to Get Uncomfortable

By Audrey “Sunshine” Monke, Camp Director

Taking risks and trying new things – both of which can feel very uncomfortable – are daily occurrences at GAC. Campers are challenged to get outside their comfort zone, both physically and mentally. And in that “discomfort zone,” growth happens.

Physically, we live in tents, without electricity, and sleep in our sleeping bags on sometimes-squeeky, army-style bunks. We hike down a path to get to the bathroom, and we use flashlights to find our PJs. Camp doesn’t have many of the comforts of home, but in our rustic living we discover that we can live – very happily – without the luxuries of our own bathroom and a feather-top mattress!

Mentally, we get outside our comfort zone when we try something that we’ve never tried before. Sometimes we have to climb up really high or jump into a lake.   We try things that we don’t think we’ll be good at. We try things that are a little scary. We say, “I can” to ourselves and listen to our counselors and cabin mates encouragement. We say “Hit it!” to the boat driver and get up on water skiis for the first time. And our discomfort and fear turns to pride and confidence! And, we gain a new willingness to take risks and try new things in other settings.

We want campers to feel comfortable and at home, but we also know that campers will also feel uncomfortable at times. And It’s from those moments that campers will grow and learn the most!

Following is an excerpt from my post Why Kids Need to Get Uncomfortable, originally published at Sunshine Parenting:

“We regularly witness varying levels of discomfort at camp. Parents may receive a sad, homesick letter from their camper detailing how uncomfortable, miserable, and sad their camper is feeling. It’s difficult for parents to know how to respond, and the natural instinct may be to jump in the car and rush up the mountain to save their camper from this discomfort.

But, as I’ve learned over my three decades at camp, the “saving” never turns out to be as helpful as it may seem. In fact, when struggling campers are saved rather than having to face the challenges of camp, they learn their parents don’t think they can handle discomfort, and in turn they lose a little faith in themselves; on top of being miserable, they now feel incompetent.

How can we best help our kids develop into adults who persevere and can handle life’s inevitable setbacks?

We must learn to coach our children to tolerate their discomfort”. Read more of “Why Kids Need to Get Uncomfortable.

The Dutch Connection

The GAC 2017 Dutch Staff

The Dutch Connection - Gold Arrow CampIt’s a human-interest story that spans nearly 25 years and has at its epicenter the small Dutch city of Woerden, which beyond its city proper is a land of mostly meadows and farms on the banks of the Old Rhine River in central Netherlands. Woerden boasts a population of some 50,000 people, most of whom ride bikes, eat poffertjes (tiny sweet pancakes with butter and sugared icing), and commute by train to jobs in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and The Hague. Woerden has a windmill (“De Windhond”) in the city center and its own castle (the Castle of Woerden, built in 1410 by Duke John the Pitiless). The city has a long and rich history of cheesemaking and trading, with an established international market for its Gouda. In fact, not far from De Windhond in the city center, cheesemakers still sell product in the marketplace, where they have done so since 1885.

Woerden

The Singel, Woerden, The Netherlands

Not so longstanding is Woerden’s connection to Gold Arrow Camp. Over the last two-plus decades, the city has been the source of several top-notch counselors—nine, to be exact—cementing its place in camp history as a Gold Arrow “sister city” and trusted pipeline for hard-working, friendly, and reliable staff.

Dutchie-2-

Dutchie, 1995

The Woerden Legacy starts with Wendy “Dutchie” Kuiters, who came to Gold Arrow in the summer of 1993 after responding to a flier left in her college mail slot. Dutchie recalls having to write a letter about herself then stapling a picture to it before sending it to a recruiter. Back then, her packet circulated via U.S. Mail to camp directors seeking international staff. Thankfully, Gold Arrow nabbed her first, hiring the flying Dutchwoman to teach windsurfing at Huntington Lake where she became a mainstay on the Gold Arrow waterfront in the 1990s.

At home in Woerden, Dutchie had started a career in education. She became a master teacher, mentoring other young educators, always keeping an eye out for those who would be a good fit for camp. “I was very selective about who I recommended,” she said. “I felt responsible for whoever I brought.” In 2002, she met Sjaak Vermeulen, a young Dutchman who’d been placed in her classroom. His connection with the children was instant, and Dutchie knew he would be great at Gold Arrow. On her recommendation, Vermeulen applied.

Link-

Link, 2003

The two came to Gold Arrow together in 2003. Dutchie was the Shaver Island Director and Vermeulen, who’d taken the nickname “Link,” worked with the “Bears”—Gold Arrow’s youngest campers. Link’s legacy to Gold Arrow, besides helping bring seven more Woerdeners to camp, was his founding of “Bears Adventure,” a one-night, low-impact hike and campout designed to help young campers transition to longer backpacking trips.

In hindsight, Link had named himself appropriately. In 2007, he brought his younger brother Joris (“Orange”) to Gold Arrow, and since 2008, nine more have followed: Sabrina “Juice” Boere, Anne “Apple” Bouter, Jeroen “Joker” Lamboo, Elvira “Elf” Lok, Bas “Ajax” Eberwijn, Cato “Froggie” Rikkers, Joske “Chiqa” Miedema, and Link’s wife Ilse “Zelda” Vermeulen.

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Link, Sunshine, and Orange near the Woerden Water Tower

In the fall of 2014, Steve “Monkey” and Audrey “Sunshine” Monke visited Woerden so they could see first-hand where all these fine folks called home. Like other locals, they climbed aboard bicycles and pedaled the bucolic countryside, even partaking in a rousing game of Farmersgolf (“Boerengolf” in Dutch), a game invented in the Netherlands in response to costly greens fees there. The game, played with a special club (the club head is in the shape of a wooden shoe) and an oversized (20-cm diameter) ball, requires players to navigate strategic hazards on an otherwise unaltered farm. Live cows and ditches are par for the course as players attempt to hole their ball in a buried bucket with a flagpole beside it. At one point in their lives, Link, Orange, Bloom, and Ajax were all employed by De Boerinn, Woerden’s Farmersgolf club.

Monkey Farm Golf

Monkey ready to go on the 18th hole at Farm Golf

Farm Golf - Sunshine and Link

Sunshine & Link, Farm Golf

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On the ride from Woerden to de Boerinn (Farm Golf)

Farm Golf

de Boerinn

London-01901

Resting after the 9th hole

In 2017, the woman who started it all returned with yet another Woerdener, her 4-year-old daughter Kiki, who one day will be a Gold Arrow camper and perhaps follow in her mother’s (and several others’) footsteps to join the camp staff.

Dutchie and Kiki

Dutchie and Kiki

The future of the Gold Arrow/Woerden alliance is bright, indeed.

Too Much Screen Time? 4 Ways Summer Camp Can Help

By Audrey “Sunshine” Monke, originally published at Sunshine Parenting.

I’ve learned to face my fears, I’ve tried new things, and I have learned that you don’t always need to have your phone or video games.

-Kimberly, Camper

Children between eight and ten years old currently spend nearly eight hours a day on media. Adolescents average nearly eleven hours per day, seven days a week, on screens. The negative impact of this digital lifestyle is evident in kids’ expanding waistlines as well as their growing lack of interest in being outdoors. Now there’s an additional worry about the impact of our kids’ excessive screen use: anxiety.

In a recent NY Times article—Why Are More American Teenagers Than Ever Suffering From Severe Anxiety?Benoit Denizet-Lewis writes, “Anxious kids certainly existed before Instagram, but many of the parents I spoke to worried that their kids’ digital habits—round-the-clock responding to texts, posting to social media, obsessively following the filtered exploits of peers—were partly to blame for their children’s struggles. To my surprise, anxious teenagers tended to agree.”

Anxiety is on the rise—among children, teens, and adults—and our screen time is exacerbating the issue. The problem is not just with teens. Adults are modeling this uber-connected life and experiencing a similar rise in anxiety. Ubiquitous screens are all that this anxious generation has ever experienced, and as parents we can feel powerless to stop devices from overtaking our family’s lives.

Whether sending or receiving SnapChat messages, watching YouTube videos, scrolling on Instagram, playing video games, or taking 100 selfies to find the best angle, our children are inundated with digital input while also feeling pressure to post the “right” things.  The attraction of media is hard to resist, so most of us (including parents) simply succumb to having the near constant presence of our electronics. 

Many of us find it difficult to drag ourselves away from our laptops and smartphones, and often our schedules and lifestyles don’t allow for adequate time to just be outside and enjoy our natural surroundings.  Richard Louv coined the term “Nature Deficit Disorder” in his book Last Child in the Woods to describe the alarming trend of children spending less and less time outdoors.  Whether due to sensational media accounts of lost hikers that have fanned parental fears, or simply a lack of time in over-scheduled lives, children simply aren’t outside playing as much as they used to. Instead, they’re inside on their screens.

I don’t think anyone would debate that we all need to unplug more, but it’s very difficult to actually get kids off their screens, especially now that many schools require devices for course work, and most kids have their own smartphone by middle school.

Earlier this year, I interviewed a mom who gave clear instructions before her twelve-year-old daughter’s birthday slumber party: devices would NOT be allowed. But this mom, unfortunately, is still the exception, not the rule. She lamented that when her kids go to other people’s houses, they complain that all the kids do is play on their devices the entire time. While we can get our kids to turn off and put away screens at home, it’s difficult to monitor them when they’re not at home. And, unfortunately, kids are drawn to homes where screens are not as limited.

While a few weeks at camp is not the only answer to all the screen and anxiety problems, camp experiences can be a great salve for our kids. Breathing fresh air, connecting face-to-face, and not worrying about “likes” and what they’re missing, kids relax and enjoy themselves. And they report feeling happier and less anxious.

Here are four ways summer camp can help with the parenting challenge of too much screen time:

  1. DETOX:
    Just being completely unplugged for a few weeks is a new and refreshing experience for kids—a true digital detox. Because they’re having fun and staying engaged and entertained, they get over their screen addiction quickly. And, because it’s a “cold turkey” approach with no ambiguity (everyone’s following the same rules), campers don’t push back against being unplugged like they do at home.
  2. CHANGED PERSPECTIVE:
    By experiencing screen-free fun and friendships, many campers express a new desire to spend less time on their devices once they return home. Campers and staff have frequently reported examples of providing leadership in asking friends to participate in phone-free times.
  3. APPRECIATION FOR NATURE AND OUTDOOR RECREATION:
    While counting shooting stars, appreciating spectacular views from a hike, or smelling the smoke from their campfire, campers aren’t thinking about their TV, video games, and cell phones. Instead, they are experiencing nature and being truly present with others. Many discover new outdoor activities they enjoy, and they are inspired to spend more time outside and
    in the moment once they return home.
  4. BETTER FACE-TO-FACE FRIENDSHIP SKILLS:
    Social interactions can be difficult, and many kids choose to keep interactions safely behind a screen. At camp, while sharing stories around the campfire and spending quality face-to-face time with new and old friends, campers gain more confidence in their social skills and are more likely to pursue real, face-to-face friendships upon returning home.

Getting kids off their screens — and convincing kids how good it feels to be unplugged — can be a real challenge. Summer camp can help.

Over the summer, I interviewed kids about their camp experiences. The topic of being unplugged came up a lot and the kids had insightful words:

 

Related:

Thoughts on Being 13 (CNN documentary)

Ep. 4: Giving Kids’ Phones a “Vacation”

5 Reasons to Unplug

Why We Need to Unplug to Connect with our Families

10 Reasons Great Parents Choose Summer Camp

Read original post at Sunshine Parenting.

Want an Independent, Self Confident, Resilient Kid? Summer Camp Can Help!

By Audrey “Sunshine” Monke, Camp Director. Originally published at Sunshine Parenting.

While it’s easy to think of ways to teach our kids to do laundry or solve math problems, finding a way to instill important character traits isn’t as simple. The way we model traits we want our children to exhibit has a powerful influence on them, and some traits (kindness, gratitude, and generosity) they learn first and foremost from parents.

But there are other traits best learned through experiences outside the home and beyond the watchful (sometimes too watchful) eyes of parents. Camp experiences offer exactly the kind of experience away from home where children grow important character traits like independence, self-confidence, and grit.

#1 Independence

“Looking back at my life, camp has been the most influential part of it. I can truly say camp is where I developed my independence, gained confidence, and learned what friendship truly means.”
-Lizz

Being hyper-involved and in constant communication with our children has become something modern parents brag about. But when do we start letting go and giving our kids a chance to feel independent? This has become much more challenging in an age where cell phones are always attached to our (and their) hips and tracking apps are ubiquitous. In fact, as parents today we tend to foster dependence even when we’re trying not to. Forgot their lunch? A friend says something mean? Stubbed their toe? We know right away and swoop in to help.

Whether the result of parenting trends or ultra-high levels of physical and digital connectedness, today’s children are much less independent than we were at the same age.  I find it hard to resist editing my son’s paper to make it “just a little bit better” or jumping in to help make his lunch when he’s running late for school. Thirty years ago, we were babysitting infants at age 13.  Today, some of us hire babysitters for our 13-year-olds!

Camp experiences offer the unique opportunity for kids to see how much they can do without us hovering nearby. They build their independence skills because they take more responsibility for themselves and their belongings, make their own decisions, and feel a sense of autonomy. For many kids, camp is the first opportunity they’ve had to experience these things.

#2 Self-Confidence

“Camp has really helped me become more confident with who I am and has helped me try new things. Without camp, I would be too shy to go up to someone and introduce myself. Camp has had a giant impact on my personality, and without it I would be a completely different person.”
-Stephanie

When we tell our kid she’s “great” at something, it’s easy for her to be wary of the praise. We parents are notorious for seeing our kids through rose-colored lenses and thinking they are the greatest at _______ (fill in the blank); our kids know intuitively that our assessment of them, however complimentary, is most likely not accurate or objective.

However, when another respected adult mentor – like a camp counselor! – recognizes a positive trait in our child and points it out, that can have a powerful impact. When someone outside the immediate family recognizes our child’s unique qualities and helps him or her address weaknesses, it can build real self-confidence.

#3 Grit

“I love the encouragement that I got, both from counselors and campers, to try new things all the time. I love that the camp encourages you to do that. The camp atmosphere made me stand out and be unique, in ways that I would have been too embarrassed to try at home.”
-Claire

“Grit” became the new buzzword in education and parenting circles thanks to Paul Tough’s best-selling book, How Children Succeed. Angela Duckworth further cemented the importance of grit, or resilience, in her popular TED talk: Grit, the Power of Passion and Perseverance, and her book, Grit. People with grit have “stick-to-itiveness,” persistence, and resilience, all of which help them work hard and push past difficulties and failures.

We all need some grit. But how do we teach grit to a distinctively non-gritty kid or young adult—one who quits when something gets challenging, who doesn’t want to try anything new or difficult, or who prefers playing endless video games to practicing piano, reading, or some other more useful-seeming skill?

As parents, it’s hard to create experiences that require our children to use grit, but at camp those experiences happen every day. While struggling to climb the rock wall or attempting to get up on water skis for the 12th time, our kids develop their grit muscles in a big way at camp. And, they likely wouldn’t try for as long or as hard if we parents were hovering nearby with our worried expressions. At camp, kids are encouraged to set goals, challenge themselves, and overcome failure again and again. And that develops their grit.

Interrupting the cycle of dependence can only happen when we as parents are willing to encourage our children to develop their independence, self-confidence, and grit, and, though it may seem counter-intuitive, that happens best when we’re not around.

Related/Resources:

Angela Duckworth’s TED Talk: Grit, the Power of Passion and Perseverance

How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, Paul Tough

10 Reasons Great Parents Choose Summer Camp

Too Much Screen Time? 4 Ways Summer Camp Can Help

Read original post at Sunshine Parenting.

2018 Theme: Find a Friend!

Making friends has always been one of our most important camp goals. This summer, we’re taking this goal to a whole new level, with a focus on all aspects of the art and practice of finding, making, and keeping friends.

We’re focusing on celebrating friendship and connection with our 2018 theme – Find a Friend!

Find a Friend

Maybe you’re familiar with the popular smartphone app – Find My Friends – which helps you track the physical locations of your family and friends. While the app is extremely helpful to see where people are, it doesn’t help at all with the face-to-face friendship skills we’ll be practicing at GAC this summer:

  • How to FIND like-minded friends who build us up and make us feel great
  • How to meet new people and MAKE new friends
  • How to BE a good friend to others
  • How to stay connected and KEEP close to your good friends

We’ll be exploring and celebrating friendship all summer long, and we’re excited to go on this Find a Friend journey with our 2018 campers!

FINDing Friends

Finding supportive, caring friends–a “tribe” where you feel a sense of belonging–is a lifelong quest. Sadly, some people never find their “tribe” and the meaning and connection that come from feeling true belonging and acceptance. This summer, we’ll be helping campers figure out where they feel most accepted and happy and help them with strategies for finding great friends who build them up and make them feel good.

 

MAKING Friends

Camp is a great place to make new friends, and counselors focus on helping kids meet and get to know each other through organized discussions and games the moment they arrive at the bus stop. But, in life, we don’t always have a supportive camp counselor to guide us, and there are also some specific skills we’ll learn and practice that will help kids learn how to make friends in other settings that aren’t as friendly as camp:

  • How to introduce yourself to others and introduce friends to each other
  • How to get to know other people through asking questions, listening well, and asking follow-up questions
  • How to lead a discussion or game
  • How to approach a brand new group of people (like at free time!)
  • How to meet, get to know, and include people who seem different from you

BEING a Good Friend

Making friends is a great start to friendship, but for friendships to grow, we need to practice being a good friend.

Some of the friendship skills we’ll focus on at camp this summer include

  • Celebrating each other’s victories
  • Noticing your friends’ moods and responding appropriately: offer comfort when they’re sad or scared or join in their excitement when they’re happy
  • Complimenting your friends (WOWs!): build each other up through verbal and written compliments
  • Addressing issues and resolving conflicts directly with your friend (rather than gossiping, complaining to others)
  • Being aware of the back and forth equality in solid friendships (not always one person being the helper, advisor)
  • Being trustworthy, maintaining your friend’s “vault”
  • Speaking up for yourself AND compromising – sometimes doing the activity your friend wants to do, sometimes you pick.

KEEPING friends

Staying friends for a long time takes effort. For friendships to grow, you need to stay connected and continue being a good friend, even when it’s not convenient or you live far away from each other. Learn about the different ways (outside of social media!) to stay connected with your friends!

We’ll talk about ways to:

  • Reach out regularly with a phone call, text, or – even better — a hand-written note or letter!
  • Get together in person when you can and do things you both like – alternate who picks the activity!

We are thrilled to spend the summer making friends and learning to be a great friend. Can’t wait for you to join us to Find a Friend (actually, many friends!) at GAC 2018!

Friendship Resources:

Watch Soy & Sunshine’s Facebook Live: Making Friends at GAC

10 Friendship Skills Every Kid Needs

Listen to Sunshine Parenting Episode 2: Friendship Skills

Download Sunshine’s 10 Friendship Skills Every Kid Needs ebook

Social Skills Kids Learn at Camp

WOW!

One of the things that is special at camp is the way people put effort into recognizing each other’s accomplishments. There are high fives, congratulatory hugs, and many other ways we build each other up. My favorite way we recognize each other is by writing what we call “WOWs”. 

 

At camp, we have a giant supply of WOW pads, which are available for both campers and staff to use. A WOW pad is a pad of WOW notes. WOW notes are a simple form. When someone, anyone,does something that you appreciate, you can write them a WOW. On the way into the dining porch, there’s a bulletin board that we have dedicated to posting WOWs. It is such a wonderful feeling for campers to look at the board while they’re heading to a meal and to see a heartfelt note recognizing them! It really makes your day to see your name on a handwritten, heartfelt expression of gratitude or congratulations

 

The note may be a recognition of a major accomplishment (“Way to go Megan, you got up on the wakeboard after 3 years of trying!”), congratulations for an act of kindness (“John, I really appreciated you letting borrow my towel at kayaking when I forgot mine.”), or a note of appreciation (“Bean, thank you for being my friend.”). They are a wonderful way for campers to practice recognizing others and to get recognized for the good that they do on a daily basis.

 

Every morning at camp, after breakfast, our Awesomeness Coordinator Cheerio takes that day’s WOWs off of the board and reads some selected WOWs at Morning Assembly. For every WOW that is hung on the board, we add “spirit eggs” to our spirit thermometer. It’s a really nice way to let all of camp see how many WOWs are being written.

 

Why are we sharing all about WOWs? We think that WOWs are a fun part of camp, and we like sharing the fun parts of camp. But more importantly, we’re sharing how we do WOWs because we’re sending some WOWs to you so that you can get into the WOW fun at home!

 

This year, in lieu of a traditional holiday greeting from the Gold Arrow staff, we’re sending you a special set of WOWs to use at home. We’re encouraging you to have WOWs at home like we have WOWs at camp. Each camper will receive a “Friends and Family” WOW pad. It has a magnet on the back so that you can hang it somewhere in your house (perhaps you have an appliance in the kitchen that you could stick it to) and everyone can get in on the action.

 

We’d love to see the WOWs you give around your house! Send us pictures of your family’s posted WOWs. Post them to social media and tag us (@goldarrowcamp) or use the hashtag #GACWOW. If you want, you can email them to us (wows@goldarrowcamp.com) and we’ll share them!

To get you in the mood, here is a WOW for you:

Coach’s Award 2017: Crater!

Ken “Coach” Baker, Jeanie Vezie, and Audrey “Sunshine” Monke (1989)

In 2009, Gold Arrow Camp lost a dear friend. Ken “Coach” Baker (March 10, 1951 – April 5, 2009) worked at GAC as Camp Assistant Director and Director from 1981-1992 and had a huge, positive impact on many of us who are still here at camp today. Ken was instrumental in helping Sunshine purchase Gold Arrow from Jeanie Vezie in 1989, and mentored Sunshine, Monkey, Woody, Chelster, Tigger, Junior, Trapper, and many other GAC staff during their early years working at camp.

Ken had an amazing way of making even mundane tasks like picking up trash and painting buildings feel monumentally important. He had a way of clapping his hands together and giving a pep talk that got everyone fired up to do their jobs well. Ken had a near-constant smile on his face and took every challenge that came his way in stride. We all knew we could go to him with any problem and he would help us figure out how to fix it.

To honor Ken, in 2009 we established “Coach’s Award.” This award has been given each year since to a leader at camp, nominated by his/her peers, who motivates others through positive leadership and encouraging words and exemplifies Ken “Coach” Baker’s dedication to GAC’s vision.

Coach’s Award, displayed in the Camp Store, has the name of all recipients

To select each year’s recipient, we ask the entire staff to complete a nomination form, where they put the name of one person whom they think deserves this honor. They include comments about the person they nominate. We have such a high caliber of staff, many of whom are extremely positive and exemplify what Coach stood for, and we are grateful for the legacy he left us and that so many people at GAC are incredibly positive and motivating to others. There were many 2017 staff who met the qualifications for this award and stood out for their positivity and encouraging words for others. In all, 30 different staff members were nominated. That means that each of those 30 people stood out to another staff member as someone who was a positive, encouraging, supportive leader.

This summer’s Coach’s Award recipient, Crater, stood out for the largest number of staff who were influenced by the many qualities that make him an outstanding counselor and leader. Two words that were used in almost every nomination were “positive” and “energetic.”

One counselor summed it up well with this comment: “An inspiration to how I carry myself around camp. He showed me how to make a stranger feel completely welcome. He brought amazing and contagious energy every day and always had a smile I can rely on.”

Another nomination included the following comment: “He amazes me with his energy each and every day at camp. He is positive, funny, kind, and loving towards his campers and the staff. It’s incredible how much he shows me every day at camp that smiling can change your attitude. I couldn’t imagine a better counselor. He exemplifies what Coach’s Award means to me.”

Another said, “He goes out of his way to make every single camper in his cabin feel like they’re special and like they can talk to him about anything they need. He’s a great role model for campers and staff, and he’s a great friend to fellow staff. His campers emulate him, which speaks volumes to his leadership and personality.”

More comments counselors said about Crater:

“He truly embodies the camp spirit and is so great with the kids. Even in times of being exhausted he still pushes through and keeps his positivity!”

“A true leader – loved by campers and counselors alike, never a bad word said about him.”

“Such an incredible person and co.  Always full of energy and positivity and gives 110% all the time.”

“Such a brilliant counselor, always on top form. Always brings enthusiasm. Kids love him. Ready to help anyone at the drop of a hat. Really inspirational.”

“He rose to the challenge of becoming a GC and 100% rocked it. I was sad that he wasn’t going to be on backpacking with me again but once I saw him working as a GC with his kids I was nothing but happy for him. Crater is the example we should all follow when it comes to the who we are with our campers.”

“Created a positive atmosphere everywhere he went while leading by example by putting himself out there. He gave the Tiger Boys an identity and made them proud to be Tigers.”

“He is always ‘on.’ He makes the little things special and everyone feels like a person around him. A brilliant example for campers and counselors.”

“Legend.”

“You showed great leadership, and the session I was a co with you, you were without a doubt the best GC I’d met and campers and staff love you.”

“Crater leads with his heart. He is a constant source of joy and enthusiasm. It is absolutely contagious. His selfless spirit and ability to lead without trying is inspiring. He makes Gold Arrow Camp a better place.”

“Firstly, he was a positive role model for me in Tweek. He showed me how a counselor should be. Also, I respect his opinion and self confidence. Since then, during sessions 1-4, he has managed to keep his energy levels high. He is great with all his campers, which is seen by how much they admire and listen to him.”

“Very outgoing and encouraging. Always high energy and relates really well to his boys. Goofy yet knows when to be serious. Very interactive. Always with kids and keeps kids as a #1 priority.”

“Always energetic and outgoing. Kindest man I ever met. So loveable. Love ya, Bro!”

“Crater has had amazing energy all summer. He helped me out whenever I needed advice. Crater stood out above lots of great counselors.”

“He works so hard for his kids and serves as an example to me. His energy and enthusiasm are matched only by his kindness and willingness to listen. He always puts others before himself and is first to volunteer for less desirable tasks.”

“I feel that Crater has had such a huge impact on my time here at GAC. He has been a figure of support for me. When times are tough he helps you out no matter how much is on his plate. Whenever I have seen him with his cabin, he has been positive and full of energy. Crater is a friend for life, and a natural, wonderful group counselor.”

“You bring so much energy to this place and to everyone’s life. I love you dude and am so grateful to be able to know you and to be your friend. You deserve this.”

“You approach every day with so much excitement and joy!  The energy that you give off is contagious and it puts everyone in such a better place.  You have made such a positive influence on not just the campers, but everyone around.  I strive to be a positive role model like you are in camp.”

“Energy! Attitude! Positivity!”

“Crater is a ball of smiling energy. I enjoy watching him attack life at camp with all of his passion. He demonstrates daily a dedication to guiding young men with love and positive energy. I miss the joy he used to bring to the luggage party.”

“He has constant energy. His campers love him and it completely shows. He is positive, creative, and has completely taken on the GC role effortlessly. Camp would not have the same vibe without him.”

“He is always smiling and encouraging to everyone in and outside his cabin. He never shows he’s tired and is always showing 100% energy.”

Congratulations to Crater, our 2017 Coach’s Award recipient!

Crater receiving the 2017 Coach’s Award