“Do you have a one week session?” is one of the questions we often get asked by parents who are new to our program. The question is usually preceded or followed by the comment, “Two weeks is too long for my child.”
I thought it would be helpful to outline for new parents why Gold Arrow Camp has a two-week session length as our primary camp offering. Although we also offer one-week specialty camp options at the beginning and end of the summer, Gold Arrow Camp’s core program is a two-week session, and that is the length of time the majority of our campers attend camp. We also have campers who are “Monthers,” who attend four weeks of camp by combining two, two-week sessions.
There are many benefits to camp, regardless of length of stay, as per this American Camp Association study. So, I urge you to find a camp that fits your family’s needs and schedule, even if Gold Arrow is not the best fit for you.
Our program, up until the 1970s, was a month-long program. Many traditional, East Coast camps still offer only one seven or eight-week session. To people in the West, this sounds crazy, as most programs on our side of the country are one-week in length. However, families who have been part of Gold Arrow and other traditional camp programs understand the benefits of a longer camp stay.
Many traditional camps in California have started offering one-week programs, because that’s what many parents think they want for their child. Fortunately, our camp families have kept our two-week sessions consistently full, so we will continue to offer what we consider the best length for our program.
Why does Gold Arrow Camp have two-week sessions?
Here are four reasons:
Community and Friendship Building
Breadth and Depth of Activities
Social Skill Development
Independence and Confidence Building
1. Community and Friendship Building
“My son has no fears about making friends at his new school because of the experiences he has at GAC. His self-confidence and outgoing nature are so nurtured at GAC that he feels prepared for anything!” – GAC Parent
While a lot of fun happens during even just one day of camp, spending more time connecting and building bonds with counselors, cabin mates, and other campers is one of the benefits of a two-week stay.
The first week of the session, there is an adjustment period for the first few days, when campers are getting settled and getting to know one another, the schedule, and the activities. By the middle of the first week, campers feel settled and comfortable at camp, and relationships have the opportunity to start getting deeper. Friendships, while they can definitely be formed in one week, have a better chance to grow stronger and deeper with more connection time.
“My children lead busy lives during the school year with various teams and enrichment programs. Going to Gold Arrow Camp allows them to unwind and gain a new perspective on friendship, goals and life. From my perspective, GAC is summer the way it is supposed to be for kids. Thank you!!” – GAC Parent
Because all of the campers in the cabin group are at camp for the same length of time (two weeks), there are no departures and arrivals in the middle of the session to disrupt the group’s cohesiveness and the bonds that have developed. Everyone arrives together and departs together, with the exception of our Monther campers, who stay on for another session after their first two-weeks end.
2. Breadth and Depth of Activities
“My son came to Gold Arrow for the first time not knowing any of his cabin-mates. By the end of his two week session, he had made great friends and wanted me to ensure he could be in the same cabin with them next summer. He had a wonderful time at all the activities, but the stories he tells most are the ones involving fun with his new friends.” – GAC Parent
We take advantage of our location on Huntington Lake, in the heart of the Sierra National Forest, by teaching campers a large variety of water and land-based recreational activities. Many of our activities require extensive time and instruction. Sailing, as an example, is an activity that begins with a 2 ½ hour group lesson, and can be followed up by many additional lessons as campers opt for more sailing during Free Time. Without adequate time, it would be impossible for campers to even get to all of the activities we offer, let alone build skills in them. We want our campers to get exposure to all of what is offered at camp, and have the opportunity to pursue activities they are passionate about.
During their two weeks at Gold Arrow, campers have the opportunity to learn to sail, ride a horse, shoot a rifle, get up on water skis, and participate in a myriad of other activities. Many of these sports require time and practice to master. For first-time campers, two weeks is just enough time to expose them to all of the different activities and start practicing and improving skills. Returning campers continue to build upon and develop new skills, even after five or six years at our program. The depth of instruction offered, the opportunity to improve recreational skills, and the ability to earn different patches and certifications all distinguish Gold Arrow Camp’s program.
We have two outpost programs, away from our main camp, that take up a portion of the two-week session. We have a water sports outpost camp on an island on Shaver Lake where campers enjoy one or two nights camping on the beach. At Shaver Island, campers spend their days on the lake improving their skills in waterskiing, wakeboarding, and kneeboarding. While these sports are also done at our main camp on Huntington Lake, their stay at Shaver allows our two-week campers time to really improve their skills with a lot of “behind the boat” time. Our other outpost program is backpacking. All campers go on a one-night overnight backpacking trip and get to experience outdoor cooking, sleeping under the stars, and living in nature. There are some activities that we wait to do until the second week of camp, when campers are feeling connected and more comfortable taking risks.
Honestly, even two weeks seems short to us. We barely get campers to all of our activities, and it’s time for them to go home!
3. Social Skills Development
“Wonderful camp where my kids grew up and will have fond childhood memories. They both went from being scared and unsure their first summer, to loving camp at age 14 and wishing they could come back! I love the electronics-free policy – it is much needed, especially in this day and age, where kids and teens can enjoy the outdoors, making friends and having fun in the beautiful mountains!” – GAC Parent
Kids benefit from experiences living and working in groups regardless of the length of time. However, I believe that allowing a group to really bond and connect also allows kids to grow their communication, teamwork, and conflict resolution skills more than when they are in a shorter-term program.
4. Independence and Confidence Building
“My son had no idea what he was going to as he had never been to an out of town camp before let alone away from me for 2 whole weeks. When he returned, yes he was tired but he had the time of his life! He wrote me half way through his stay at GAC and told me “this place is magical and awesome!” I am hoping to be able to send him next year as well. What a great experience for my 8 yr old son!!!” -GAC Parent
For many kids, their stay at camp is the first time that they have ever been away from their parents at all. Some have attended sleep-overs, weekend scout camps, or week-long school programs, but for many campers, their first stay at Gold Arrow is the longest they’ve been away from their parents. We know this, and our counselors are trained to help first-time campers get adjusted to being away and learn to cope with feelings of missing their parents.
Campers feel a great sense of pride in themselves after “being on their own,” and having fun, without mom or dad nearby. While two weeks seem slow to parents, especially during their first camp experience, the days fly by at Camp.
“Our daughter always comes back from Gold Arrow the truest version of herself.” – GAC Parent
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.
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 2018 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 recipient, Henry “Bravo” Pedersen, joins the ranks of many other well loved, longtime, members of the GAC community who have positively impacted campers and staff, including 2019 staff members Baboon, Cheerio, and Toyota.
There were many positive comments from his fellow staff members on his nominations, including:
|Every time I saw you with your boys you were positive and knew just what they needed. You were so funny at morning assembly too. Never failed to put a smile on my face and others too.|
|Best counselor here and it’s not even close. Killed it at the hardest job at camp and still knew more kids than his own cabin. Best co ever. He’ll drive up to accept.|
|You are so extremely positive. Your energy is contagious and your patience is inspiring. You are always there to help anyone, and be a friend to anyone. Above all you are humble, and unafraid to ask for help. That’s a trait not everyone had, and I believe that’s what makes you coach’s award worthy. <3 never stop being you.|
|He was always so positive and happy around campers. He was very involved during rocks & ropes activities with encouraging his campers to challenge themselves. His energy was always present in all that he did. Camper and counselors looked up to his leadership and kindness.|
|He has endless patience for kids, he has a great presence and always radiates positivity. Seeing his smiling face on the dining porch always put us in a better mood. I think he really represents the GAC spirit and I was happy to have met him.|
|Everytime I saw him he always had a smile on his face. He seemed like a great counselor and a great guy regardless of who he was interacting with. His positive attitude was contagious.|
|Bravo provided an amazing example of what counselors at GAC should be like. Despite having youngest bears for 6 weeks straight, Bravo always had a smile on his face and never once outwardly showed any signs of exhaustion. If I ever worked just half as hard as him, I would be so proud of myself. Bravo, Bravo!|
|Bravo was the most calming spirit everywhere he went! He oozed enthusiasm and is the perfect demonstration of selflessness & patience. He is an incredible counselor.|
|Always involved & present with his campers. So kind toward everyone, energized & went above & beyond everyday.|
|Bravo stepped it up for his first year on staff. He always had a smile on his face even through difficult moments. He was so full of positive energy & knew how to pump up any crowd!|
|Kind, caring, helps anyone regardless of vote or position. Always gives 100% to campers & staff. Never belittles anyone, treats male AND female staff equally. Always has a kind word to say. He gives camp a special spark. He has more patience than anyone I’ve ever met, and I’ve never been more in awe of a coworker.|
|You are always positive. You are welcoming & kind to everyone. It was such a joy to meet and spend time with you this summer.|
|I nominate Bravo due to his ceaseless energy, enthusiasm and patience despite having some of the hardest cabins and most difficult children. I have no doubt that he has left an ENORMOUS impact on his boys, all of whom camp is probably the most challenging yet most positive experience of their year. Bravo brought a smile to every child and counselors face a like.|
|Bravo always went above and beyond for his campers. He is super prepared, engaged, cheerful and funny. He always greets me with a smile even though we don’t know each other that well and his campers thrived off his positive energy!|
|Bravo is an outstanding counselor. He has incredible patience and kindness with his campers. He’s kind & funny & fun to work with. I never saw him without a smile& really loved how inclusive he is to both his campers & fellow staff!|
|He always bring smiles to other faces. You can tell by his actions how he actually cares about others and how they are doing. When someone asks him for a favor or help he jumps on it with no hesitation. His positivity brings out the best in me as well in others. If anyone deserves it it’s Bravo!|
|He went above and beyond with his little bears like he literally lost his voice for a month. He makes it look so easy to be a GC, be everyone’s friend, and still be upbeat and active at camp.|
|Bravo embodies GAC values, energy, love and spirit. He was consistently happy and spreading his positivity to campers and staff.|
|So much respect for how you managed to keep up your energy always smiling, always helpful and kind. You did such an amazing job with the baby bears and I’m sure everyone loves you.|
|Seeing the way Bravo interacts with his campers has always warmed my heart. His amount of spirit and fun loving energy has brought so many smiles to GAC.|
Congratulations, or shall we say “BRAVO!” to the 2018 Coach’s Award recipient – Henry “Bravo” Pedersen!
Meet our 2018 Staff!
Read more about each of this amazing team on our Meet Our Staff Page!
My Favorite Spot on Earth: Gold Arrow Camp
By: Sophia L., Five Year Camper
There is a place in the sunny Sierra mountains of California. A place where the only noise is laughter, and the air smells of fresh pine. A place where kids are free to play and roam, among the tall forest.
This place is called Gold Arrow Camp. As you walk through the wild grass and sit around the campfire, there are no cell phones buzzing, only the quiet hoot of an owl on a chilly summer night.
When you head to the dining porch, you cross a muddy path, where you must balance on the wooden logs so you don’t fall in the pebble filled creek lined with multi-colored flowers. While you hop into a canoe, or jump into the refreshing, clean water of the lake, you shiver with cold, and delight.
As you walk up the dusty, rocky path, desperate to take a break from carrying a heavy backpack, you rest your head against a cool rock and look around you. You see gorgeous willow trees and all kinds of beautiful birds surrounding the mountain filled sky.
When you sluggishly walk onto the bus to go home, your eyes are filled with tears by the fact that you will have to wait a whole year to come back to your second home. When the bus pulls away from camp, you’re sad but happy because if you experienced this magical, serene, exquisite, calm, beautiful place every single day, it just wouldn’t be the same.
By Audrey “Sunshine” Monke, Camp Director
Read more of Sunshine’s camp-related posts at her website, Sunshine Parenting.
“Children want to be independent, and they realize that they cannot be truly independent until they beat homesickness, even when they have a painful case of it.”
– Michael Thompson, PhD., Homesick and Happy
Recently I spoke with a mom whose 11-year-old son is coming to camp in a few days. He’s nervous. He had a negative experience at a one-week science camp. He doesn’t think he can “make it for two weeks” and is worried he’ll be too homesick to make it at camp. I chatted with the mom and gave her some key messages to communicate to her son. She asked for them in bullet points in an email, and I thought there are probably others who might benefit from this same list, so I’m sharing this with anyone who has a child suffering from pre-camp anxiety.
Before I share my list, let me say that if you are not a camp proponent and don’t plan on sending your child to camp, you should probably not read any further. I am a huge supporter of camp and recently had a JC (Junior Counselor) tell me that “Camp made her who she is today.” So, I think that camp is a great thing for building kids’ independence and confidence. I have also seen many kids work through some pretty painful emotions at camp, so I know that camp is not easy for all kids.
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.
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!
“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 true test of a champion is not whether he can triumph, but whether he can overcome obstacles.”
– Garth Stein
Written by Christine Carter, Ph.D.
What quality does the Buddha share with Luke Skywalker and Joan of Arc? What links Harriet Tubman with Harry Potter? What does your camper have in common with Michael Jordan?
It has nothing to do with enlightenment or magic. It has to do with struggle. These heroes share a key quality: GRIT.
What is grit?
I think the best way to describe it is by starting with Joseph Campbell and his classic analysis of the “hero’s journey.” Campbell explains how the journey always begins when the hero leaves home and all that is familiar and predictable. After that, Campbell writes, “Dragons have now to be slain and surprising barriers passed—again, again, and again. Meanwhile there will be a multitude of preliminary victories, unretainable ecstasies and momentary glimpses of the wonderful land.”
Kinda sounds like summer camp to me.
It is grit that makes our heroes (campers) face down their dragons and persist in the face of difficulty, setbacks, failure, and fear. They fall down and get back up again. They try their hardest, only to fail. But instead of giving up, they try again and again and again.
It isn’t just historical or fictional heroes who need to be gritty to rise to the top. Recent psychological research has found that grit is one of the best predictors of elite performance, whether in the classroom or in the workforce. Defined by researchers as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals,” grit gives kids the strength to cope with a run-of-the-mill bad day (or week or season) as well as with trauma or crisis.
It turns out that grit predicts performance better than IQ or innate talent. Grit makes our kids productive and successful because it allows them to reach their long-term goals despite life’s inevitable setbacks. This ability to overcome challenges makes them stronger and more masterful at their tasks. Moreover, the ability to cope with difficulty—to be resilient—paves the way for their long-term happiness.
Grit is not really a personality trait as much as it is a facet of a person’s character that is developed like any other skill. Babies are not born with grit any more than they are born with the ability to speak their mother’s native language. We humans develop grit by encountering difficulty and learning to cope with it.
And with that in mind, here’s some perverse “good” news: No life is free from challenges or difficulties. In other words, all of our kids will have plenty of opportunities to develop grit. Out of their setbacks and failures grow the roots of success and happiness. Grandmaster chess players, great athletes, scientific geniuses, and celebrated artists learn, in part, by losing, making mistakes, and failing. Consider this quote from Michael Jordan (who, incidentally, was cut from his high school basketball team):
I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty six times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.
The even better news is that most kids have the capacity to develop grit, and I believe summer camp is the best place for them to do it. Camp exposes kids to what I think of as “safe difficulties”–real physical, social, and emotional challenges for them to overcome. They will sometimes fall off the rock, or struggle to kneeboard. They may have a hard time leaving home, or have a hard time making friends. They will also have a ton of old-fashioned fun, make deep friendships, feel great gratitude for their families, experience the exhilaration of collective joy, learn new skills and develop new talents.
The benefit, to me, is this combination of sheer joy and great difficulty that camp exposes kids to. For most kids, camp is an experience that is at times hard and uncomfortable, but that they remember most for all the times it was easy and joyful.
Despite the discomfort they may feel at times, kids experience camp positively for three reasons:
First, they learn at camp that it isn’t so bad to make a mistake, and that a difficult situation is just a difficult situation, a problem to be solved or an opportunity for improvement. At home and at school, kids typically fear making mistakes and so hide their failures, and this prevents them from truly learning anything from them.
Second, at camp kids learn that they have the ability to cope with difficult feelings and situations themselves. At home, we well-meaning parents are usually around to help solve problems and salve emotional pain. At camp, kids gain a more powerful sense of themselves when they develop the skills they need to deal with difficulty without their parents, and these skills transfer to life outside of camp.
Finally, kids learn that no one is entitled to a life free from difficulty. Camp is a great equalizer, providing challenges for all kids. Camp lets them all star in their own hero’s journey. Instead of letting them give up and go home when the going gets rough, it gives them the opportunity to experience what it is like to dig in.
Camp gives kids the opportunity to see difficulty not just as an inconvenience or injustice, but as a chance for what Campbell calls a “boon,” or dramatic win in the hero’s journey. This gives kids new perspective on life’s challenges—and new strength to deal with them.
There are drawbacks to the hero’s journey, of course. Our kids don’t come home from camp the same: Once they’ve faced down a particularly difficult challenge, they typically have grown so much we might hardly recognize them. But the advantages to developing grit are great, and the “boon” is always worthwhile.
Christine Carter, Ph.D., is a parent coach and the author of RAISING HAPPINESS: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents and The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work. She coaches and teaches online classes in order to help parents bring more joy into their own lives and the lives of their children, and she writes an award-winning blog for parents and couples. She is also a sociologist and happiness expert at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center. Sign up for her short weekly Happiness Tips at www.christinecarter.com.
Written by Audrey “Sunshine” Monke
Campers often describe camp as their “happy place” or “the best two weeks” of their year. And, from my own observation, I’ve seen that kids and the counselors who work with them are obviously happy at camp. They smile a lot. They look relaxed. There’s a lot of laughter. So many fun things happen at camp every day that it’s no surprise it’s such a happy place for kids.
Recently I’ve read several books about the science behind happiness and the research that’s being done to determine the specific elements that cause people to “flourish” in life. (See my reading list below.)
Traditionally, psychologists have focused on studying psychological diseases – depression, anxiety, eating disorders, etc. – and their cures. But led by Martin Seligman (University of Pennsylvania), a new breed of psychologists called Positive Psychologists have, for the past decade, been studying the positive side of people. They ask not what is wrong with people, but what is right. They research what makes us do well in life and the reasons why some people thrive and find success and happiness in life.
Originally, Seligman had a theory of “happiness” outlined in his book Authentic Happiness, but he moved away from only using the word “happiness” to a new theory that focuses instead on well-being or “flourishing.” Seligman determined that it’s inaccurate to use the term “happiness,” as some people simply don’t have the personality to appear outwardly happy to others, even when they are doing quite well in life. I’m an extrovert who smiles a lot, so, objectively, people would probably say I’m pretty high on the happy scale. But how do we account for an introvert who doesn’t show a lot or emotion or display the outward symptoms that we equate with happiness? He may not smile a lot or appear outwardly happy, but, Seligman contends, he could still be flourishing. So, instead of using a one-dimensional definition that’s dependent on momentary emotions and personality traits, Seligman developed a more thorough theory of well-being that moved beyond his original happiness theory.
Seligman uses the acronym PERMA to define his theory and the five measurable elements he has determined lead to well-being. As I read about each pillar of PERMA in Seligman’s book, Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, I kept having “ah-ha” moments. “This happens at camp!” I would think. “And this, too!” In fact, as I read, I determined that ALL of the elements of flourishing that Seligman describes happen at camp. According to Seligman, “No one element defines well-being, but each contributes to it.”
I’ve always been sucked in by inspirational quotes and quick sounds bites about how camp contributes to happiness, but I love knowing the science behind why kids flourish at camp.
PERMA at Camp
P: Positive Emotion
Positive emotion is exactly what it sounds like: feeling happy and having positive thoughts about yourself, the people around you, or your surroundings. When someone reports they are feeling content, relaxed, or happy, then they are experiencing positive emotions. At camp, positive emotions are the norm, not the exception. We’re singing; we’re dancing; we’re doing skits that don’t make sense but that cause us to laugh so hard our stomachs hurt. Whether we’re telling jokes and stories around the campfire or just entertaining ourselves talking and hanging out together, positive emotion is literally swirling around camp. You can almost see a haze of happiness and fun surrounding everyone at camp.
Seligman’s next element, engagement, describes when one is interested in and connected to
what they are doing. When you’re engaged in your hobby or book or job, you’re fired up about learning something new and energized by the activity. At camp, kids are constantly exposed to new experiences and challenges – both recreational and social – that get them interested and excited to learn. They’re pushed to get outside their comfort zone and really engage. For some kids, their stay at camp is the first time they’ve slept away from home and their parents, and they are engaged in learning to live with a group of new people. For others, the camp dance is the first time they’ve ever danced with other kids, so they’re being engaged socially in new ways.
As Seligman and other researchers found, and most of us intuitively know, “other people are the best antidote to the downs of life and the single most reliable up.”
We all know that positive relationships are one of the main contributors to our happiness in life, so it’s no surprise that relationships are an important pillar of Seligman’s theory. Our life’s relationships – with our parents, our siblings, our friends, our spouses, and our co-workers – are key to our happiness. Everyone comes to camp to see their old friends, make new friends, and just spend quality time connecting with others and building positive relationships. And camp is like no other place for that. You don’t have any of the competition or stress that often accompany kids’ relationships at home: Two bright students who are close friends are also competing for the valedictorian spot. Or two athletes who have grown up together are competing for the same position on a soccer team. The relationships at camp, without all the competition and “baggage” that kids have in some of their relationships at home, grow strong quickly. This is probably why so many kids have told me that, even though they are only at camp for two weeks, their camp friends are their closest friends and they stay connected with them all year, well beyond their time at camp.
To flourish in life, we need to feel that we have a purpose and that we matter. According to Seligman, meaning comes from “belonging to and serving something you believe is bigger than the self.” Being a member of a cabin group at camp helps kids gain an understanding of how they are valued by others. For some kids, camp is the first place where they understand what it means to be a valued and accepted member of a community. Unlike at school, where some kids can be “invisible,” and go through a day without connecting with others, camp forces integration. Kids learn that they are an important and valued member of their cabin group, and they discover their character strengths through recognition from peers and counselors. While at camp, kids also have the opportunity to feel part of something bigger than themselves – a camp community that goes back nearly a century, where we still get to follow the same traditions our predecessors did. While learning about friendship, gratitude, and kindness, and practicing those skills, kids learn that they can positively impact others. They learn that they have value and that there is meaning in life.
People flourish when pursuing goals or mastering a skill. So, while having a great achievement is wonderful, much of flourishing comes from the striving towards the achievement. Many people report that it was a lot of fun working their way up and accomplishing small steps on the way to a goal. In fact, many people feel a let down once a goal has been achieved and realize, as Ralph Waldo Emerson so eloquently explained, “Life is a journey, not a destination.”
Every day at camp, kids have the opportunity to try new things and master new skills. Some kids arrive at camp with a specific goal: a bull’s eye at archery or getting up on a slalom water ski. But others simply practice and work towards improving or challenge themselves to try something that frightens them – like completing the ropes course. And all of their progress and little achievements add to kids’ flourishing at camp.
At this time of year, when parents are busy completing camp forms and are possibly having cold feet about sending their child to camp for the first time, I’d like to remind you that camp can help your kid flourish like no school, sports team, or other activity they do. So, enjoy watching your child flourish at camp this summer.
- Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, Martin Seligman
- Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment, Martin Seligman
- The Myths of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky
- Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth, Ed Deiner and Robert Biswas-Diener
At the end of Session 2, we said goodbye to Tigger for the summer. Tigger has worked at GAC for thirty years, and we honored her at Appreciation Campfire with a gold arrow necklace. Tigger has brought so much insight and wisdom to camp due to her extensive experience working in education as a special education teacher. Hundreds of homesick campers over the years have had “Tigger Talks” full of encouragement and perspective, and several counselors mentioned the help that Tigger provided them with when they were campers.
Tigger wrote a poem and shared it with camp after being honored for her many years of service at GAC:
As I look back on my last 30 years
I’ve shared many smiles and shed a few tears
My first days as a counselor a long time ago
I saw joy and wonder and it started to grow
I knew shortly after I walked on these grounds
I had fallen in love; a second family I’d found
But never in all of my wildest dreams
Did I think 30 years later I’d be on the GAC team
I’ve had different jobs in my life through the years
But they just can’t compare to my GAC days I fear
For the memories I’ve made and the lives that I’ve touched
Each day that I’m here, why they all mean so much
The activities are great; this place is supreme
But it’s the intangibles that touch you and here’s what I mean
The wonder you see in the eyes of a child
Or the smile you get when you’ve known them for a while
Or the hug of a counselor as they say “Hey –
Thanks a lot; you made my day!”
These are the things you can’t touch but I know
They’re the things that stay with you; the reason you grow
Enjoy each second because this I know
The times you spend here are the best of your life
Days filled with love, and not with strife
The days you spend here are the best times of all
Good times to be had, so just have a ball
But it’s the people that matter the ones you call “friend”
They’ll touch your life and be with you till the end
So cherish those friendships and your time spent at GAC
I’ll see you next year; you can bet I’ll be back!
Every so often, parents take the time to write us a thank you note. This one, from a long-time camper family, meant a lot to us. Thank you, Harris Family, for taking the time to let us know what GAC means to you! We appreciate your kind words!
Dear Gold Arrow Counselors and Staff –
As we approach the end of our five weeks of empty household, and realize that our children are approaching the end of another wonderful GAC summer experience, we would like to take a moment of your summer to express our thanks for all that you do to make Gold Arrow Camp so special.
We hear the sense of building anticipation in our kids’ voices for about 10 months of the year. They look forward to so much about GAC: the friends, the fresh air, the scenery, the activities, the food and the escape.
The end of the school year is always a frenzied scramble, as final exams and camp preparation come to a crescendo. We know that while we are going through this scramble, you are in the final stages of preparing to give our children a summer experience they will never forget. We don’t even see a small fraction of the preparation you do. Then the camp letters and camp photos start to arrive. In just a matter of days, their lives are transformed.
GAC is an annual reminder to them of hope that there is lots of good in the world: good people, good places and good experiences. This is in sharp contrast to the backdrop of constant negativity in their increasingly complex world. By going to GAC, the kids learn how to connect with other people, meet them where they are, find commonalities, celebrate differences and enjoy each other. If everyone in the world could spend a few weeks per year at GAC, much of the world’s problems would quickly disappear.
At GAC, the children build confidence. From the timid goodbyes as they board the camp bus, aware that they are leaving the safe confines of their family and homes, to the ear-to-ear grinning pictures and roaring laughter just a few days later. They learn (sadly) that they can be happy away from their parents, and that they do not need to rely on their parents to feel good about themselves and thrive. At GAC, the children recharge. Wow are their lives more complicated and busy than ours were! The children relish the opportunity to unplug from their existing social fabrics, get away from the pressure of school and extra-curriculars and get away from their watchful parents!
What you do at GAC makes a difference in our children’s lives, or else we would not entrust them to you for almost 10% of the calendar year. Your work is meaningful and impactful. The children return home from GAC feeling better about themselves, better about their families, and better about their future. Two of our children are approaching the end of their “GAC careers” but they will always carry GAC around with them. GAC is living proof that a summer camp is more than a piece of property and some equipment. You put your hearts and souls into getting to know these children, helping them grow. For that, we are forever grateful.
Thank you for another wonderful summer and for being such an integral part of our kids’ childhoods.
Tim and Kim Harris