Campfire Notes

Better Together – GAC 2021

Better Together – GAC 2021

We can’t wait to be back together at GAC for summer, 2021, because we are so much BETTER TOGETHER than we are apart!

Last summer, we explored the theme of BE YOU, which was appropriate – and hopefully helpful – as all of us navigated a summer without in-person GAC. You can still access all of the resources we shared to help you learn to be your very best self, because being your best self is always a great idea. We sent a BE YOU workbook to each of our campers (let us know if you need us to send another copy!).

This summer, we’ll be having fun, making friends, and growing our skills (as always), AND we’ll be focusing more closely on these specific skills that remind us how we are better when we live, work, and play together:

  • Practice Face-to-Face Social Connection & Friendship Skills
  • Develop active listening skills
  • Celebrate each other
  • Practice Teamwork
  • Foster Empathy

Practice Face-to-Face Social Connection & Friendship Skills

Unplugging and connecting face-to-face is one of our core values at GAC. This summer, perhaps more than ever before, practicing those connection and friendship skills will be central to each of our camper’s experience at GAC. This summer, we’ll unplug from our screens and focus on the real, face-t0-face, messy real-life relationships that make life meaningful. We’ll work on the skills kids need to make and keep friends, including introducing themselves to others, asking good questions, listening well, celebrating each other, and developing empathy.

Read more:
Too Much Screen Time? Camp Can Help!

Research Finds Children Learn Social Skills At Camp

Develop Active Listening Skills

“The way to improve your listening skills is to practice “active listening.” This is where you make a conscious effort to hear not only the words that another person is saying but, more importantly, the complete message being communicated.

In order to do this you must pay attention to the other person very carefully.

You cannot allow yourself to become distracted by whatever else may be going on around you, or by forming counter arguments while the other person is still speaking. Nor can you allow yourself to get bored, and lose focus on what the other person is saying.”

-Active Listening,

How well we listen impacts all areas of life – including the quality of our relationships with others. Active listening is one of the social skills we’ll focus on modeling and teaching campers this summer. Listening well helps us avoid conflicts and misunderstandings.

Five Key Active Listening Techniques (we’ll be practicing)

1. Pay Attention – Give speaker your undivided attention by looking at the speaker directly and putting aside distracting thoughts.

2. Show that you’re listening by using your body language (nodding, smiling and other facial expressions, posture that is open and interested) and small verbal comments like “yes,” and “uh huh.”

3. Provide feedback by reflecting on what the speaker said and asking follow up questions.

4. Refrain from interrupting and defer judgment by allowing speaker to finish each point before asking questions. Wait until the speaker is done to share your perspective.

5. Respond appropriately in a way that is respectful and the way you want to be treated when you speak.

Celebrate Each Other

Responding positively to others’ triumphs is a friendship-enhancing skill that research has proven also enhances marriages and other relationships. If our kids learn to be as happy and excited for their friend’s victory as if it were their own, that’s an excellent relational skill that will benefit them throughout their lives. Throughout their stay at GAC, campers will be encouraged to cheer each other on and celebrate with each other when a friend reaches a goal, overcomes a fear, or tries something new. When campers truly celebrate each others’ accomplishments, their friendships grow stronger.

Read about how we “WOW” each other at GAC.

Practice Teamwork

“No one can whistle a symphony. It takes a whole orchestra to play it.” H.E. Luccock

In this competitive, self-focused era, learning to be part of a team is a valuable skill that is not often taught to children (or adults!). Kids participate on many sports teams, but often that experience does not end up being a lesson in teamwork. Instead, sports teams often become a competitive experience of trying to get the position or play time they want as an individual.

One reason for our focus on non-competitive programs is so that kids can learn new skills without feeling the pressure to win or be the best. We also want kids to learn to be part of a team (their cabin group) and be better team members. The experience of living with a group of diverse people in a cabin group is the first lesson in teamwork that campers learn. Campers learn to work together to keep their living area organized, do daily clean up, and get to where they need to be (meals, activities, etc.). They also learn to support and encourage each other and help each cabin member do their best at each activity.

Read about how we practice teamwork at GAC.

Foster Empathy

Youth today are experiencing the highest level of narcissism and mental health issues (depression, anxiety, suicide) in history. The research-backed antidote, and one cure for what ails young people and adults alike, is increased empathy. This summer, counselors will model empathy and encourage campers to practice more kindness and empathy with one another.

Empathy is a social skill that is difficult to teach and, in fact, difficult to define. Generally, empathy is our ability to sense others’ emotions and imagine what they may be thinking or feeling. Gwen Dewar, Ph.D., calls empathic responses “standard-issue, grown-up social skills,” yet even adults have trouble with them. If adults struggle with empathy, how much more difficult must it be for children! But self-awareness, self-regulation, and the ability to take another’s perspective are all skills children must come to know.

Read more about how we can foster empathy in our kids.

Life is more fun and has much more meaning when we are together. This summer we’ll be celebrating being back together and will be practicing being Better Together!

More fun Things

Jack Johnson’s song, Better Together, will certainly be sung and listened to this summer at GAC!

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Too Much Screen Time? Camp Can Help!

Too Much Screen Time? Camp Can Help!

By Audrey “Sunshine” Monke, originally published at Sunshine Parenting.

I’ve learned to face my fears, I’ve tried new things, and I have learned that you don’t always need to have your phone or video games.

-Kimberly, Camper

Children between eight and ten years old currently spend nearly eight hours a day on media. Adolescents average nearly eleven hours per day, seven days a week, on screens. The negative impact of this digital lifestyle is evident in kids’ expanding waistlines as well as their growing lack of interest in being outdoors. Now there’s an additional worry about the impact of our kids’ excessive screen use: anxiety.

In a  New York Times article—Why Are More American Teenagers Than Ever Suffering From Severe Anxiety?Benoit Denizet-Lewis writes, “Anxious kids certainly existed before Instagram, but many of the parents I spoke to worried that their kids’ digital habits—round-the-clock responding to texts, posting to social media, obsessively following the filtered exploits of peers—were partly to blame for their children’s struggles. To my surprise, anxious teenagers tended to agree.”

Anxiety is on the rise—among children, teens, and adults—and our screen time is exacerbating the issue. The problem is not just with teens. Adults are modeling this uber-connected life and experiencing a similar rise in anxiety. Ubiquitous screens are all that this anxious generation has ever experienced, and as parents, we can feel powerless to stop devices from overtaking our family’s lives.

Whether sending or receiving SnapChat messages, watching YouTube videos, scrolling on Instagram, playing video games, or taking 100 selfies to find the best angle, our children are inundated with digital input while also feeling pressure to post the “right” things.  The attraction of media is hard to resist, so most of us (including parents) simply succumb to having the near-constant presence of our electronics.

Many of us find it difficult to drag ourselves away from our laptops and smartphones, and often our schedules and lifestyles don’t allow for adequate time to just be outside and enjoy our natural surroundings.  Richard Louv coined the term “Nature Deficit Disorder” in his book Last Child in the Woods to describe the alarming trend of children spending less and less time outdoors.  Whether due to sensational media accounts of lost hikers that have fanned parental fears, or simply a lack of time in over-scheduled lives, children simply aren’t outside playing as much as they used to. Instead, they’re inside on their screens.

I don’t think anyone would debate that we all need to unplug more, but it’s very difficult to actually get kids off their screens, especially now that many schools are operating virtually, and most kids have their own smartphone by middle school.

Recently, I interviewed a mom who gave clear instructions before her twelve-year-old daughter’s birthday slumber party: devices would NOT be allowed. But this mom, unfortunately, is still the exception, not the rule. She lamented that when her kids go to other people’s houses, they complain that all the kids do is play on their devices the entire time. While we can get our kids to turn off and put away screens at home, it’s difficult to monitor them when they’re not at home. And, unfortunately, kids are drawn to homes where screens are not as limited.

While a few weeks at camp is not the only answer to all the screen and anxiety problems, camp experiences can be a great salve for our kids. Breathing fresh air, connecting face-to-face, and not worrying about “likes” and what they’re missing, kids relax and enjoy themselves. And they report feeling happier and less anxious.

Here are four ways summer camp can help with the parenting challenge of too much screen time:

  1. DETOX:
    Just being completely unplugged for a few weeks is a new and refreshing experience for kids—a true digital detox. Because they’re having fun and staying engaged and entertained, they get over their screen addiction quickly. And, because it’s a “cold turkey” approach with no ambiguity (everyone’s following the same rules), campers don’t push back against being unplugged like they do at home.
    By experiencing screen-free fun and friendships, many campers express a new desire to spend less time on their devices once they return home. Campers and staff have frequently reported examples of providing leadership in asking friends to participate in phone-free times.
    While counting shooting stars, appreciating spectacular views from a hike, or smelling the smoke from their campfire, campers aren’t thinking about their TV, video games, and cell phones. Instead, they are experiencing nature and being truly present with others. Many discover new outdoor activities they enjoy, and they are inspired to spend more time outside and in the moment once they return home.
    Social interactions can be difficult, and many kids choose to keep interactions safely behind a screen. At camp, while sharing stories around the campfire and spending quality face-to-face time with new and old friends, campers gain more confidence in their social skills and are more likely to pursue real, face-to-face friendships upon returning home.

Getting kids off their screens — and convincing kids how good it feels to be unplugged — can be a real challenge. Summer camp can help.


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