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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
“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?
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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!
“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?
Community and Friendship Building
Breadth and Depth of Activities
Social Skill Development
Independence and Confidence Building
“My son has no fears about making friends at his new school because of the experiences he has at GAC. His self-confidence and outgoing nature are so nurtured at GAC that he feels prepared for anything!” – GAC Parent
While a lot of fun happens during even just one day of camp, spending more time connecting and building bonds with counselors, cabin mates, and other campers is one of the benefits of a two-week stay.
The first week of the session, there is an adjustment period for the first few days, when campers are getting settled and getting to know one another, the schedule, and the activities. By the middle of the first week, campers feel settled and comfortable at camp, and relationships have the opportunity to start getting deeper. Friendships, while they can definitely be formed in one week, have a better chance to grow stronger and deeper with more connection time.
“My children lead busy lives during the school year with various teams and enrichment programs. Going to Gold Arrow Camp allows them to unwind and gain a new perspective on friendship, goals and life. From my perspective, GAC is summer the way it is supposed to be for kids. Thank you!!” – GAC Parent
Because all of the campers in the cabin group are at camp for the same length of time (two weeks), there are no departures and arrivals in the middle of the session to disrupt the group’s cohesiveness and the bonds that have developed. Everyone arrives together and departs together, with the exception of our Monther campers, who stay on for another session after their first two-weeks end.
“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!
“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.
“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
“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 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 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.
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.
In 2009, Gold Arrow Camp lost a dear friend. Ken “Coach” Baker (March 10, 1951 – April 5, 2009) worked at GAC as Camp Assistant Director and Director from 1981-1992 and had a huge, positive impact on many of us who are still here at camp today. Ken was instrumental in helping Sunshine purchase Gold Arrow from Jeanie Vezie in 1989, and mentored Sunshine, Monkey, Woody, Chelster, Tigger, Junior, Trapper, and many other GAC staff during their early years working at camp.
Ken had an amazing way of making even mundane tasks like picking up trash and painting buildings feel monumentally important. He had a way of clapping his hands together and giving a pep talk that got everyone fired up to do their jobs well. Ken had a near-constant smile on his face and took every challenge that came his way in stride. We all knew we could go to him with any problem and he would help us figure out how to fix it.
To honor Ken, in 2009 we established “Coach’s Award.” This award has been given each year since to a leader at camp, nominated by his/her peers, who motivates others through positive leadership and encouraging words and exemplifies Ken “Coach” Baker’s dedication to GAC’s vision.
To select each year’s recipient, we ask the entire staff to complete a nomination form, where they put the name of one person whom they think deserves this honor. They include comments about the person they nominate. We have such a high caliber of staff, many of whom are extremely positive and exemplify what Coach stood for, and we are grateful for the legacy he left us and that so many people at GAC are incredibly positive and motivating to others.
There were many 2018 staff who met the qualifications for this award and stood out for their positivity and encouraging words for others. In all, 30 different staff members were nominated. That means that each of those 30 people stood out to another staff member as someone who was a positive, encouraging, supportive leader.
This summer’s recipient, Henry “Bravo” Pedersen, joins the ranks of many other well loved, longtime, members of the GAC community who have positively impacted campers and staff, including 2019 staff members Baboon, Cheerio, and Toyota.
Every time I saw you with your boys you were positive and knew just what they needed. You were so funny at morning assembly too. Never failed to put a smile on my face and others too.
Best counselor here and it’s not even close. Killed it at the hardest job at camp and still knew more kids than his own cabin. Best co ever. He’ll drive up to accept.
You are so extremely positive. Your energy is contagious and your patience is inspiring. You are always there to help anyone, and be a friend to anyone. Above all you are humble, and unafraid to ask for help. That’s a trait not everyone had, and I believe that’s what makes you coach’s award worthy. <3 never stop being you.
He was always so positive and happy around campers. He was very involved during rocks & ropes activities with encouraging his campers to challenge themselves. His energy was always present in all that he did. Camper and counselors looked up to his leadership and kindness.
He has endless patience for kids, he has a great presence and always radiates positivity. Seeing his smiling face on the dining porch always put us in a better mood. I think he really represents the GAC spirit and I was happy to have met him.
Everytime I saw him he always had a smile on his face. He seemed like a great counselor and a great guy regardless of who he was interacting with. His positive attitude was contagious.
Bravo provided an amazing example of what counselors at GAC should be like. Despite having youngest bears for 6 weeks straight, Bravo always had a smile on his face and never once outwardly showed any signs of exhaustion. If I ever worked just half as hard as him, I would be so proud of myself. Bravo, Bravo!
Bravo was the most calming spirit everywhere he went! He oozed enthusiasm and is the perfect demonstration of selflessness & patience. He is an incredible counselor.
Always involved & present with his campers. So kind toward everyone, energized & went above & beyond everyday.
Bravo stepped it up for his first year on staff. He always had a smile on his face even through difficult moments. He was so full of positive energy & knew how to pump up any crowd!
Kind, caring, helps anyone regardless of vote or position. Always gives 100% to campers & staff. Never belittles anyone, treats male AND female staff equally. Always has a kind word to say. He gives camp a special spark. He has more patience than anyone I’ve ever met, and I’ve never been more in awe of a coworker.
You are always positive. You are welcoming & kind to everyone. It was such a joy to meet and spend time with you this summer.
I nominate Bravo due to his ceaseless energy, enthusiasm and patience despite having some of the hardest cabins and most difficult children. I have no doubt that he has left an ENORMOUS impact on his boys, all of whom camp is probably the most challenging yet most positive experience of their year. Bravo brought
a smile to every child and counselors face alike.
Bravo always went above and beyond for his campers. He is super prepared, engaged, cheerful and funny. He always greets me with a smile even though we don’t know each other that well and his campers thrived off his positive energy!
Bravo is an outstanding counselor. He has incredible patience and kindness with his campers. He’s kind & funny & fun to work with. I never saw him without a smile& really loved how inclusive he is to both his campers & fellow staff!
He always brings smiles to other faces. You can tell by his actions how he actually cares about others and how they are doing. When someone asks him for a favor or help he jumps on it with no hesitation. His positivity brings out the best in me as well in others. If anyone deserves it it’s Bravo!
He went above and beyond with his little bears like he literally lost his voice for a month. He makes it look so easy to be a GC, be everyone’s friend, and still be upbeat and active at camp.
Bravo embodies GAC values, energy, love and spirit. He was consistently happy and spreading his positivity to campers and staff.
So much respect for how you managed to keep up your energy always smiling, always helpful and kind. You did such an amazing job with the baby bears and I’m sure everyone loves you.
Seeing the way Bravo interacts with his campers has always warmed my heart. His amount of spirit and fun loving energy has brought so many smiles to GAC.
“Children want to be independent, and they realize that they cannot be truly independent until they beat homesickness, even when they have a painful case of it.” -Michael Thompson, PhD., Homesick and Happy
Do you have a reluctant camper or one who’s not sure if camp is right for him or her?
I talk to a lot of parents before they send their children to camp, and many have campers who are anxious about going to camp. In some cases, they’ve had a negative experience at a one-week school science camp and don’t think they can “make it for two weeks” and are worried about being homesick. In other cases, the kid is a “home body” who prefers being online to playing outdoors.
When talking to parents who are unsure if they should send their child to camp, I share my opinion that for very young kids (ages 6-8), it’s best to wait on camp if they are not enthusiastic about going. Many of our younger campers are siblings of older kids who have attended camp. They have heard about camp for years and can’t wait to participate. Those young kids who are excited to come to camp do fine and rarely struggle with homesickness.
But if your child is nine or ten and is still saying they’re “not ready” or “don’t want to go,” you as a parent need to decide what’s best for your child. After spending close to three decades working at camp, I’ve learned that the same kid who is anxious and hesitant about going to camp when he’s nine or ten will most likely still be anxious when he’s thirteen. As a parent, you need to decide how to approach your child’s anxiety, as well as your own. You can avoid it, not send them to camp, and hope they develop independence in other ways, which is definitely possible. Or, you can bite the bullet, give them these positive messages, and send them off to camp with a smile, knowing that it may be hard for them, but they will grow from the experience.
In Michael Thompson, PhD.’s book Homesick and Happy, he says “It is the very challenge of camp that makes it such a life-changing experience for so many children.”
According to Thompson, “Homesickness is not a psychiatric illness. It is not a disorder. It is the natural, inevitable consequence of leaving home. Every child is going to feel it, more or less, sooner or later. Every adult has had to face it and overcome it at some point in life … If you cannot master it, you cannot leave home.”
I know there are many parents and children who just can’t stomach the idea of going through some painful time apart. You need not read further if you are not sending your reluctant child to camp. This article is for those of you who have decided that your child is going to camp regardless of their reluctance, and also for parents whose previously excited camper is now having last-minute camp anxiety.
Pick and choose the messages that you believe will resonate with your child, and, of course, use your own words. Acknowledge your child’s feelings and empathize while expressing confidence in your child and in the camp experience. Share your own stories!
“I am so excited that you get to go to camp this year. You are ready for this adventure, and I know it will be so much fun.”
“You may feel homesick, and that’s okay. A lot of kids feel that way. That just means that you love us and you love home. I feel homesick when I’m on trips, too. Missing home is part of life. But I konw you can still have fun at camp, even if you feel sad sometimes.”
“There are adults at camp (counselors, directors) who are there to take care of you and help you with anything you need. They can help with things you normally come to me about. Let them know if you are feeling sad, and they can help you. They have lots of experience working with kids who are away from home for the first time.”
“It may seem like a long way off, but in a few years, you’ll be ready for college. I want you to feel confident in your ability to live away from me, so that you can choose any school you like, even if it’s far away from home. Think of camp like your practice time for when you’re older and ready to move away for school or a job. You’ll get better at being independent by starting now, when you’re young, with short spurts of time away. Some kids aren’t doing well when they start college because they don’t have any experience being away from home. I want you to feel great when you go to college, because you’ll know that you’ve already been successful with short camp stays.”
“Many good things in life aren’t easy at first. Learning a new sport or trying something new is really hard. Sometimes you have to get out of your comfort zone to discover something you really love. If you never go through anything hard, you’re going to miss out on some great experiences. The first few days of camp may be hard, and that’s okay. I know you’ll work through it and figure out what makes you feel better. I have confidence in you, and I am so proud of you for going to camp and trying this new adventure!”
“Every day comes with its good and bad parts. When you’re at camp, I want you to write me letters and tell me all of the stuff that you’re doing and feeling. If you feel homesick at rest time, tell me about it, and also tell me what you did to help yourself. Did you talk to your counselor? Keep yourself busy playing cards with friends? Write me a letter? I also want you to share good stuff. Did you get your favorite food for lunch? Try rock climbing? Get up on a wakeboard? I want to hear both the good and bad things about camp in your letters.”
“Even if you’re a little homesick for the whole time you’re at camp, you’re going to feel so much better about the experience if you stick it out and make the best of it. Most kids feel better after a few days of getting settled in and adjusted, and I know you’ll feel great once you let yourself relax and just start enjoying all the fun things at camp. I’m not going to pick you up early, no matter what, because I know you will feel really proud of yourself for making it through camp, even if you have some hard days.”
Another great way to encourage your child to be more enthusiastic about camp, besides sharing these messages, is to connect them with someone who’s been to camp and has had a positive experience. Hearing from a trusted friend how much fun camp is can help a child overcome their anxieties.
Audrey “Sunshine” Monke is the Owner/Director of Gold Arrow Camp. You can read more posts on her blog, Sunshine Parenting.
School is ending and camp is right around the corner. Do you know where your packing list is?
I suspected as much.
In addition to being a camp director, I’m also an experienced camp parent, having sent my kids both to GAC and several other camps. So I am well aware of that “where did I put that camp handbook?” feeling.
My son is going to camp this summer, so I, too, am now in all-out alert mode to get him ready. In the past, I may have waited a tad too long on a few items, so I thought I’d share some advice before I get in gear and get him prepared!
Here are some tips to keep chaos at a minimum during camp preparations for your child:
I really like these labels (and they are the ones we sent you) because you DON’T EVEN HAVE TO IRON THEM! Seriously, when I was getting my older kids ready for camp 15 years ago, we didn’t have such conveniences. Now, it’s super easy to have my kids label all those socks and undies on their own!
The forms we require you to complete are your primary way to communicate your child’s information and any special considerations or needs to the staff who will be caring for your child at camp. If you stick those forms in your child’s luggage as they depart (YOU WOULD NEVER DO THAT, RIGHT?), the staff may not have vital information about your child. Allergy lists for the kitchen, special activity requests, etc., are all made available before campers arrive. We need the forms 30 days before their session begins so that we can get the correct information to the appropriate staff.
Late forms are not okay. Fill them out. (As a related aside, I thought I could call our pediatrician at the end of April and schedule my son for a physical in May, but that was not the case. I had to send an apologetic email to camp explaining that his appointment is four days before the session starts. This is embarrassing for a 34-year veteran camp director!)
Sweat pants? Those can be hard to find in stores this time of year, and if your kids are like mine, last winter’s are way too small. You’ll have to order them online. I know Amazon is fast, but if you’re looking at the packing list the night before camp, even Amazon can’t get the sweatpants to you in time. Check out the list. See what your camper needs. Get it now rather than risking a panic attack at 11:45pm the night before camp.
When I hear about the schedules some of our campers have before and after camp—with not a minute to rest before or recuperate after—I worry. Remember our childhood summer days? A whole lot of nothing, most every day, so that by September school was actually sounding pretty good? Today’s kids have summer school, sports camp, junior lifeguards, test prep, sports practices, band camp, family vacation (need I go on?). Please schedule some time for rest and reflection after camp. The experience is so profound it needs to be savored, not wedged in between everything else.
As soon as your camper arrives at camp, you’ll want grandparents to know how to send emails, and you’ll be anxious to see photos. Practice now so that on the first day of camp, you’re not fumbling around online.
There you have it—just a few tips to get you ahead of the curve on camp preparations. Trust me on these. I have been there a few times, and I know that ironing labels past midnight before an early camp departure is not a fun experience.
Audrey “Sunshine” Monke, Director of Gold Arrow Camp for the past 32 years, writes about camp, parenting, and happiness at her website, Sunshine Parenting. You can also follow Sunshine on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest for links to other articles and ideas about camp and parenting.
Summer Camp (lots of Sunshine Parenting resources to help you prepare for camp!)
Camp Supplies (there are TONS of other places to get camp gear):
Everything Summer Camp (trunks, duffels, other camp gear)
Label Daddy (no iron clothing labels)
Gruvy Wear (UV protective swim wear)