At camp, we like to appreciate the small moments in our day. In the sunny Sierras, there’s so much to be thankful for, from sunsets through the pines to crackling campfires. However, just how some people prefer mornings and others prefer night, camp people have their favorite times of day, too. Everyone has a moment of the day that simply surpasses all others. We asked our 2017 Leadership Team to share about their favorite times of day at camp.
Punkie: Campfire time!
Gem: Sunrise, breakfast, and morning activities!
Goldie: The end of each meal, three times a day. I love seeing full bellies and happy faces. It’s thrilling when all the hard work of the team pays off.
Tica: I love the morning and breakfast time because there is so much anticipation for each new day.
Sterling: Campfire time – it’s calm and relaxing, full of real conversations, and a perfect time to reflect on the great day and appreciate what you have. Nights are simply beautiful.
Sandwich: I love morning assembly because it’s a blast to energize everyone’s day!
Aqua: Breakfast time! Everyone is fresh and excited for the day (especially the first morning of the session).
Rugger: Breakfast time!
Orange: My favorite time of day is chatting with the Junior Counselors before bedtime.
Wonder: I love 7 a.m. because I find that it can set the tone for the day if done correctly by getting everyone up with a smile and prancing energetically to breakfast!
Bambino: Early mornings – camp is quiet, and I can really experience the environment and reflect.
Swag: The time between freetime and campfire!
Lumos: Free time, specifically sunset on the waterfront, is such a magical time of day. So beautiful.
Bloom: I love campfires, where you can reflect on your day and all the highs and lows that happened.
Odd Job: Activity periods – I love seeing kids achieve the impossible.
Bean: I love late night when everyone is tucked in and sleeping peacefully. The stars and creek sounds are the best!
Soy: Morning, right before breakfast!
Grizzly: Sunset at the waterfront!
Bleach: My favorite time of day is campfire with my kids when I hear about their highs and lows and listen to them reflect.
Mocha: I love the end of free time when the sun is setting, and everyone’s walking back to their cabin to get ready for campfire.
Puddles: Campfire – I feel that kids are the most authentic.
Monkey: I love mornings when bacon is cooking, and I can smell it from my office! I also love sunset time because everything is calm.
Sunshine: Dusk – campfires get started, and I always see lots of people gathered around together.
We all have our favorite times of day, but let’s be honest: we all love getting to call this place home no matter what time of day it is! What’s your favorite time of day at camp?
“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 just yesterday had a CIT (Counselor in Training) 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.
- Five Reasons Great Parents Send Their Kids to Camp
- Five (More) Reasons Great Parents Send Their Kids to Camp
- Homesickness Help (sunshineparenting.wordpress.com)
- “Kidsickness”: Help for First Time Camp Parents (sunshineparenting.wordpress.com)
Homesick & Happy, by Michael Thompson, PhD.
We’re excited to welcome Yorkie back for his seventh summer at GAC! Yorkie will be the Rock Climbing and Ropes Course Director, so you’ll see him rocking around camp all summer long! In his previous summers at camp, Yorkie has been an Activity Counselor and a Head Counselor. By now he definitely knows camp! If you have any questions about camp, Yorkie is the one to ask!
Yorkie is currently working in Pocklington in the United Kingdom, just outside of York, where he is working as a teaching assistant to gain more experience for his role as a teacher in September. Yorkie loves working with people, especially in an outdoor and sporty environment. He also enjoys playing football (we call English football soccer!), traveling the world, hanging out with friends, rock climbing and challenging himself on the high ropes course (of course!). Yorkie is currently coaching a 7th grade soccer (err, football) team, but he can’t wait to be back at camp soon!
We asked Yorkie some very pressing questions. Check out his answers!
What do you like most about camp?
The most incredible thing about Gold Arrow Camp is the people. The campers, the staff, every single person makes Gold Arrow Camp a second home to every person lucky enough to spend their summers there.
What makes you return to camp every summer?
I absolutely love camp, just being out in the outdoors, working with such amazing people and awesome kids! The whole experience is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to leave your comfort zone, and your mobile phone, and have a summer where you can just be yourself.
If you could wake up tomorrow with a superpower, what superpower would you want to have?
If I could have any superpower, I would have the power to travel huge distances in seconds, and visit everyone I’ve ever met at camp! That and the ability to create a summer that never ends!
What is your favorite camp memory?
The first time I saw the sunset at the rock at Valhalla, it took my breath away and made me realize what a special place GAC is.
If you could eat any ice cream any place in the world, what ice cream and where?
It would have to be Ben and Jerry’s Phish Food at the top of Mushroom Rock, a nearby mountain to camp where you can see for miles!
What advice would you give a camper coming to camp for the first time?
It is okay to be nervous, it would be silly not to be, but just know that all the counselors and the returning campers are there to help, and you will make some of the best friends you’ll ever have at camp.
If you had your own country, what would it be called?
My own country would be called GACtopia, a country where it could be camp every day!
What are you most excited about for GAC 2016??
Every year I’ve been at camp has been better than the last, and I’m simply looking forward to getting back to my home-away-from-home and leaving all the stresses and pressures back in the UK! Also meeting new friends and seeing old friends.
Want to meet more 2016 GAC Staff? Head over to the Meet Our Staff page!
Many campers dream of returning to GAC to work as counselors, and we treasure the opportunity to hire them and continue to help them develop their leadership skills in a new way. Former campers who become counselors see camp from a different perspective and strive to give campers the same great experience they enjoyed as kids. Wonder, returning for his second summer as a counselor, says, “Camp was always the highlight of my year and my favorite place on Earth, so my goal as a counselor became to help each camper have the same amazing experience that my counselors helped me to have.”
Wonton agrees, “You can look back to your fondest memories as a camper and give your campers that same happiness.” Nearly a quarter of our 2015 staff came to GAC for at least one year as a camper, and together they have amassed 249 years at camp. These legacy counselors enrich the experience for our campers in a special way and help us continue the fun, friendships, and growth enjoyed by every generation at GAC.
Campers who return as counselors begin the summer with significant advantages over new staff. While it’s always helpful knowing where everything is located, how to sing camp songs, and what it means to “wadda,” their time as campers has given these counselors an understanding of what makes GAC so special. They help us to carry on our traditions and everything that makes the GAC experience great for campers because they know how it should feel and look. Wonder says, “You have the opportunity to start the summer already knowing what Gold Arrow is at its core and the spirit and kindness that is at the heart of the community.” Pesto, a counselor now for two years, adds, “You know how be an amazing counselor because you have had many great role models over the years.”
These former campers also find themselves relating to campers on a different level because of their shared experiences. Wonder says, “Former campers have their own stock of experiences that they had as campers and are able to relate to campers with their apprehensions about activities or homesickness because they were once in their shoes and able to rise above it.”
Mocha used her many years as a camper to shape how she approached her own campers when she became a Group Counselor. “I know that campers truly look up to their counselors and can easily be influenced by their counselor’s attitude and treatment of others. I am very careful about being genuine with my campers, treating them with kindness, care, and respect, because I know that my actions affect cabin dynamics as a whole.”
Campers who return as counselors often report that the experience is very different than they had expected. Binx, a camper for 10 years, says, “I thought I knew the whole system, but there is a lot of work that counselors do that the campers never see.”
Bounce agrees, “I thought I knew how everything worked as a camper, and it was a bit of a surprise discovering that it was totally different as a counselor.”
One adjustment these counselors have to make is to remember that their role at camp has changed significantly. “You’re delivering the experience, not receiving it,” explains Genki, a third-generation staff member and camper. Working at camp is a lot of fun, but the fun for counselors comes from helping campers and watching them grow each session.
Current GAC campers who would like to work as counselors should think ahead and plan for their return to GAC. We maintain high standards for our counselors, and working at camp is not always a good fit for everyone. Our strict grooming and behavior standards can sometimes prove difficult for staff applicants, as we require our counselors to be free from tattoos and piercings, and the summer schedule does not allow for very much personal time. Cappy, our Hiring Manager, says, “Our best applicants have experience working with kids outside of GAC. They’ve been counselors at a local day camp or have volunteered at outdoor education camps with school groups.” Working at camp also requires a full-summer commitment, and that can be challenging when applicants are also juggling college, sports, and other responsibilities.
We hope that campers continue to return to GAC as counselors. Their unique perspective and understanding of camp add value to everyone’s camp experience, and it’s fun to watch them grow up at camp. Former campers who become counselors quickly learn that camp can continue to be as fun and rewarding from the other side. Pesto says, “Being a Gold Arrow camper made me the person I am today, while being a Gold Arrow counselor taught me how to be the leader that I am today.”
We are grateful for all of our counselors, but we will always have a special place in our hearts for our former Gold Arrow campers.
Alison “Bean” Moeschberger has been part of Gold Arrow Camp for the past 20 years as a camper, Counselor-in-Training, and staff member. Alison is a graduate of Purdue University and was an elementary teacher for five years before she joined Gold Arrow’s year-round staff.
Eric “Quailman” Bader, 5 years as camper, 5 years as counselor
Charlotte “Bounce” Blanc, 7 years as camper, 1 year as counselor
Paige “Pesto” DeYoung, 5 years as camper, 2 years as counselor
Mady “Binx” Engle, 10 years as camper, 2 years as counselor
Kaitlyn “Kitty” Furst, 11 years as camper, 1 year as counselor
Stevie “Wonder” Goodrich, 8 years as camper, 2 years as counselor
Elizabeth “Buttercup” Jelsma, 4 years as camper, 1 year as counselor
Meredith “Mocha” Monke, 12 years as camper, 2 years as counselor
Ryan “Wonton” Watanabe, 6 years as camper, 2 years as counselor
Jake “Genki” Werlin, 10 years as camper, 2 years as counselor
In 2009, Gold Arrow Camp lost a dear friend. Ken “Coach” Baker (March 10, 1951 – April 5, 2009) worked at GAC as Assistant Director and Director from 1981-1992, and he had a huge, positive impact on many still at camp today. Ken was instrumental in helping the Monke family purchase Gold Arrow from Jeanie Vezie in 1989 and mentored Sunshine and Monkey during their early years. Ken’s wife, Carol “Mama Bear” Baker, was also a long-time staff member at GAC. Many current staff who were former campers may remember Mama Bear from her many years as Camp Mom. Ken’s daughter, Ali “Picaflor” Baker, was a camper throughout her childhood, continued on as a CIT, and spent a summer working as an Activity Counselor on the Waterfront.
In 2009, Gold Arrow Camp established “Coach’s Award” to honor Ken. This award is given each year to a leader at camp, nominated by his or her peers, who motivates others through positive leadership and encouraging words and exemplifies Ken “Coach” Baker’s dedication to GAC’s vision. There is a wooden plaque in the Camp Store to commemorate Coach and past counselors who have received the award.
Many 2015 staff who met the qualifications for this award and stand out for their positive attitudes and encouraging words for others. In all, 34 different staff members were nominated for being a positive, encouraging, supportive leader. How awesome! This is a testament to the positive culture and leadership that has been established at GAC, thanks to the influence of Coach and the leaders who have followed in his footsteps. Those nominated received a copy of the comments that went with his or her nomination in the hopes that counselors recognize what an honor it is to be distinguished in this way through recognition by peers at camp.
Sebastian “Baboon” Boon, the 2015 “Coach’s Award” recipient, stood out for the largest number of staff who were influenced by the many positive qualities that make him an outstanding counselor and leader. Not only is he amazingly positive and energetic, but he also has the ability to make any activity or event super fun. This was also one of Coach’s great qualities.
Here are a few things counselors had to say about him:
“He is the embodiment of what it is to be an amazing counselor. He is always upbeat and willing to help and answer any question. The kids love him so much, and I’ve never heard him say anything negative.”
“He is always positive, fun, wacky, and committed to sharing this with campers, but he is also always safe, appropriate, supportive, and efficient.”
“Always positive, a leader by example, and passionate about teaching campers new things.” The words positive and energetic popped up in almost all of his nomination comments, and those were two of Coach’s best qualities.”
This is Baboon’s second year on staff at GAC. He served as the Waterfront Director this summer. Baboon is originally from a village in the North Downs in Surrey, England. He is passionate about water sports, and he is an experienced coach and competitive wakeboarder. While living in England, he spent his weekends teaching wakeboarding. His endless high energy, positivity, patience, and passion make him an easy favorite among campers and counselors. Baboon has never met a stranger! His willingness to jump in whenever help is needed and his dedication to working hard is inspiring. You can find out more about Baboon on the GAC blog.
Congratulations, Baboon, on being the 2015 recipient of the Coach’s Award! We love you!
“A profound gap exists between the knowledge and skills most students learn in school and the knowledge and skills they need for success in their communities and workplaces.”
-Partnership for 21st Century Skills
“Having started at Gold Arrow as a little seven year old, I have grown up here. Camp has become my home away from home, and I can honestly say it has shaped who I am today. It has given me confidence and taught me skills far beyond learning how to wakeboard or horseback ride. I am comfortable with myself, I am patient, and I have learned how to become a leader.”
-Katie “Rascal” Baral, 10 year Camper
Parents, educators, and youth development professionals are well-versed in the phrase “21st Century Skills.” The phrase encompasses our current understanding of the urgent need for our children to be learning more than how to read, write, and do math. There are many other skills needed to grow into productive, successful adults. As I look at the list of 21st Century Skills, I am struck by how many of the skills are intentionally modeled and taught at camp. Following are five specific 21st Century skills that children learn at camp:
1. Working Creatively with Others
Campers learn to work creatively with others through working towards goals with their cabin group. Even something as simple as collaborating on a skit, song, or dance requires being open and responsive to different perspectives and incorporating group input. An important aspect of creativity and innovation is being able to “view failure as an opportunity to learn.” At camp, with every new and challenging activity, campers are encouraged to challenge themselves and persevere past failure. They learn that “creativity and innovation is a long-term, cyclical process of small successes and frequent mistakes.”
From the moment they arrive at camp, campers have the opportunity to practice and hone their communication skills. Gathered around the campfire on the first evening, campers talk about themselves in front of their small cabin group. They also listen to others share about themselves. At meals, campfires, and while walking around camp and participating in activities, counselors guide discussions about deeper issues and make sure all campers participate, even those who are less outgoing. Listening skills are addressed and enhanced through practice. Without the distractions and escape of technology, campers practice articulating thoughts and ideas and listening to the ideas of others throughout their time at camp.
When working together at Team Building, during cabin clean up, or while preparing fora performance, campers learn important collaboration skills. They learn that they need to be flexible. They often learn another important collaboration skills, which is that it is often necessary to make compromises to accomplish a goal. Counselors encourage campers to share responsibility for tasks and work together. Campers are also encouraged to value and acknowledge each individual contribution made by team members.
4. Social and Cross-Cultural Skills
Learning to interact effectively with others is an important social skill that doesn’t come naturally to all people. At camp, counselors guide campers to learn when it is appropriate to listen and when it is appropriate to speak. Counselors also require that campers respectfully listen to others’ opinions and treat others with respect.
For many campers, their time at camp is their first opportunity to meet and live with people from other cultures. Camp offers the opportunity for kids to form friendships with staff and campers from other countries. Camp provides the opportunity for campers to gain a respect for and work effectively with people from a range of cultural backgrounds. On International Day each session, we celebrate and learn about our international campers and staff.
5. Leadership and Responsibility
Guiding and leading others is an important 21st Century skill. In campers’ early years at camp, they learn basic responsibility for themselves and those around them. Even our youngest campers have the opportunity to lead others in a song or game. As they get older, campers gain more of an understanding of how their words and actions influence others, and they learn how to positively use their leadership skills.
While academics are important, children need other skills to be successful. Camp offers an ideal setting for campers to learn and enhance many of the non-academic 21st Century Skills. One line of our camp song says, “I sure did learn much more here than I ever did at school.” And, when learning is viewed as more global than the subjects listed on the report card, that is an incredibly profound and true statement.
Read about all of the 21st Century Skills at www.p21.org.
Many of my conversations with other parents revolve around academics: what our children are or are not learning in school, how good their teachers are, and, now that my oldest are in college, what they need to do to be successful in life. I believe that a good, solid education is going to provide my children with more opportunities for success as adults. I think most parents would agree. There are some other parenting priorities, however, that I think are sometimes overlooked when we get ultra-focused on academics. These are character assets that, coupled with a good education, will truly be the key to future happiness and success for our kids. One trait that I want my kids to develop is optimism, and it is something we focus on here at Gold Arrow Camp, as well.
Optimism seems to come naturally to some people. They see the best in every situation and person, never let a failure get them down, and basically look on the bright side. For optimists, a rainy day is a positive thing, an opportunity for dust to settle and the air to be cleared. A failed attempt at something new is viewed as a step towards future success. A counselor once told me a story about a remarkable camper in his group. The young boy was struggling with hitting the target at archery, but instead of getting frustrated and giving up, as kids often do, he had a smile and a great outlook. He let his counselor and cabin mates know that he was going to “hit the target soon,” and he just needed to “keep on trying.” That kind of optimistic spirit will take that young man far in life!
But what about the not-so-naturally-optimistic kid? As parents (and camp counselors), we can help nurture the trait of optimism in our kids.
- Let them try new things, even if they don’t always work out.
- Tell them to dream big but to start small.
- Encourage them to learn from others but to always be themselves.
- Make sure they do a little something every day, and a little nothing every day.
- Help them to notice what’s nice and to deal with what’s not.
- Encourage them to look outside themselves and inside themselves.”
According to Dr. Christine Carter in her booking Raising Happiness, “Ten-year-olds who are taught to think and interpret the world optimistically are half as prone to depression when they later go through puberty.” Wow! With the rising statistics on kids and adults who suffer from depression and anxiety, that’s a pretty powerful reason to focus on helping our kids be more optimistic!
Carter recommends three ways parents (and counselors) can help kids be more optimistic: give affection; teach kids to cope with challenges and frustration; and model optimism ourselves. At camp, kids have ample opportunities to try new, often challenging activities. Learning to deal with the frustration of not being able to get up on water skiis on the first, second, third, or fourth try is a powerful lesson in both persistence and optimism. Our role is to help kids learn to handle setbacks and frustrations in a positive way and realize that “success is 99% failure.” (Soichiro Honda)
“Optimism is so closely related to happiness that the two can practically be equated,” says Carter, whose research has found that optimistic people are:
- More successful in school, at work, and in athletics
- Healthier and longer lived
- More satisfied with their marriages
- Less likely to suffer from depression
- Less anxious
In the article “Raise Your Children to be Optimists,” Elizabeth Scott, MS, gives these ten tips for parents:
- Help Them Experience Success
- Give Credit for Success
- Look for Future Success
- Don’t Praise Indiscriminately
- Validate, but Question
- Remember Success in the Face of Failure
- Look for “Opportunities to Improve”
- Look for the Bright Side
- Don’t Use Negative Labels
- Make an example of yourself
Smiling is another powerful tool in promoting optimism, so we practice a lot of smiling around GAC!
Last summer, I conducted research on the impact camp experiences have on children’s social skills and happiness. This research was through the California State University, Fresno for my master’s degree thesis entitled, “The Perceived Impact of Camp Experiences on Youth Social Skills and Subjective Well-Being.”
“Camp is basically my happy place, and I love being here
more than any other place in the world.”
– 2014 GAC Camper
“Happy camper” is an expression used to describe anyone who’s feeling good about something in any circumstance. But just how happy are actual campers who attend overnight summer camp? Last summer, in research conducted at seven different residential summer camps that included over 3,000 campers, I set out to answer that very question.
When campers completed their normal end-of-camp survey (used by camps to get feedback about the experience), additional questions in 2014 asked about happiness. From those, 80% of campers reported that their camp experience made them happier, with 31% of kids saying they felt “a little happier” because of camp and 49% saying they felt “a lot” happier. Here are a few of their comments:
“It was the best time of my life.”
“It’s one of my favorite places on Earth.”
“Camp is the most fun I have all year.”
“I had so much fun and everybody was nice to me.”
“Camp is a fun and happy place.”
“Camp is a really fun environment where I can learn and have fun, make friends, and grow as a person.”
“I get to play with my friends.”
“I have been here for five years and 99% of the time I’m happy (except for arrival and packing day).”
“Camp makes me feel happy.”
“The counselors are super funny.”
“Camp is an amazing place with no worries.”
“I enjoy the safe, active, friendly atmosphere.”
“Camp is very fun and sometimes I miss my family, but most of the time I feel at home.”
“It is very good to get away from technology and meet new adventures.”
“Camp is so much fun and has better things to do than be a couch potato.”
“I get to do activities I don’t get to do at home.”
“At home, I am bored most of the time. At camp, I am never bored.”
We also asked campers to tell us how they felt emotionally while at camp, and 86% of them reported feeling happy “most of the time” or “more of the time than sad,”compared to 70% who felt those same levels of happiness when they were not at camp. In fact, 2,032 (62%) of the 3,197 campers who answered the question said they felt happy “most of the time” at camp, compared to 1,334 (41%) who said they felt happy “most of the time” when they were not at camp.
Finally, when asked what they liked about camp and why they wanted to return, 1,047 campers mentioned the word “fun,” and 635 mentioned the word “friend.”
Campers often describe camp as their “happy place” or “the best two weeks” of their year. And, from observation, anyone can see that kids and the counselors who work with them appear 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. Now, our findings have proven that the anecdotal stories are true and that most kids are, in fact, happier at camp.
So why is that the case? While that research has yet to be done, other research in the field of positive psychology may hold the answer. Martin Seligman—the father of positive psychology and a major figure in the wellbeing movement—has identified five areas that lead to the condition he calls “flourishing,” encapsulated in the acronym PERMA: positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, and achievement. PERMA critics say there are few places where all five can be found together, but in the context of our study, camp is one such place. In short, camp may be just the positive intervention some kids need to flourish!
So go ahead and use the term “happy camper” to refer to people who are happy and flourishing, because kids at camp are, indeed, “happy campers”!
Five-year camper, Molly, wrote an article featured in the March 2015 Summer Camp Issue of Fast Forward, a publication written by kids, for kids, about coming to Gold Arrow Camp for the first time!
Molly writes about her feelings leading up to camp and when she arrived at GAC for the first time. We love watching campers return from year to year! This will be Molly’s fifth summer at GAC (blanket year!), and it’s fun watching her develop into an independent, outgoing, fun, and dynamic leader in her cabin group.
Calling all creative campers! If you have a story, poem, essay, photograph, video or anything you’d like to share with us, please mail it to email@example.com or use #goldarrowcamp and tag us on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter!
When I first heard the word “sleep away camp” I got chills down my spine. Weeks of packing and every second I was scared. Gone from home for two weeks? I didn’t think I could do that. I was excited, then scared, then excited again. I didn’t know how to feel.
When our car pulled into camp all the butterflies in my stomach flew away. The wood sign with the words “Welcome to Gold Arrow Camp” was all I needed. All the negative feelings left as I hopped out of the hot, smelly car, into the lovely, pine-smelling wilderness.
As I walked down the path leading to camp I thought how much fun I was going to have. Holding my pillow in one hand and my backpack on my back, I walked into a cheering Gold Arrow Camp. Counselors and campers were cheering and smiling and clapping. I looked for the kids holding up a “Cabin 13” sign, the cabin I had been assigned to. A short, smiling brown-haired counselor came up to me and said, “Hi! Are you Molly? I’m Sconnie! I’m going to be your counselor this session! Welcome!” I felt so happy. Sconnie introduced me to a tall, red-haired counselor named Irie, and Beeper, a tall brown-haired counselor.
Gold Arrow Camp was everything you could imagine but 100 times better. It had everything from amazing food to mini-motorboating and ziplining. Every time I was homesick, which was rarely because I was having so much fun, my counselors would comfort me until I was smiling again. Two weeks didn’t feel like enough time at camp. Time flies by when you’re having fun, they always say.
When the day came where I was packing up all my stuff, all I wanted to do was sit down and cry. I wanted to cry because I didn’t want to leave camp. Gold Arrow Camp had become my second home.
#1 Improve Interpersonal Skills & Form Close Friendships
“In a … study of 515 senior executives, emotional intelligence was a better predictor of success than either relevant previous experience or high IQ.” -Forbes, “Look for Employees with High EQ over IQ”
Interacting effectively with other people is one of the most important skills teens learn at camp. In the unplugged, noncompetitive camp culture, teens build up their “emotional intelligence” (EQ), their face-to-face communication and relationship skills. Why are these interpersonal skills so important? Because 21st-century employers need people who can communicate, collaborate, and cooperate with others.
If you are debating whether your teen can miss a few weeks of SAT prep or a summer academic program, know that the 2200 SAT score will never outweigh the important communication and relationship skills he or she will develop at camp. Whether on a backpacking trip, cheering each other through a ropes course, or chatting around the campfire, the interpersonal skills teens build are the same ones they’ll need to be successful adults in families, communities, and companies.
#2 Take Safe Risks and Challenge
Teens thrive on risk. Thanks to recent findings (described in Age of Opportunity and Brainstorm) about the unique attributes of the teen brain, we now understand the reason for the “mortality bump” for 17-year-old boys. They do stupid, daring things not because they aren’t aware of the dangers, but because—to them—the reward of leaping from a rocky cliff or speeding along a curvy mountain road seems to far outweigh the risk.
A teen at camp has the opportunity to take many safe, controlled risks. Climbing to new heights on a rock wall or ropes course, jumping the wake of a boat on a wake board, or reaching the peak of a 10,000-foot summit are all healthy risks teens take at camp. Plus, being in a controlled camp environment frees teens from exposure to health risks like alcohol and drug use.
#3 Experience Character Growth and Develop Life Skills
“A profound gap exists between the knowledge and skills most students learn in school and the knowledge and skills they need for success in their communities and workplaces.” –Partnership for 21st Century Skills
Schools aren’t doing a very good job teaching kids grit, perseverance, and leadership. But that’s not their job. Rather, schools are VERY busy teaching the core curriculum and assessing how well our kids know it. No school has time to see how “gritty” a kid is, but at camp, the “grit-meter” is always running, and it’s personal character—not a report card or an athletic achievement—that rises to the top.
Teens also develop other important life skills at camp, including independence, responsibility, and decision-making. Teens grow considerably in an environment away from their parents where they are forced to live on their own and find their own resources.
#4 Meet Positive Role Models
Watch or listen to a popular music video, reality TV show, or sports event, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find positive young adults teens can emulate. But walk into any well-run summer camp and you’ll be surrounded by wholesome, outdoorsy young people who like being around others and doing fun activities. Camp offers teens the opportunity to be among young adults who are positive role models and to form close relationships with them. Most camp counselors are hard-working college students who want to serve others. They are friendly, personable, and are just the kind of young adults you want your teen to become.
#5 Discover Their Best Self
We live in a world where teens—often by their own parents—are steered towards success via the SAT, the college admissions grind, a “good” major, and a high-salary job. Look around at many adults, however, and see where that path got them. Yet, we still expose our kids to the same gauntlet.
Perhaps college education is the best option for most young people, but I’ve met many who are halfway done (or all the way done) and still don’t know who they are or what they are passionate about. Camp experiences offer teens the chance to step back from the treadmill of academics, competitive sports, and their sleep-deprived, over-scheduled existence, and instead think about what’s important to them. Many campers become less self-absorbed after spending a few weeks at camp, learning to train their focus on others. They also discover new hobbies and avenues to pursue in education and their future careers.
Each summer, tens of thousands of teens leave their phones and car keys at home and head to summer camp as campers, counselors in training, or counselors. Many teens who have never been to camp cannot relate to how a teenager could make such crazy personal sacrifices. And yet, teens are the age group that fills most quickly at many camps. Because, perhaps more than any other time during youth, camp offers the respite, recreation, and renewal to help teens thrive. Teens who have already been to camp know this and want to come back, year after year.