At one time in their lives, many of the parents I know were camp counselors. Those same people have told me that their time spent as counselors was great training ground for parenting. Among other things, they learned to comfort, encourage, set goals, and resolve disputes — all things we experience daily in our lives as moms and dads.
However, not every parent has had the benefit of camp counselor training. In fact, most parents have had NO training at all. Perhaps they took a Lamaze class or two, but we all know that having the kid is not the hardest part!
I’ve often lamented that all parents should be required to go through some training, at least the same training camp counselors do (a minimum of one week at most camps). Unfortunately, that is not the case, nor is it realistic. So the best we can do for those who were never camp counselors is offer a few tried and true tips from a few outstanding folks who were:
1. Practice catching kids doing the right thing.
2. Check in with each child one-on-one every day.
3. Establish fun daily traditions: share highs & lows at dinner or bedtime, do riddles, read a book out loud, play games together, collect family memories.
4. Sing and dance together A LOT.
5. Smile and stay positive. Apologize for any crabbiness.
6. Address difficult issues privately and by focusing on the ISSUE not the child.
7. Do team-building activities like sharing goals and dreams.
8. Get unplugged and focus on face-to-face communication.
9. Get outside and get dirty.
10. Follow a predictable schedule and enforce rules consistently.
This year’s summer theme, chosen to help guide campers to be trustworthy and dependable friends, cabin mates, and family members, is “Count on Me.”
Our first summer theme was in 2012 when we chose the theme of gratitude. We followed that theme with kindness (Cool 2B Kind), relationship building (Creating Connections), helpfulness (Give a Hand), grit (Growing Grit), positivity (The Energy Bus), a focus on friendship (Find-a-Friend), building up others (Filling Buckets), being our best selves (Be You ), appreciating our community (Better Together), and Choosing Kindness (2022).
An important character trait of a good friend is being reliable, dependable, and trustworthy. We know that it’s important that our campers develop these traits. This year at Gold Arrow Camp, we will be learning how to be people our friends can count on.
We’re thrilled to make our GAC community stronger by helping campers understand the importance of being a person their cabin mates, friends, and family can count on. There are many opportunities at camp to be dependable and reliable. “Counting on Me” means using our words and actions to show others they can count on us:
The pinwheel represents our 2023 theme. No matter which of its blades catches the smallest breeze first, it turns the whole wheel together. It takes less effort to spin as each individual part gathers more of the wind. Without all of its blades, it cannot spin evenly and efficiently. Each blade relies on the others. Working together, the pinwheel creates a mesmerizing display of beauty. It reacts to the gusts that blow its way then it gently returns to rest, ready for what the day may bring.
“Count on Me” builds on the work we’ve done in the areas of positivity, friendship, and kindness. The friendships we forge at camp are special for many reasons, and we know that keeping the focus on being someone others can count on will add depth and richness to our connections. It is our sincere hope that 2023’s GAC campers will take this theme home and continue to be people others can count on in their communities by being trustworthy, reliable, and dependable. You can count on me!
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 Camp 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.
I would not be the person I am today without camp.
My three decades of camp experience, coupled with my own and others’ research, have shaped my long-held opinion that camp experiences benefit children in profound ways. Yet even I was astounded by the revelations shared at our closing campfires last summer for the campers who were completing their final seasons as campers. These campfires were an emotional time to say goodbye to our high school kids heading into 10th grade.
After their counselors spoke about each of them and shared words of affirmation and encouragement, I asked the kids if they wanted to share anything they had learned at camp they might use throughout their lives. I knew we had a special gig going at camp, and that we were providing a positive, healthy community where kids could have fun, make friends, and grow, but I hadn’t heard the specific life lessons that they believed they learned at camp in such direct and heartfelt words spoken out loud.
Our oldest campers shared that they learned how to be happy, “to just have fun and not worry so much.” In a time when so many young people struggle with depression and anxiety, it was heartwarming to hear that, for many of them, camp is their “happy place.”
Campers also said they learned to be happy in their own skin, gaining confidence in their abilities, speaking up for things they believe in, and worrying less about what others think of them. “I have the freedom to be myself,” said one. Added another, “When I am at camp, I am a better version of myself than anywhere else on Earth.”
Being their truest selves, they found, paved the way for them to meet new people and explore new friendships. “Camp has made me a more open and caring person,” said one. At camp, many said they experienced a sense of belonging they didn’t always feel in their schools.
This comfort at camp enabled them to take risks and conquer fears, and they challenged themselves in new and adventurous ways. It didn’t matter if they failed, they said, because they were surrounded by counselors and friends who supported them no matter the outcome. “I’ve learned that the magic happens,” said one, “outside of your comfort zone.”
But among the sentiments that cheered me most from those older campers was the idea that camp helped them learn to live in the moment, to enjoy where they were in the Great Outdoors, and not worry about what the future held. Said one, “I found a passion for the outdoors I thought I would never have.” That’s what tends to happen, of course, when kids are unplugged from their technology for a time. Experiences and relationships are more vibrant and real, and kids expressed how great it was to connect face-to-face.
I really loved the way one camper put it: “When I was put in a cabin group with seven other random girls, we bonded really well and didn’t judge each other before we got to know them, because we had never seen each other’s social media profiles.”
I reflect back on those and other words and see that these 15-year-olds have wisdom that many adults have yet to acquire. Truly, I was blown away by what they said they learned at camp, and I could see in their spirits what one of them expressed: “Being at camp has influenced me to be a better person who wants to be a leader, not a follower.” I feel honored to know these articulate, honest, and thoughtful young adults who do not fit the teenage stereotype and are far more mature than I was at their age. These kids chose sleeping outdoors and sitting around a campfire instead of hunching over their phones.
When I look back on those memorable campfires, I feel deep gratitude for our oldest campers, the life-changing experiences they had at camp, and that I had the opportunity to play a small role in their learning. I am also grateful for the parents of these kids who were willing to share time with their children, and a piece of their childhoods, with our camp. And I am reminded, as a parent, that although there are many things I want my kids to learn—and I’d love to be their teacher—many of their best lessons will come from experiences apart from, and from someone other than, me.
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.
Jingle Bell Run is Coming!
The GAC Runners will once again convene on Christmas Tree Lan in Fresno, California for their participation in the Fresno area Jingle Bell Run! We invite all Central California GAC families (and those that may be in the area) to join us for the 5K run or 2 mile walk. The run and walk both benefit Toys for Tots.
All registered participants get a sweatshirt AND will get to see their GAC family while there! We will meet at 8:30am at the Starbucks in Fig Garden for a group photo before walking over to the starting line. The run and walk begin at 9am on Saturday, December 10th. Please let us know if you’ll be able to join us so that we can keep an eye out for you and your family!
Click here to register for the Fresno Jingle Bell Run and join team Gold Arrow Camp! We hope to see you there.
What are the GAC Runners? Click here to find out more about GAC Runners.
Want to bring some of the fun and connection of GAC home to your family this year? Creating a close and connected family culture that promotes positive, lifelong relationships is the most important thing we can do for our children.
Grab your coffee or tea, login, and join other GAC parents for our first parent coffee of 2023! We’ll learn about and discuss simple, research-based and experience-backed strategies covered in Sunshine’s book, HAPPY CAMPERS: 9 Summer Camp Secrets for Raising Kids Who Become Thriving Adults.
Audrey “Sunshine” Monke, who will be speaking at this coffee, is Gold Arrow Camp’s Chief Visionary Officer and the host of the Sunshine Parenting Podcast. Audrey regularly speaks to parents and teachers on the topics of friendship skills, connection, and well-being.
We will send a free, signed copy of HAPPY CAMPERS to the first 50 current GAC parents who register for the January coffee.
Listen to “The Magic of Camp,” a 12-minute audiobook sample from the introduction of Happy Campers.
If you prefer to listen or read a digital copy, here are links for purchasing those versions:
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 month, 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!
Our Bears campers had a fun night of dancing and ice cream! We always love watching them socialize with each other and make new friends!
Our Eagles campers enjoyed a fun social together this week. On Tuesday, they had a fun evening of casino games, laughter, and ice cream!
As always, Carnival was a blast for all campers and staff! Check out some highlights from the day here!