3 Ways To Make Family Dinner Like A Campfire

Most of us know the importance of family dinners:

Kids who regularly eat dinner with their families are more emotionally stable, are less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, get better grades, have fewer depressive symptoms, and are less inclined to obesity or eating disorders.

It’s certainly a compelling list. But what can you do if your family dinner isn’t that great? If people just “eat and run” or don’t really connect? One answer might be turning your dinner table into a campfire pit. Not literally, of course, but group campfires at summer camp offer a great example of fun, engaging activities that have helped make dinners at our house last longer than the ten minutes it takes my boys to shovel down their food.

Here are some ideas:

 

Sharing highs, lows, and “gratitudes” (I know that’s not a real word, but that’s what we use)

One way we’ve found to get everyone talking and contributing at our dinner table is consistent sharing time. We find out what’s going on in our kids’ lives (and in the lives of unsuspecting visiting friends) and we as parents share what’s going on in ours. For children who are quieter and generally don’t “take the floor” as often, this consistent discussion helps them open up.   And for those who don’t naturally focus on the good things, it helps them see the positive in their day.

Around the campfire, it’s an activity called “High & Lows,” or—as it’s now evolved in our family—“Highs, Lows, and Gratitudes.” It’s very simple:  Each person has a turn (uninterrupted, with everyone focused on that one person) to share
•  their HIGH point of the day,
•  their LOW point of the day, and
•  their GRATITUDE—what they’re feeling grateful for.

For a twist, we sometimes make rules for sharing: a “high” might be limited to three words, or a “low” might have a one word limit.  It creates a fun challenge and makes us think. If we can’t come up with a low, we share another high.

Sometimes, we interrupt, tell long stories, or go off on tangents, but that’s okay.  We’re connecting, sharing, and discovering what’s happening in each other’s lives. Our dinners last much longer than ten minutes, and our kids know they won’t be excused until everyone shares.

In The Whole-Brain Child, Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson write about the importance of getting kids to remember their stories.  So, instead of asking “How was your day?” which invariably gets a one-word response, they recommend asking “What was the best part of your day?” and “What was your not-the-best part?”  Sounds like a high and low of the day to me!

Question or topic of the night

There are so many fun books and table games available, but you can probably just take turns thinking up a fun question for each person to answer, much like counselors do around a campfire. For my birthday a few weeks ago, a friend who knows me well gave me Q & A a day for Kids by Betsy Franco, which has 365 questions (one for each day) to discuss with your kids. We also have used The Enchanted Table (by Memorable Mealtimes) and Table Topics, a box of questions that our kids like taking turns reading.

Family Meeting (once per week)

At camp, we always start the session with what we call our “First Night Campfire.” The counselor has a specific agenda for the campfire, which includes all the kids getting to know each other, sharing a goal they have for camp, and what guidelines they want to live by during their two-week stay. Families need to do the same kind of checking in with one other, so—once a week—we have a “Family Meeting” during dinner. We have an agenda that’s on a legal pad next to the table, and we take turns being the “chair” of the meeting.

On our agenda:
• What’s going on this week? We talk about the schedule for the coming week (any big projects/assignments due, any events, parents going anywhere)
• Goal for the week: Each person shares a goal for the week (something we want to get done, do better, etc.)
• A value or social skill we want to talk about. These have been focused on social skills for the past year in our house, and we’ve talked about things like looking someone in the eye while meeting them and how to chat with an adult. We’ve also used this printable (“10 Social Manners for Kids” from iMom) for several topics. Lately, it’s been a contest to see who can remember all ten!

We’ll hold fast to our family dinner time as long as we have kids in the house; I know it will be over far too soon. In the whirl of the last four years, our family group of seven has dwindled to the “final four”: me, my husband, and our two youngest. The meals we share are nothing like June Cleaver’s pot roast, and they often involve my awesome husband cooking or picking up something easy to eat or make. It’s rarely a big production, but it’s still really big. When we are gathered around our table eating and talking—with no phones or tablets in sight—it doesn’t matter if we have a home-cooked meal or a Panda bowl; as long as we’re connecting and sharing, it’s the biggest and best part—it’s our HIGH  point—of the day.

All we’re missing is the campfire.

Originally published at Sunshine Parenting.

Audrey “Sunshine” Monke, MA, has been the owner of Gold Arrow Camp since 1989 and currently serves as the Chief Visionary Officer. In addition to her vision-casting and mentoring at GAC, Sunshine is an author (Happy Campers: 9 Summer Camp Secrets for Raising Kids Who Become Thriving Adults), podcast host, speaker and coach on the topics of parenting, social skills, and happiness. Find out more at her website, Sunshine Parenting.

How Camp Teaches 21st Century Skills

“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

“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:

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.”

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.

Collaboration

When working together at Team Building, during cabin clean up, or while preparing for a 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.

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.

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.

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.

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. 

Audrey “Sunshine” Monke, MA, has been the owner of Gold Arrow Camp since 1989 and currently serves as the Chief Visionary Officer. In addition to her vision-casting and mentoring at GAC, Sunshine is an author (Happy Campers: 9 Summer Camp Secrets for Raising Kids Who Become Thriving Adults), podcast host, speaker and coach on the topics of parenting, social skills, and happiness. Find out more at her website, Sunshine Parenting.

Bears’ Adventure

A kid today can likely tell you about the Amazon rain forest – but not about the last time he or she explored the woods in solitude, or lay in a field listening to the wind and watching the clouds move.
-Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods

At GAC, “getting outside to experience the awe of nature” is one of our core values. Many of our campers, who primarily live in cities or suburbs, have never had the opportunity to live in and experience nature up close. The rustic set-up of our living areas, which are large tents on wood platforms, allows campers the feeling of being close to nature throughout their stay at camp. With no electricity (and the distractions inherent with being plugged into technology), campers truly get to experience living outdoors. From their tents, campers can hear birds chirping, the water running in the creek, and the breeze rustling the tree branches. Evenings include relaxing chats and stories around the campfire while the sun sets and the stars come out overhead.

Campers experience the wonder of nature from the moment they arrive at camp, but there’s just nothing quite like being really far from “civilization” and even further out into nature. Because we’ve experienced how life-changing it is for campers, getting our campers even deeper into the woods is also a priority. With even fewer distractions than what they experience at main camp, our backpacking program serves the purpose of getting our campers completely immersed in nature. For campers who have completed 4th-5th grades (our “Tigers” age group), their cabin group is scheduled for a one-night overnight backpacking trip. Campers get to experience exploring, sleeping, cooking, and living in an even more rustic setting than their camp tent home. I wrote about one of these magical Tigers’ backpacking trips in my post, “Nature Pees and Lanyard Fishing Poles.” Our older campers, the Lions and Eagles (who’ve completed 6th-9thgrades), have the option of signing up for a backpacking trip, one of the most popular choice options for their free choice days.

But a highlight of the two-week session for our youngest campers (grades K-3), and their version of “backpacking,” is Bears’ Adventure. This one-night trip allows campers to experience sleeping outdoors under the stars and cooking over a campfire. Campers’ luggage is taken for them to the campsite, so they are not technically “backpacking,” because they have no pack to carry. With just their water bottle and their positive attitudes, they set out from camp singing and talking on their hike. Once they get to their destination, which feels far from camp (although it is less than a mile away), they are rewarded with a spectacular view of Huntington Lake and the surrounding wilderness area. They truly get the feeling that they have been on a long, adventurous hike.

The best part of Bears’ Adventure is the free time kids get to play and explore the area. For many campers, the longer sticks provide the perfect start to a fort. Others enjoy laying on their sleeping bags talking with friends or silently watching clouds move overhead. Some participate in crafts and games while enjoying being outdoors. For many of these kids, Bears’ Adventure is their first experience “roughing it,” and they absolutely love it.

When they hike back into camp the morning after their Adventure, our Bears’ campers stand a little taller. And their dirty, smiling faces are the best indication that they have experienced the awe of nature.

Friendship is the GOLD Of Childhood

“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

Sunshine is offering a free lunch chat on COACHING KIDS TO BETTER FRIENDSHIPS. Join her on August 31, 2021!

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 kids. 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 constant, 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.

Making friends, and being a good friend, doesn’t come naturally to all people. And, coupled with the 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 making 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.

A few of the many friendship skills we focus on at GAC include:

Introduce Yourself!

Teaching Campers the Friendship Skill of Asking Questions

Friendship Tip: Find Your Best Calm Down Strategy

“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 goodbye. 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, our campers receive their session yearbooks, which include a space for them to share contact information with each other. We hope that campers use this tool to stay in contact throughout the 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.

Audrey “Sunshine” Monke, MA, has been the owner of Gold Arrow Camp since 1989 and currently serves as the Chief Visionary Officer. In addition to her vision-casting and mentoring at GAC, Sunshine is an author (Happy Campers: 9 Summer Camp Secrets for Raising Kids Who Become Thriving Adults), podcast host, speaker and coach on the topics of parenting, social skills, and happiness. Find out more at her website, Sunshine Parenting.

Five Fun Ideas for Letters to your Camper

Because we’re not in the habit of writing letters to our kids much these days – with brief texts being the primary form of written communication between us – it can be challenging to come up with what to write to our campers. This is especially true when you’re writing more letters than you’re receiving, which will most likely be the case, because while your child is busy at camp, you will be at your home or office glued to your computer, looking at photos of the fun they’re having.

To keep letters fun and entertaining for your camper, here are some creative ideas:

Create a “fill-in-the-blanks” response letter

Especially for younger campers (or for kids who think writing is torture), make it easy for them to send you news without having to worry about writer’s block or grammar. Create a funny, fill-in-the-blanks response letter for them, or print one that’s all ready to go!

Another easy, fun idea is to provide a small return postcard with something like, “The fun things I could be doing right now instead of writing home:” and provide three blank spaces.

Include the fill-in-the-blanks letter with a self-addressed stamped envelope. Ideally, your camper will take 60 seconds from their fun to complete the blanks and send it back! However, I offer no guarantees.

Provide a “Top 10” List (à la David Letterman

You can create your own Top 10 list and provide an entertaining letter to your camper, or you can try one of these:

Write a letter from a pet or favorite toy

Mix it up by writing a letter from the perspective of your family dog, a stuffed animal, your camper’s blanket, or some sports item (skate board, bike, etc.)

Make up a story about a picture you’ve seen of them

Why not think up a funny story to go along with a picture you’ve seen of your camper on the camp’s website?

“I saw you climbing up a huge wall at camp. I’m guessing that you were escaping from the camp cook who was trying to make you eat Brussels sprouts?”

Have everyone in the family write a “warm fuzzy” for your camper

This is always such a great activity – even when your child isn’t at camp. But camp is an especially good time to think about what you love about your camper. Get each family member who’s still at home to write a sentence or two about what they love about your camper. You could even collect sentences via email from grandparents and extended family. What camper wouldn’t love to hear how much they are loved and appreciated?

Postcard from camp to my parents, 1977

Have fun writing letters to your camper, and enjoy the hand-written letters you’ll get in return. You’ll want to save those forever!

Here are some additional letter-writing tips:

Make an envelope out of their favorite magazine, a sports article from the newspaper, or something else fun or colorful.

Type the letter in funny fonts or backwards, or hand write it in a circle or in a bunch of different colors.

Ask simple questions and try to just include one per letter.

Include a joke or riddle

Letters to Camp is a whole blog dedicated to letter-writing ideas! Check it out!

Article originally published at Sunshine Parenting.

Audrey “Sunshine” Monke, MA, has been the owner of Gold Arrow Camp since 1989 and currently serves as the Chief Visionary Officer. In addition to her vision-casting and mentoring at GAC, Sunshine is an author (Happy Campers: 9 Summer Camp Secrets for Raising Kids Who Become Thriving Adults), podcast host, speaker and coach on the topics of parenting, social skills, and happiness. Find out more at her website, Sunshine Parenting.

Do Camp Experiences Improve Academic Performance?

In all probability, the educationist of the year 2000 AD will look back upon us and wonder why we, the school people of 1938, failed to include the camp as an integral unit of our educational system.
– The Kappan Magazine, the official magazine of Phi Delta Kappa – 1938

If you ever have the opportunity to visit us at camp, you’ll have the opportunity to sing the GAC Song. While many people love the “wadda-ing” that takes place in the chorus, my favorite part comes in the final verse. We sing, “I sure did learn much more here than I ever did at school.”

My love of this line comes from my teaching before I came to work for Gold Arrow full time; I was a high school social science teacher for 14 years.

It may seem odd that a teacher would love a line about learning more at camp than we did at school. But I do because camp and school operate symbiotically. While those of us in camping and education have known this anecdotally for many years, there is an increasing body of evidence that supports that belief with data.

Some of that research has been supported by the American Camping Association, and I was privileged to hear one of the leaders in the field, Lance W. Ozier Ed.D. speak on this at a recent conference. He has written on the history of camps and schools (you can read it here). In that article, Dr. Ozier lays out the reasons that camp blossomed in America after the Civil War. As people moved to the cities, adults began to worry that their children were losing touch with nature, and so they sent them to live in nature. How familiar does that refrain sound to us today?

And yet the challenges for young people are even greater now than they were then. The rise of computers, social media, and cell phones has had as great a social impact as urbanization a hundred years ago. Today, camp serves not just as a way to re-engage children with nature, but as a way to help them learn vital social skills in a systematic way. We are fortunate that one of our camp owners and directors, Audrey “Sunshine” Monke, has studied the impact of camp on building social skills.  Her research shows that a significant majority of campers report having improved social skills because of camp. She believes that this is because camp counselors are specifically trained in helping campers to improve skills like making friends and listening to others.

It isn’t just Sunshine that has found these results. According to research conducted by the American Camp Association, campers and their parents report that campers have more social skills, higher self-esteem, and more independence. When a child returns to school more comfortable socially, they have more confidence and are more likely to sit up front, ask questions, and ignore distractions. When they do that, they are setting themselves up for more academic success.

But wait, there’s more! Camp also provides an opportunity for children to struggle in a safe and supporting environment. At camp, we talk a lot about growing grit, a concept that has been moved into the public discussion about education by Angela Duckworth’s research. We think that grit is so important we made it our theme for an entire summer! But there is increasing research that shows how struggling actually changes the way the brain grows. This research in neuroplasticity shows that the brain grows much more when it is engaged in something difficult. So every time a camper tries to waterski another time, or climbs the rock wall, their brains are growing!

(Interestingly, that same research shows that the brain also grows more and stronger synapses, in mice at least, when they are allowed to roam openly in nature.)

None of this is news to people who send their kids to camp, or those of us who work at camp. We can see anecdotally that kids are more confident and more “alive” after camp. But this research simply confirms what so many educational researchers knew in the early 1900s: going to camp when you’re not in school will help your education.

 

A Grateful Family Is A Happy Family: Five Gratitude Practices

Creating a grateful family culture is a challenge in our entitled, indulgent age. Yet much research has confirmed what we intuitively know – practicing gratitude and being grateful are keys to a happier life. Therefore, it’s well worth our consistent and continued effort as parents to model and teach our kids to practice gratitude.  As we enter this Thanksgiving week, let’s promote gratitude in our families. After all, if we constantly dwell on what’s going wrong in our lives and in the world (and stay focused on what we don’t have), we are left feeling anxious, empty, and depressed. But when we take time to count our blessings, we shift our mindsets and become happier, more grateful people.

For those of you who would like to create a more grateful family culture, here are five family gratitude practices you might try. If your family is like most, they will  likely only agree to participate in one or two of these, so choose one that resonates for you and go for it!

Daily Gratitude Sharing

Just like we do with our Highs and Lows at dinner or at camp with campers around the campfire, we can get into the habit of sharing, as a family, one (or more) things we’re grateful for. This can be at family dinner, on the car ride to school, at bedtime, or whatever time works best with your family’s schedule. Just make it a daily habit and everyone will get used to it. When we’ve tried this, it seems to eventually warrant some kind of guidelines about what types of things are “shareable.” For example, being thankful for a particular video game might be appropriate to share once, but it’s best to encourage everyone to share about people and events (rather than things) they are grateful for.

Gratitude Jar or Board

This can be an ongoing family gratitude practice, perhaps kicked off at Thanksgiving and ending on New Year’s Eve. For the jar, people jot down things they are grateful for and put the notes inside. On a specified day (end of the year is good!), empty the jar and read the notes so the whole family can reflect on individual and group blessings. A board is a more visual way to show thanks. Simply tack the notes up as you think of things you’re thankful for. Having  a “minimum daily or weekly requirement” of one note per person works well, just so we make it a habit and fill up our jar or board.

Thankful “Warm Fuzzies” at Thanksgiving

This is one of my favorite activities and something we’ve done for the past few years. Each family member has an oversized place card at their dining spot. Throughout the afternoon and evening, people are required to write something they appreciate or are grateful for about each person on the inside of their place card. It can be just a few words or a whole sentence, but each person needs to write on everyone’s card. These are really fun keepsakes that provide a nice boost to each family member. This can also be done as a group by passing the cards around until each person has signed each other person’s card. When your own card gets back to you, you’ve completed your warm fuzzies!

Gratitude Journal

Ask each family member to find a journal that’s sitting empty or partially empty, or even a spiral notebook will do, and ask them to write down two or three things they are thankful for each day. If someone is feeling especially creative, they can even decorate their journal!  From experience, it’s best not to force anyone to write in their journals! Sharing out loud, at dinner or bedtime (see #1), is better for kids who don’t enjoy writing. Perhaps a good alternative would be a family gratitude journal, completed by a parent or designated scribe, when everyone’s sharing what they’re grateful for. That would be similar to the gratitude jar or gratitude board.

Giving to Others

Perhaps the best way to promote gratitude in our children and ourselves is reaching out and serving others who are less fortunate. There are so many opportunities this time of year (and all year long, for that matter) to participate in collection and delivery of food, toys for children, winter coats, and more. There are so many needy people, and reaching out to help others (even virtually!) not only makes us more kind and compassionate, but also more appreciative of what we have.

There are so many ways to build up our gratitude muscles, and helping our kids learn to be more grateful people can have a life-long positive impact. Here’s to an attitude of gratitude during the holidays! Happy Thanksgiving!

Five (More) Reasons Great Parents Send Their Kids To Camp

There are so many reasons great parents choose to send their kids to summer camp. Several years ago, I shared five of them on the most popular post I’ve ever published. But now I have more to share. Consider this the second installment in a series with others to follow, because the list of ways kids benefit from summer camp is seemingly endless.

Since I last wrote about reasons great parents send their kids to camp, I conducted research and found that camp experiences positively impact campers’ happiness and social skills. I’ll begin, then, with happiness.

The first reason great parents send their kids to camp is that it helps them BE HAPPIER.

 

“Camp makes me happy and nothing can prepare me for life as well as this environment.”

“Come on,” you’re thinking, “How can two weeks in the mountains change my child’s overall happiness level?” Good question. One of my research findings was that both parents and kids agree that children feel happier after being at camp. The combination of positive emotions, deep friendships, being disconnected from technology, and just plain fun makes kids feel happier at and after camp I’ve previously written about how the science of positive psychology may explain why kids flourish at camp and demonstrate increased happiness levels before and after their camp experience. In this era, when we’re seeing our kids suffer from rising rates of depression and anxiety, isn’t it nice to know that there’s a place where kids can go that actually serves as a positive intervention for overall happiness?

Next, great parents send their kids to camp because it helps them DISCOVER THEIR BEST SELF.

 

“Being at camp gives me this sense of belonging that I’ve never felt anywhere else.”

In many different ways, but all with the same underlying meaning, campers describe camp as a place where they can be themselves. They feel open to saying and being who they really are, not stuck conforming to what’s considered “cool” and “acceptable” in the outside world. Surrounded by a diverse group of friends of different ages and backgrounds, kids develop the ability to explore their own interests and express their own thoughts better. As a parent, I hate to admit that I sometimes push my own interests on my kids, even when I don’t mean to. For example, I might say, “You’re so good at softball! Don’t you want to keep playing?” when my child says she doesn’t want to play anymore. Stepping away from their regular activities and normal life schedules (as well as their well-meaning but often overly directive parents), kids have the opportunity to think through what’s really important to them as individuals.

Third, great parents send their kids to camp because it helps them GROW THEIR GRIT.

 

“The counselors challenged me to do things I wouldn’t normally do at home.”

Learning self-reliance, experiencing mistakes and failures, and reaching for goals are all camp experiences that help campers develop their grit, an important character trait that we’ve learned is critical to success in life. Camp offers a unique experience to children – the chance to be away from their parents for a short period of time and learn to handle more things on their own. Without parents to step in and assist, or rescue from mistakes, kids develop confidence in their own ability to make decisions and solve problems. Just being “on their own” is a huge confidence builder for kids, and they feel more self-reliant after being responsible for themselves and their belongings for a few weeks.

Fourth, great parents send their kids to camp because it helps them MEET POSITIVE ROLE MODELS.

 

“Camp has made me into a leader, having the best role models as my counselors to look up to.”

One of the best things that happens at camp is that kids get exposed to a different kind of adult role model than what they see in the media. No reality TV stars will be gracing the waterfront or backpacking trips at summer camp. No perfectly coiffed and stick-thin model will be standing next to them brushing teeth in the bathroom. No macho guy who speaks disrespectfully about women will be leading the campfire discussion. In fact, the college students who choose to spend their summer working at camp are an outstanding bunch of young adults. Most are stellar students with outstanding leadership skills. They love the outdoors and working with kids, and they are the kind of people we want our kids to emulate. They love leading discussions on topics that are important to their campers and helping them build confidence. There’s no focus on appearance at summer camp, and so designer clothes, make up, and trendy hair-styles don’t hold the same importance that they do at junior high or high school. In fact, the predominant style at camp is pajama pants paired with dirt and sweat-stained t-shirts. And we hardly ever spend time in front of a mirror.

Finally, great parents send their kids to camp because it helps them DEVELOP BETTER COMMUNICATION SKILLS.

 

“The other part of camp that has influenced me the most is the simple idea of trying to always smile.”

In post-camp surveys, campers consistently write about how ditching their electronics was one of the best things about their camp experience. In fact, it’s a practice they take home with them, setting aside phones during meals with friends so they can connect more genuinely, face-to-face. In the absence of technological tethers, campers have many hours each day to practice these face-to-face communication skills. They learn the importance of things like eye contact, smiles, and body language as they positively interact with their peers. Counselors help facilitate lively discussions, and campers learn to ask each other questions, listen more carefully, and figure out common interests. Kids learn and practice valuable communication skills at camp, which they can use throughout their lives.

There you have it! Five (more) reasons that great parents send their kids to camp!

This post was originally published on Sunshine’s blog, Sunshine Parenting. For more camp-related posts, visit the  “Summer Camp” page at her blog.

 

4 Reasons For 2 Weeks

By Audrey “Sunshine” Monke
Three boys sail at a summer camp on Huntington Lake in California, Gold Arrow 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 at the 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.A counselor and a campers at Gold Arrow Camp in California, a summer camp, pose for a photo

“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

A group of boys pose with their counselors at Gold Arrow Camp in California

“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

Lyric Returns

Episode 31.

 

On this episode of the GAC POG-Cast, Soy is joined by his first ever return guest, Lyric. Lyric was in the studio to chat about his second year on staff and what it was like to become a Group Counselor this summer. As usual, there’s a GACspiration as well as Joke of the Cast inspired by a great Disney movie.