Campfire Notes

Five Life Skills Teens Get On The OLC (Outdoor Leadership Course)

Five Life Skills Teens Get On The OLC (Outdoor Leadership Course)

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.

1. Leadership

“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.

2. Independence

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 love the separation from technology at camp because it allows everyone to love in the moment and have good face-to-face conversations. Especially during OLC, we spent so much time together as a group that I realized technology really draws from social interaction in everyday life.” – Sophie, 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.

4. Resilience

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.

5. Responsibility

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 every day was different, some days we would do longer hikes, and others we would have a lot of time to relax and the enjoy the people and scenery. One of my favorite days out in the backcountry was 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

If you have any questions or would like to know more, visit the Outdoor Leadership Course page, email us, or give us a call at 1-800-554-2267 ex. 0.

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The Best Gifts for Kids

The Best Gifts for Kids

Most tangible, material gifts we give our children, spouse, and friends are outdated, broken, lost, or unused within months of the gifting. We can rarely remember what the gifts from past years even were.

Like most parents, I realize there are far more important gifts we give our children than the ones we wrap in December for Christmas or Hanukkah. This time of year is a great time to remind ourselves that the gifts that last are the ones that can’t be wrapped: gifts of time together and connection and of fun family memories.

As my dad’s favorite coffee mug says, “The best things in life aren’t things.”

In the spirit of this season of giving, here are a few (mostly) non-toy gift ideas. I hope you get some great ideas for each of your kids, and maybe the adults in your life, too!

The Gift of Time

Play games together

Game nights produce memories (good and bad), so maybe consider giving a group gift of a new game to play this holiday season.

Invest in a group activity

We have probably gotten the most mileage of family activity time from our basketball hoop, ping pong table, and trampoline. These are “big” group gifts that got the most mileage in both years and quality time together. So, if you have more than one child, consider one “WOW” gift that will get a lot of use. When our kids were little, a few of the most popular group gifts were a large whiteboard and a gymnastics mat. Both got many hours (and years!) of use.

Schedule “dates”

I know families who have “date nights” with each of their children. I love the idea and would like to work it into my gift giving this year. One child may want a lunch date, while another prefers a bike ride or a game of tennis. In any case, spending time with our kids, doing something they want to do with us, is a gift indeed (for both them and us). Time seems to be the hardest gift to give, but it is also most highly valued by the recipient. How about creating a gift coupon for a date that would be special for your child?

Event gifts

These can be costly, but one popular gift we’ve given our teenagers is concert tickets. Wrapping up the ticket in a gift bag with a ribbon makes it a “real” gift.

Subscriptions, Memberships, or Classes

Subscriptions to magazines, Book of the Month, music lessons, or classes are always a great way to give a gift that kids enjoy all year long! If a child has an interest in something specific and would enjoy an outing, consider researching a class or exhibit and creating a coupon or certificate to present to them. One year, I gave my daughter a one-day photography class using a local Groupon, and we had a great Saturday together in January learning how to use all the settings on our cameras.

Plan fun family events

Anything you do as a family creates memories and is a gift that will be remembered. Whether it’s a movie and popcorn night at home or a walk through the neighborhood to see the holiday lights, the gift of time as a family is so important to our kids. When we don’t default to our phones, computers, and TVs, it’s amazing what we discover there is to do!

Remember family memories

Like many of my gift suggestions, this one requires time. I love recording and recounting memories (my 36,059 photos on iPhoto prove it). My kids never get tired of hearing stories from when they were little or watching our scant supply of digitized home videos from when they were toddlers. One of my favorite gifts from my husband was a hard drive with all of our family movies digitized on it. We have had hours of entertainment watching our old home movies.

Take some time this holiday to get out the old photos (or pull them up on the screen using the cool new technology) and create a book or collage or slideshow together. We also like to list our “Top 100 Memories” of the year over the holidays. It’s fun to reflect on what we’ve done together and what’s happened over the year.

Gifts to Wrap


For something to wrap, gifting books is always a great option, especially when I’m excited to have found one I have enjoyed myself and think the recipient will enjoy. And, although books are a material item, a good book has a much longer lifespan than most toys or electronic devices. Passing along a favorite, loved book (even if it’s well-used), inscribed with a personal message, is a fun gift idea. Or, giving a fresh copy of one of your favorite books or series that you enjoyed at your child’s age is a meaningful gift.

Books have the potential to be re-read, passed around, and enjoyed by many. They can take on a life of their own. While most books can be read on an e-reader or borrowed from the library, there are some that your child may value having in their personal library. When you give a book gift, be sure to inscribe the book with a note with the child’s name, the occasion the book is being given, the year, and your name. Who knows the mileage that book will have?

Another fun idea is listening to a book together on a holiday drive! Check out some fun family book listens on!

Personalized or Homemade Gifts

Having your name or initial on an item makes it feel extra special and shows that thought and time went into the selection.

Some of my favorite personalized gifts to give and to receive over the years have included:
Personalized stationery
Monogrammed towels, key chains, luggage
Framed photos
Letters of appreciation
Recipe & ingredients to cook something
Instructions & supplies for a science experiment
Supplies (and offer of your time) for a craft: wood working, needlework, sewing, painting, lettering, welding, etc.

Give friendship, fun, and growth

I’ll “wrap up” my gift-giving suggestions with one of my favorites (predictably, since you’re reading this on our blog), the gift of a session at camp! The gift of camp lasts a lot longer than any toy. Campers learn life skills, such as social skills, independence and responsibility, while having the time of their lives.

Many grandparents or parents give camp as their child’s big gift for the holidays. Especially for kids who have been to camp before, this is a gift they really appreciate. I like the idea of wrapping up the “You’re going to camp!” note with a campy item like a water bottle, camp t-shirt, beanie, sleeping bag, or disposable camera.

With our kids now beyond childhood, we opted last year (for the first time) to forgo the major gift giving and instead had a fun trip over the holidays be our big gift. We went to Costa Rica and took surfing lessons!

Instead of running out to a bunch of stores and wearing out the UPS truck with daily deliveries (both of which I have decades of experience doing), this season I will take a few minutes to think about each family member and friend and decide what would be a special, meaningful item I can give them or experience I can offer.

I wish you a stress-free holiday season where you can focus less on acquiring more stuff and more on creating fun family memories.

Audrey “Sunshine” Monke, Chief Visionary Officer of Gold Arrow Camp, is an author, speaker, and podcaster. You can find more of her writing and resources at her website, Sunshine Parenting. Her book, Happy Campers: 9 Summer Camp Secrets for Raising Kids Who Become Thriving Adults, is available wherever books are sold.

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