By the end of high school, teens need to have mastered more skills than just reading, writing and math to be successful, thriving adults.
Gold Arrow Camp’s Outdoor Leadership Course (OLC) helps campers develop important life skills that stretch them far beyond academics: Leadership, Independence, Communication Skills, Resilience, and Responsibility.
The OLC is a two-week program for young people interested in developing important life skills. Trained leaders guide OLC participants on a challenging, six-day, 30-mile backpacking trip into the High Sierras. Throughout the session, campers develop backcountry navigational and survival skills, practice wilderness first aid skills, and participate in GAC activities.
The purpose of OLC is to challenge teens to learn and grow in self-awareness, develop maturity, discover the value of community and working with others to solve problems and accomplish shared objectives. While growing and learning, participants develop five skills vital for success: Leadership, Independence, Communication Skills, Resilience, and Responsibility.
“Being a part of OLC has influenced my life after camp because it taught me how to be a leader and being a part of a high school swim team, being a leader is a big part of staying together as a team.” – Sophia, OLC Participant
After arriving at camp, OLC participants receive leadership training before departing on the backpacking trip. They do exercises in team building, learn conflict resolution techniques, and practice positive communication. While in the wilderness, campers have the opportunity to learn and practice map and compass navigation, outdoor cooking, Leave No Trace principles and ethics, sustainable backcountry living, and wildlife biology.
All OLC participants serve as “Leader of the Day,” which means they use navigational skills to determine which path to take, when to stop for breaks, and what to do about any situations that arise while hiking. At the end of the day, the “Leader of the Day” receives feedback from trip leaders and peers.
Achieving independence is essential to making the transition to adulthood, and participating in challenging outdoor program with other teens is a perfect way to develop the self efficacy needed to feel confident away from home. The hard skills learned during the OLC — navigation, outdoor cooking, wilderness first aid, camping, and hiking — require independence, curiosity, and creative problem solving.
3. Communication Skills
“I really enjoyed getting to discover myself in the woods, thinking and hiking and communicating with my fellow campers.” – Blake, OLC Participant
Effective communication is arguably the most important of all life skills. Trained trip leaders use positive guidance to facilitate reflection, dialogue and group discussion throughout the program. Leaders encourage campers to think about what happened that day, what their successes and challenges were, and how to grow from those experiences. At the end of the course, all OLC participants have improved communication skills with peers and counselors.
Research shows that wilderness courses are well-suited to teach outdoor skills, self-confidence in general and confidence during adversity. Participation in an outdoor leadership program have a positive impact on emotional intelligence, specifically on stress management and adaptability. All OLC participants set personal and group goals before leaving on the backpacking portion of the course and work to accomplish those goals throughout the session with the help, direction, and encouragement of trip leaders.
A multi-day backpacking trip through the rugged terrain of the High Sierra has days that tax participants both mentally and physically. In the Outdoor Leadership Course, teens learn to push through challenges through encouragement from their trip leaders, supportive group dynamics, and building their self leadership. While surrounded by their peers, they learn just how far they can push themselves. They learn, literally, that they can climb mountains. After their OLC accomplishments, finding a way to make it to sports practice or finishing up a college admissions essay seem easy.
OLC participants are responsible for managing their equipment, completing tasks carefully and on time, admitting their role in mistakes, and working to correct those mistakes. The OLC equips campers to take the initiative to make their own decisions, fulfill obligations, and grow from their experiences.
In addition to the skills OLC participants learn and the growth they experience from the program, there is something else that too many teens don’t have the time to find; genuine face to face FUN!
“What I enjoyed about the OLC was that everyday was different, some days we would do longer hikes, and others we would have lot of time to relax and the enjoy the people and scenery. One of my favorite days out in the backcountry was when when we hiked about 5 miles and then hung out in a river for the rest of the afternoon, and then made quesadillas for dinner. The food was always amazing, and there was always plenty to eat. My favorite lunch was probably Nutella and English muffins. We had a lot of Nutella.” – Charlotte, OLC Participant
“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
All of our 4th grade campers will receive a special envelope in the mail from GAC this month. As part of the National Park Foundation’s Open OutDoors for Kids program, the White House and Federal Land Management agencies partnered together to launch the Every Kid in a Park initiative.
With shrinking school funding for field trips, this program seeks to remove the barriers for kids to access our nation’s public lands and waters. Every 4th grade student in the country is eligible to receive a pass that allows for free access to experience federal lands and waters during the 2017-2018 school year. As educators and advocates for the outdoors, Gold Arrow Camp obtained passes for all of our 4th grade campers and mailed them at the end of September.
We hope that all of our camp families will utilize public lands, and we think this free pass is a great way to start that conversation in our camp community! We would love to see pictures of our GAC campers and families spending time together outdoors. Send us a picture to feature on our website and social media!
Did you know that Gold Arrow Camp is located near three great National Parks? Any camp family planning to drop off or pick up campers from camp this summer can plan a detour through one of these stunning national treasures.
We hope you’ll make it a priority for your family to enjoy the outdoors together!
Learn more about Yosemite National Park, Sequoia National Park, and Kings Canyon National Park.
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.
I suspected as much.
In addition to being a camp director, I’m also an experienced camp parent, having sent my kids both to GAC and several other camps. So I am well aware of that “where did I put that camp handbook?” feeling.
My sons are both going to camp this summer, so I, too, am now in all-out alert mode to get them ready. In the past, I may have waited a tad too long on a few items, so I thought I’d share some advice before I get in gear and get them prepared!
Here are some tips to keep chaos at a minimum during camp preparations for your child:
#1 Order clothing labels today!
I really like these labels (and they are the ones we sent you) because you DON’T EVEN HAVE TO IRON THEM! Seriously, when I was getting my older kids ready for camp 15 years ago, we didn’t have such conveniences. Now, it’s super easy to have my kids label all those socks and undies on their own!
#2 Fill out your forms.
The forms we require you to complete are your primary way to communicate your child’s information and any special considerations or needs to the staff who will be caring for your child at camp. If you stick those forms in your child’s luggage as they depart (YOU WOULD NEVER DO THAT, RIGHT?), the staff may not have vital information about your child. Allergy lists for the kitchen, special activity requests, etc., are all made available before campers arrive. We need the forms 30 days before their session begins so that we can get the correct information to the appropriate staff.
Late forms are not okay. Fill them out. (As a related aside, I thought I could call our pediatrician at the end of April and schedule my son for a physical in May, but that was not the case. I had to send an apologetic email to camp explaining that his appointment is four days before the session starts. This is embarrassing for a 31-year veteran camp director!)
#3 Look at the packing list.
Sweat pants? Those can be hard to find in stores this time of year, and if your kids are like mine, last winter’s are way too small. You’ll have to order them online. I know Amazon is fast, but if you’re looking at the packing list the night before camp, even Amazon can’t get the sweatpants to you in time. Check out the list. See what your camper needs. Get it now rather than risking a panic attack at 11:45pm the night before camp.
#4 Plan for some down time.
When I hear about the schedules some of our campers have before and after camp—with not a minute to rest before or recuperate after—I worry. Remember our childhood summer days? A whole lot of nothing, most every day, so that by September school was actually sounding pretty good? Today’s kids have summer school, sports camp, junior lifeguards, test prep, sports practices, band camp, family vacation (need I go on?). Please schedule some time for rest and reflection after camp. The experience is so profound it needs to be savored, not wedged in between everything else.
#5 Figure out how to work our camp online system.
As soon as your camper arrives at camp, you’ll want grandparents to know how to send emails, and you’ll be anxious to see photos. Practice now so that on the first day of camp, you’re not fumbling around online.
There you have it—just a few tips to get you ahead of the curve on camp preparations. Trust me on these. I have been there a few times, and I know that ironing labels past midnight before an early camp departure is not a fun experience.
Audrey “Sunshine” Monke, Director of Gold Arrow Camp for the past 31 years, writes about camp, parenting, and happiness at her website, Sunshine Parenting. You can also follow Sunshine on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest for links to other articles and ideas about camp and parenting.
Summer Camp (lots of Sunshine Parenting resources to help you prepare for camp!)
Camp Supplies (there are TONS of other places to get camp gear):
Everything Summer Camp (trunks, duffels, other camp gear)
Label Daddy (no iron clothing labels)
Gruvy Wear (UV protective swim wear)
Originally posted in Sunshine Parenting.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.