Tag Archives: social skills

How Camp Teaches 21st Century Skills

By Audrey “Sunshine” Monke, Camp Director

“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

IMG-9205“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 cbig-swing-8339reatively 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.”

2. Communication

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, campersc06-1853 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 th
e distractions and escape of technology, campers practice articulating thoughts and ideas and listening to the ideas of others throughout their time at camp.

3. Collaboration

high-ropes-0979When 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.cabin-shot-female-7224

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.

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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. 

Visit Sunshine Parenting to read more of Sunshine’s articles about teens, parenting, and summer camp!

Friendship: The Gold of Childhood

Friendship: The Gold of ChildhoodBy Audrey “Sunshine” Monke, Camp Director

Join Sunshine for an online workshop,
Coaching Your Child to Better Social Skills,
Thursday, September 29, 11:00-11:30 (PDT)

“Friends are everything. They are always there if you have a problem or if you get hurt,
they can always help you up.”
– Patricio, Camper, Age 8

The commonly accepted trajectory of do well in school -> get into a good college -> make a lot of money -> flourish in life is not exactly accurate. You only have to know one unhappy wealthy person to know that’s not the path that will lead to happiness or fulfillment.

What is a more accurate trajectory? good interpersonal (social) skills -> positive relationships -> flourish in life.

Michael Thompson’s statement, “Friendship is the gold of childhood,” stuck with me long after I attended his conference session on the social lives of children. Friendship is not just the gold of childhood, but also of life. In my research for my Master’s degree in Psychology, I looked closely at studies related to friendship, social skills, and well-being. What I found was not surprising. For children, and adults as well, positive relationships are the best predictor of overall happiness and well-being. As parents, teachers, and counselors, we should be putting a primary emphasis on helping kids develop the social skills they need to make and keep friends.

Unfortunately, our culture is not supporting the development of healthy, solid friendships between gac-session1-06084kids. Friendship is more important than any academic subject or athletic skill, and yet the way our kids spend their time does not reflect this importance. For many kids, there simply isn’t time in their lives for developing strong, close friendships.

What are our kids learning about friendship in this Instagram, Snapchat, and texting era of “friends?” Many boast hundreds, even thousands, of “friends” and “likes” on photos. Yet some of those same kids don’t have one single person in their lives that meets the criteria of a true and trusted friend. Face-to-face social skills, such as being able to read non-verbal cues, are learned through practice. If communication is primarily through media, then those skills are not being honed.

Another cultural factor that is counter-productive to the development of solid friendships is the Girls-Laughing-7541constant, high-stakes competition our children are constantly in with their peers. Who’s ranked higher at school? Who made the “A” team? Who’s more popular? Often, instead of being truly supportive and encouraging of each other, kids want their peers to fail.

“Friends are those rare people who ask how you are and then wait for an answer.”
– Author Unknown

Making friends, and being a good friend, doesn’t come naturally to all people. And, coupled with theSailing-7832 crazy culture we’re in, it’s no surprise that many kids are struggling to form strong friendships.

Friends are the reason campers and counselors return to Gold Arrow Camp year after year. “Make Friends” is one of the three main goals we chant at the opening of camp each session. At camp, there is time for friendship — precious, relaxing time to get to know each other, spend time Campfire-1158making memories, and communicating face-to-face. Our whole camp community is built around inclusion, respect, and kindness. There is no competition at camp, no “A” team or “popular” group. Just kids having fun together and learning to live and play with each other, work out disagreements, and become better friends to each other.

Friendship-0086“A friend is someone you’re not afraid to be yourself with.”
– Hannah, Camper, Age 14

Counselors are trained to help kids connect from the moment they get on the bus until the last good bye. Long talks at meals, around the campfire, and under the stars in sleeping bags are uninterrupted by cell phones and other technological distractions. Campers can’t “tune out” by putting earphones in. They stay engaged with each other and learn to connect. Counselors gently coach campers who need to develop social skills in areas such as listening skills, empathy, sharing, flexibility, initiating conversations, and understanding non-verbal cues. They encourage campers to be intentional about being good friends to each other and observant about what they appreciate about their friends.

On the final day of camp, campers are each given a “My Camp Friends” booklet, where they can Screen Shot 2016-09-01 at 8.51.40 AMkeep track of each other’s contact information and write each other encouraging notes. Our hope is that our campers will keep their camp friendships strong by staying in contact throughout the school year.

“Friends are awesome, because they stand up for you, and they care for you.”
– Joey, Camper, Age 11

At one final campfire gathering last summer, the Randy Newman song, “You’ve Got a Friend in Me,” came on during the slide show. A group of four twelve-year-old boys sitting on the bench in front of me spontaneously put their arms around each other and started swaying back and forth, singing along to the song. I will never forget that vivid picture of the power of camp friendships.

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Want to get some tips on Coaching Your Child to Better Social Skills? Join Sunshine for an online workshop on Thursday, September 29 from 11-11:30 am (PDT). RSVP here and the meeting link will be sent to you!

To read more of Sunshine’s thoughts on social skills, camp, and parenting, visit Sunshine Parenting. You can also follow Sunshine Parenting on Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest.

Resources/Related Posts:

3 Communication Skills Your Child Needs

Managing Difficult EmotionsMaking Friends Part 3

Best Friends, Worst Enemies, Michael Thompson, PhD.

The Power of Camp

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

Shock is a common response parents get when discussing sending their child to sleep-away camp. family-1083They often face criticism for allowing their young child out from under their direct supervision. In this over-involved parenting age, the thought of allowing an eight year old to go away to camp for two weeks is incomprehensible to many parents. What “non-camp” parents don’t understand is that allowing your child to have a camp experience is a gift that has positive, life-long benefits beyond learning how to sail or rock climb. Camp parents aren’t bad parents who “send their children away.” They are parents who see the value in letting their children have an experience that enriches their childhood.

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

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A Taste of Independence

family-3056Being super-involved with our children and always being in constant communication with them has become something modern parents brag about. But when do we start letting go and giving our kids a chance to feel independent from us? With cell phones attached at our (and their) hips, our children are in constant communication with us. Forgot their lunch? A friend says something mean? Stubbed their toe? We know right away and swoop in to rescue them.

Intuitively, we know that it’s better to let our kids deal with consequences from their mistakes, face some problems on their own, and get through the day without us, but it’s SO HARD to let them. We feel fortunate to have a close relationship with our child and we don’t want to jeopardize that relationship by turning off our phone or saying “no.” It’s difficult to let them face a problem or bad day at school on their own. Unfortunately, we are setting our kids up for much more difficulty later in life if we don’t start letting them have some independence when they are younger.
Camp experiences at younger ages may help children adjust to later independent experiences, including college. A Stanford Magazine (May/June, 2009) article called “Students on the Edge” published results of research on the psychological health of current University students:
“Unlike previous generations, young people often speak with their parents several times a day. And while family closeness is usually a positive force, it can come with a downside. Administrators at Stanford and elsewhere describe a level of parental involvement that often limits choices and has altered the cultural norms of college life. That includes parents who insist on choosing their child’s area of study and then show up to negotiate his or her salary after graduation.”

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

These words of a first-time sleep away camp parent are especially poignant:

“My shy, quiet nine year old went to camp not knowing a soul. Two weeks later, my daughter came home transformed. She blossomed, she made friends, learned a multitude of activities, felt safe, loved, confident, and happy, really happy. As hard as it was on me, it was all worth it for her. I know this is the single best thing I have ever done for her.” – 2014 Camp Parent

First-time camp experiences are much harder on parents than they are on kids. The relief parents feel when they see their child after a camp stay is palpable, and the amazement at their child’s growth is an equally strong emotion. The independence kids experience at camp can open their eyes to many new dreams and opportunities, and may lead to them feeling more confident about pursuing schools, travels, and adventures further from home. Although it’s hard to let kids go, the words of singer Mark Harris sum up what most parents dream of for their children:
“It’s not living if you don’t reach for the sky. I’ll have tears as you take off, but I’ll cheer you as you fly.”

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Diving In

Diving_In_QuoteOur thanks to Elizabeth Kroger, a 10-year veteran GAC camper, for sharing her essay with us. 

“So, who wants to eat a termite?” asked our guide. I was standing in a jungle in Belize this summer with a group of high school students, just hours off the plane. He broke open a brown nest hanging from a tree and we watched the bugs crawl out and swarm over each other.

“I’ll go for it!” I volunteered, as everyone else took a step away. People looked at me like I was crazy. Before I could change my mind, I squished the termite with my finger, and quickly put it in my mouth.

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Elizabeth on her trip to Belize.

“It tastes a little like mint,” I ventured, and after that others were curious and tried one, too. Over the next two weeks, these 14 strangers became my close friends as we experienced the wonders of the diverse nature and marine life in Belize, home to The Great Blue Hole and the second largest barrier reef in the world, as well as the ultimate destination for divers and marine biologists.

When I was six, I started going to Gold Arrow Camp, a two-week sleep-away summer camp, where I not only developed my love of nature and adventure, but also my courage to try new things, and connect with new people. I was excited to experience all the outdoor activities, friendships, and fun that I’d heard about from my older sister, but I was also a little nervous and very shy. After a six hour bus ride, I was greeted by my counselors and cabin mates, who had arrived earlier. Everyone was cheering and I felt self-conscious with all the attention on me. We hiked up a hill to our cabin, which was surrounded by trees and was actually a wooden deck with a green canvas tent for a roof and walls. There was no electricity and the rustic bathrooms were a half mile away. I felt far away from home and I was definitely out of my comfort zone.

We headed down to the waterfront for our first activity – canoeing.

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Sailing on Huntington Lake

“Climb in,” exclaimed my counselor enthusiastically, handing me a wooden paddle that was taller and heavier than I was. I sat down on the bottom of the canoe into a puddle of cold water, which quickly soaked through my shorts. I could barely pull the paddle through the water, let alone synchronize with my cabin mates. My counselor called out, “Paddle! Paddle! Paddle!” Tears formed in my eyes.

Gold Arrow Camp is located in the Sierras on the shores of Huntington Lake, so the camp has lots of watersports, including waterskiing and wakeboarding, as well as canoeing and sailing. When I was younger, I was really afraid of the water because I thought fish were going to bite me. The first time I tried to water ski, I wore bright green goggles so that water wouldn’t splash in my eyes and so I could watch out for those fish in case I went under. I lost my balance and wiped out. When I wanted to get back in the boat, my counselor threw me in the water and made me try again, but I vowed I would never go in the lake after that.

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Wakeboarding at Shaver Lake

Then, in my third year, a counselor encouraged me and inspired me to attempt to conquer my fear of the water and fish. He explained, “The fish are more scared of you than you are of them.” I was tentative, but admired the counselor and wanted to live up to his expectations, so I jumped in the lake and got up on my water skis! I discovered that I wasn’t thinking about the fish once I was skimming across the water because I was having so much fun! It was a huge breakthrough for me and I now love all water sports, and water in general, whether lake, pool, or ocean. As the years have gone by, I have gotten better and better at water skiing and wakeboarding. I can even slalom ski and do lots of tricks on a wakeboard like doing a 180 degree turn while getting air on the wake. I find it easier to conquer my fears and go for things even if they are scary because of my experiences at Gold Arrow Camp. And I’m not frightened of the fish anymore. I actually love fish and want to be a marine biologist!

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Elizabeth receiving her 10 Year Jacket.

This summer was my 10th and final year at Gold Arrow, so I wanted to take advantage of every opportunity I could. I jumped into the *40 degree lake without hesitation and cleared the wake on a wakeboard; I sang at the top of my lungs and danced like no one was watching; I welcomed the newcomers with cheers and whispered into the night across bunks with my cabin mates. I even went backpacking in a hailstorm. We hiked five miles to the campsite with rain dripping down our heads and soaking our backpacks, but I didn’t mind because the scenery was beautiful and I was getting to know some new friends. When we arrived at our destination, all the wood was too wet to start a fire, so we had to run all over to find some dry sticks. We were miserable, but laughing.  The rain and hail cleared up just in time for us to cook dinner over our campfire and then watch an amazing sunset. As we sat together on a rock overlooking the golden lake, I reflected on how far I’d come since my first year.

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Snorkeling in Belize

Gold Arrow Camp is such a special and meaningful place to me that I wear a bracelet stamped with its longitude and latitude coordinates. I’m too old now to return to Gold Arrow as a camper, but it will always be in my heart, wherever I go. My experiences at camp are how my journey to Belize all started and why I traded in those bright green goggles for a professional snorkel mask.

So now you know my story and how I came to be balanced on the edge of our small white boat off the coast of Belize, watching the sleek dark forms gliding in the clear water below me. I touch the bracelet on my wrist and tighten my mask before diving in. Under the water, I am surrounded by curious nurse sharks. Cool, I’m swimming with a school of sharks! I’m not even worried that they will bite me.

*Editor’s note: Huntington lake is brisk, but the summer water temperature ranges from the 60s to 70s. Shaver Lake water temperature typically is in the upper 70s.

Related:
Five 21st Century Skills Developed at Camp
They Learn THAT at Summer Camp?

Foot in the Door: Keys to Success for Former Campers Turned Counselors

2015 GAC Staff who were campers, too!

2015 GAC Staff who were campers, too!

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.”

wontonWonton 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.”

Appreciation CampfireThese 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.”

GAC Bears' Adventure

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.Counselor-26

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.

Contributors:

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

Five 21st Century Skills Developed at Camp

“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

IMG-9205“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.”

2. Communication

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.

3. Collaboration

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 G-C21-2915

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.

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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. 

Creating Connections: Making Friends at Camp and Beyond

Our goals at Gold Arrow Camp are articulated, posted, recited, and practiced by our campers and staff each summer.  The goals are to have fun, make friends, and grow.

Each summer, we also select a theme to help campers and staff focus on a specific skill or character trait that will contribute to their fun, friendships, and growth. We want our campers to develop life skills at camp that benefit them long after their camp days are over. In 2012, we focused on practicing gratitude. In 2013, kindness was our focus. Our 2014 summer theme was Creating Connections, and we focused on friendships.  This summer, our theme is Give A Hand, and we’re excited to focus on reaching out and helping others.

Friendships have always been a big part of what makes campers and staff love GAC and return year after year, so last summer we focused on one of the best aspects of camp – Creating Connections! We focused on making solid friendship connections at camp, learning and practicing social skills that make us good friends, and maintaining friendships after camp ends.

Positive relationships predict happiness better than health, economic status, education level, and other aspects of life. Yet there is no class offered in school on how to make and keep friends, and while the skill comes naturally to some, to others creating connections is not easy.  That’s where GAC comes in. Camp is all about friends, because camp is a time when kids have the opportunity to really connect, face-to-face and without distractions, with other kids and young adults. Around the campfire, out on a sailboat, enjoying the sunset together during an evening canoe, and many other camp moments every day provide campers with the opportunity to really connect – without distractions, without worrying about the social strata, without feeling rushed because there’s a sports practice or meeting to get to. Campers’ time together at camp is much more concentrated and focused than time spent with friends in between school and organized, structured sports and activities. Circled around a campfire, sharing their goals, fears, and dreams, campers get to know each other well, learn to appreciate each other’s unique qualities, and form deep bonds of friendship. In fact, many campers say their camp friends, whom they spend only two weeks with each summer, are their closest friends. This summer, we’re going to focus on those friendships.

Making Friends

From the moment campers step on the bus to go to camp, counselors will facilitate introductions between campers. By the end of the first day at camp, campers will not only know the names of everyone in their cabin group, but they will also know some of the goals and personality characteristics that make their new friends tick. Counselors will help campers get to know each other through both organized and informal social games and activities. Throughout the camp session, campers will have opportunities for both group and one-on-one socializing with other campers, facilitated by counselors as needed.

Learning & Practicing Friendship Skills

Counselors will coach campers on specific social skills that help form and maintain solid friendships, including the communication skills, emotion regulation skills, and emotional intelligence that are important in forming positive relationships with others.

Counselors will model the social skills they want campers to practice and will facilitate age-appropriate campfire discussions about friendship. Campers will be asked to look for and point out ways their cabin mates have demonstrated great friendship traits. Through different activities facilitated by the counselors, campers will talk about and share how they’re creating connections at camp.

Counselors will talk with campers about how each person needs to develop relationship skills to help connect better with others, and counselors will help campers tune it to their friendship strengths and coach them in areas where they can improve their friendship skills.

Maintaining Camp Friendships

At the conclusion of the session, we will encourage campers to stay in touch with each other after camp ends. We’ll have them exchange email, phone, address, or social media account information (whichever is their best form of contact). Rather than sending the cabin address list to parents as we have done in the past, we will ask campers to take ownership of this exchange of friend contact information.  Ask your camper to show you his “Friendship Contact Information” when he gets home from camp, and encourage him to keep up the connections he creates at GAC this summer!

Our goal is for all of our campers to create solid friendship connections with their cabin mates and other campers that are maintained well beyond the borders of GAC and that last much longer than their camp session.

We had a great 2014 summer Creating Connections, and we’re looking forward to continuing that this summer!

Friendship-9866

Audrey “Sunshine” Monke has been the owner and director of Gold Arrow Camp since 1989.  Read more of her thoughts on camp and parenting at sunshine-parenting.com.

Four Reasons for Two Weeks of Camp

“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 the 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:

  1. Community and Friendship Building
  2. Breadth and Depth of Activities
  3. Social Skill Development
  4. Independence and Confidence Building

Rock Climbing

 

1. Community and Friendship Building

“Eli had the greatest summer camp experience.  He knew no one going to camp and come home with a host of new friends.  He had a huge smile on his face when we greeted him and it lasted for a long time.  He was pushed to achieve and he was proud of himself for achieving his goals.” – 2014 GAC Parents

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!!” – 2014 GAC Parents

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

“Gold Arrow Camp is a great summer camp experience. Our son has gone to GAC for 4 years now and every year he sees old friends, makes new ones, tries new things, compares his skills at the activities from the current year to past summers, can be independent and responsible for himself and his belongings, and gets to enjoy the beautiful camp setting away from the heat in Phoenix. He is already looking forward to next summer when he will receive his 5-year blanket.” – 2014 GAC Parents

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 skiis, 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.  At the end of the second week of camp, we have our dance, and several all-day, sign up trips.  Campers can opt to spend the day sailing across Huntington Lake, going on a long horse trail ride, climbing challenging terrain on a rock climbing trip, and more.

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

“Gold Arrow Camp added a new dimension to our daughter’s summer.  She was able participate in sports and activities she had not done before; further develop her social skills by meeting new people and being involved with her cabin mates a large part of each day; and enjoy free time in a beautiful setting free of electronics.” – 2014 GAC Parents

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

“Both girls came home SO happy!  Melissa came home today, Jesse last week.  Melissa had gone to camp knowing no one, and upon her return, she had to finish BIG hugs good-bye with friends before she’d get in the car to go home.  On our drive home, she went a mile a minute with stories about her 2 weeks at GAC, and when she got home, she burst into tears, saying she missed camp, her friends, and that she wished she could live at camp all year round!  At that point we told her she could go back next year for 4 weeks, and she became overjoyed with excitement, and wanted us to sign her up for 2012 right then and there.  Jessica ‘Jess’, also had an amazing experience.  She came home last Saturday, after 1 week, as she was a Nugget.  She, too wants to go back next year, this time for ‘either 2… maybe 4 weeks.’  Considering she’s only 7, we are amazed.  Both girls look like they grew 2 inches each while away, but it’s really an extra gained confidence where they’re walking taller and prouder with themselves.  We are SO thrilled that we found Gold Arrow Camp, a camp their second cousin went to almost 20 years ago.  As the famous vanilla tree has been rooted at GAC for years and years, we look forward to our girls being rooted there for years and years to come, too.  Thanks for such a positive, growing, and out of this world experience!” – 2014 GAC Parent
“As a multi-generational Gold Arrow Family, nothing beats your child immersed high-up in the Sierra Nevada for total fun and adventure. Every day brings a sublime surprise. They return with confident Sierra Nevada Mountain swagger that is part-and-parcel with a positive can-do attitude.”- 2014 GAC Parent

GAC gave our daughter the freedom to make choices, and the support to make good ones.

“Our daughter went from not being able to sleep overnight at friends houses to spending three weeks at GAC.  GAC provided our daughter with the confidence of knowing that she can accomplish anything that she sets her mind to complete.” – 2014 GAC Parents

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.

“Two weeks was not enough for our son….now he’s a MONTHER!” – 2014 GAC Parent

Research Finds Children Learn Social Skills at Camp

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.” 

Children Learn Social Skills at Camp“Friendship is the gold of childhood”

Michael Thompson, Ph.D.

Children and adolescents require more than intellectual growth and physical health to become happy, successful adults. They also need to develop the social skills necessary for positive relationships with others (Crosnoe, 2000). The importance of quality childhood friendships for well-being both during childhood and later in life has been clearly established, and many camp programs specifically focus on fostering those friendships, along with teaching, modeling, and practicing social skills.

Campers look like they’re having a lot of fun playing outdoors and learning new activities, but are they also learning life skills during just two weeks at a residential summer camp? That was one of the primary questions of this study, which examined the perceived impact of a two-week residential camp experience on children’s happiness and social skills development. Participants were 167 children ages 6-15 from six different two-week, residential summer camps in Arizona, California, and Colorado. The children completed an end-of-camp written survey during the summer of 2014 in which they were asked to rate (1-5) how much they thought their social skills were impacted by their camp stay. Did their social skills, for example, get a lot worse (1) or a lot better (5)?

Participants’ parents went on-line to complete the same survey two to four weeks after their child’s camp stay. Both children and parents reported significant positive changes in the children’s social skills and happiness as a result of their two-week camp experience, and 140 of 147 (95%) children reported improvement in their overall social skills.

Social Skills Improvement

Social Skill % of Campers Reporting Improvement Mean Answer
Choose people who would be good to be friends with. 64% (107 out of 156) 3.91
Get to know more things about my friends. 74% (123 out of 155) 4.18
Enjoy being with my friends. 69% (115 out of 157) 4.17
Help my friends have a good time when they are with me. 64% (107 out of 157) 4.03
Find ways to meet people I want to be friends with. 65% (108 out of 157) 4.06
Get to know people who I might want to become friends with. 73% (122 out of 157) 4.10
Listen carefully to things that my friends tell me. 60% (100 out of 156) 3.94
Understand my friends’ emotions. 62% (103 out of 157) 4.01

Focus on Friendship
DanceCamp counselors, unlike teachers, view their primary role as one of facilitating friendships and positive experiences. They are also trained to help campers build social skills. At most camp programs, counselors participate in up to a week of training prior to the summer. Sessions include exercises in communication, leadership, and team building, during which counselors are trained to lead “ice-breakers” that help campers get to know one another and connect. Making friends is an important part of the camp experience, and with the help of their counselors, children learn and practice their friend-making skills. Given that camp programs emphasize forming new friendships and rekindling old friendships, the finding that children felt their social skills improved as a result of camp supports the hypothesis of this study and anecdotal testimonials. Not surprisingly, all campers (100%) reported making new friends at camp, with 99% of campers’ parents (132/133) reporting the same.

How many new friends did you make at camp?

Number of New Friends % of campers
0 0%
1-3 friends 14%
4-6 friends 14%
7-9 friends 19%
10 or more friends 44%

Note: 10 children (6%) did not answer the question.

How do camp experiences foster friendships and develop campers’ social skills?

Helping HandWhile the specific mechanisms for social skills development were not part of this study, campers’ comments provide some clues as to why camp experiences help foster close friendships and improved social skills.

  • Sense of belonging and social acceptance, understanding their value to the camp community:

“I’m not exaggerating, camp is my favorite place on Earth. The people provide a sense of belonging and ‘welcomeness.’ I’ll be back next year!”

“I liked the freedom you are provided with and how many new friends you can make within two weeks!”

“Camp is really fun. It’s usually hard to make friends, but here it’s easy.”Reading with a Friend
“I liked bonding with my horse, my friends, and the counselors.”

“Camp is really fun and it’s usually hard to make friends, but here it’s easy.”

“I get to make new friends and grow better friendships with existing friends.”

  • Opportunity to practice skills like cooperation, altruism, and empathy:

“What I like best about camp is creating connections and having a new home.”

“What I like best about camp is hanging out with my friends.”

“Camp helps me come out of my shell.”
“It’s fun and I get to play with my friends.”

  • Improved ability to label emotions in facial expressions, more time in face-to-face communication (no screens!):

“I want to come back to camp to get away from electronics, and I really like this experience.”

“I liked that there are no electronics, like a cleanse.”

OLC

  • Opportunity to practice their conversation skills at meals, activities, around the campfire, during rest time and while walking around camp:

“I loved doing activities with my cabin group and just talking to them.”

“The best thing about camp is the bonding time you spend with your cabin mates.”

  • Meeting new people:

“I love camp and getting outdoors and meeting new people from places all over the Camp Friendsworld.”

“I loved all of the wonderful counselors and the friends I made.”

Children who live together in close quarters, share activity and meal times, and gather around campfires in discussion and games get an intense burst of time with one another and often report feeling closer to their friends at camp—with whom they spend only two weeks—than to their school friends. Because they are with each other so much and—at the six camps of focus in this study—are required to unplug from electronics, children at summer camp spend more time in intentional, directed conversation as compared to when they are not at camp. Trained counselors lead campers through team- and relationship-building activities throughout the day, skills that are more deeply developed thanks to increased face-to-face communication.

At camp, children are socializing with one another from the moment they wake up Ropes Course Fununtil the minute they fall asleep. They have time to internalize group social norms and learn appropriate social interactions by emulating counselors and fellow campers. For a child who has grown up in the same neighborhood or gone to the same school their whole life, camp may be the first opportunity to meet such a large number of new friends and interact with a diverse group of people. Campers get practice talking to new people, figuring out appropriate self-disclosure, and asking questions to get to know others. It’s no surprise that campers and parents believe camp improves social skills. Those two weeks each summer spent at camp may, indeed, be life changing. And new friends and improved social skills may be the reason!

Social_Skills_Infg

REFERENCES

Crosnoe, R. (2000). Friendships in childhood and adolescence: The life course and new directions. Social Psychology Quarterly, 63(4), 377-391. doi: 10.2307/2695847

RELATED

Study Finds Campers Really are Happy (Sunshine Parenting)
Friends: Finding Gold in a Plastic Era  (Sunshine Parenting)
See more of my research data at campresearch.wordpress.com.

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