Parking Your Helicopter

Originally published on Sunshine Parenting
By Audrey “Sunshine” Monke

As parents of this generation, we’ve been told that great parenting means being super-involved with our children and always being in constant communication with them. We give them cell phones as soon as we feel they are ready to have a bit of independence so that we can be assured that they will call us the minute they need us.

There are many benefits to this parenting style. We know our kids well and have developed close family relationships. We also know each of their homework assignments (and assist with a few of them), the drills they did at soccer practice (because we either coached their team or stayed and watched), and what they ate for snack at school. The downside to our “helicopter” parenting, though, is it makes it difficult for our children to develop their independence, problem-solving, and decision-making skills.

Hooray for camp! Without a cell phone (or their parent next to them) to immediately turn to when they are faced with a decision, campers learn to use other resources – including their own great minds. Without us watching them and being a reminder of what they’ve been scared of in the past, they challenge themselves and try something new. The confidence that results from their accomplishments and independence can be life-changing, and the best thing we hear from our campers and parents is that camp truly makes their life better.

According to past staff member and camper, Renee “Zippy” Tucknott, “Gold Arrow Camp taught me early in life that I can survive in the world without my parents making my decisions, and I am able to make my own decisions and choices that will impact my life. When I got to college, I experienced some of the same decisions and choices and already knew I could survive on my own.”

As technology has provided us with the ever-increasing ability to be in touch– immediately – with everyone, it has also given the children and young adults of this generation a crutch that we (those of us in our late 30s and up) did not have. When faced with a decision or problem with a friend, we had to rely on ourselves first and later discuss it with our parents. Now, kids are getting accustomed to calling their parents before attempting to solve the challenge on their own.

At GAC, we have a great support network to help our campers work through challenges, fears, and problems that may come up. They never feel “alone,” but they feel independent from their parents, and a lot of pride comes from that independence.

So, enjoy your child’s stay at GAC this summer and rest assured that while your helicopter is parked, your child is spreading their wings!

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 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.

 

Choose Kindness

We cannot tell the precise moment when a friendship is formed. As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over; so in a series of kindnesses there is at last one which makes the heart run over.
Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

Summer, 2022 Theme: Choose Kindness

We selected Choose Kindness as our 2022 Summer Theme because growing our campers’ “kindness muscles” aligns with our mission of equipping campers to thrive despite life’s challenges. Focusing on kindness also helps us meet our goals of building our campers’ friendship skills (Make Friends) and growing their positive character traits (Grow). Learn more about our vision, mission, and goals on our Why GAC? page.

Our kids are growing up in a challenging and divisive time. They are, unfortunately, witnessing a lot of disrespectful and mean behavior. In my book, I wrote about the importance of modeling and growing the trait of kindness in our kids. Here’s an excerpt from the kindness chapter:

The example and messages kids get from the media (and their school hallways) often do not promote kindness. Many kids learn that the quickest route to popularity is putting others down or leaving other kids out. In the perceived zero-sum social worlds of middle and high school, one person being put down means you get on a higher rung of the social ladder. Social media posts, political discourse, and cultural norms often promote name-calling and being mean, gossiping, and telling jokes at the expense of others. That’s what our kids are seeing and hearing every day, and that’s also why many kids start to consider it cool to perpetrate mean behaviors. It’s no wonder that while adults are sending hateful messages through tweets, our kids are practicing a similar level of meanness on their own media. Why are adults so shocked to hear about horrendous stories of cyber and in-person bullying when we as adults are modeling that very same behavior? But there is hope for our world, because kids intuitively understand the benefits of kindness and can be taught to be kinder when we take the time to model, talk about, and practice kindness with them.

Camp Secret #8: Make it Cool to Be Kind (Happy Campers: 9 Summer Camp Secrets for Raising Kids Who Become Thriving Adults)

 

This summer at GAC, we’re putting the spotlight on what it looks and feels like to choose kindness in our interactions with and response to others.

We’ll be growing our campers’ kindness muscles by:

From the moment campers arrive, counselors will be modeling for and encouraging them to incorporate kindness into their daily words, actions, and routines. “GACs of Kindness” will be recognized and praised by counselors, announced at our daily Morning Assemblies, posted on our WOW board, and talked about throughout the session.

Helping others makes people happy. It feels good to share, to give, and to be kind to others. Sometimes in secret, and sometimes in front of others, we’ll be doing kind things for our fellow campers, counselors, support staff, and those outside our camp community this summer.

One of the great things about Gold Arrow Camp is that so many people feel happy when they’re here. We’re committed to equipping our campers with habits and skills that they can practice long after their session at camp.

This summer, we’re focusing on how – regardless of our circumstances and others’ behavior – we can always choose kindness.

2022 Gold Arrow Camp Kindness Calendars

2021 Camp Kindness Day

Ep. 165: Cultivating Kindness

Is Kindness the Secret to a Successful Life?

Coaching Kids to Better Friendships

“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 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.

10 Surprising Things Kids Learn at Camp

I would not be the person I am today without camp.
-15-year-old camper

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.

2022 Kindness Calendars

Check out GAC’s Kindness Calendars for the 2022 year! Click on each month for a printable version or click here to print all 12 months!

Five Reasons Every Teen Should Go To Summer Camp

By Audrey “Sunshine” Monke. Originally published at Sunshine Parenting

#1  Improve Interpersonal Skills & Form Close Friendships

 

“In a … study of 515 senior executives, emotional intelligence was a better predictor of success than either relevant previous experience or high IQ.” -Forbes, “Look for Employees with High EQ over IQ”

In a world where anyone can look up a fact or equation and where machines are replacing even complex workplace tasks, employers need employees who can interact effectively with other people. This is one of the most important skills teens learn at camp. In the unplugged, non-competitive camp culture, teens build up their “emotional intelligence” (EQ), their face-to-face communication and relationship skills. 21st-century employers need people who can communicate, collaborate, and cooperate with others, and teens who come to camp get to practice those skills every day.

If you are debating whether your teen can miss a few weeks of SAT prep or a summer academic program, know that the 1600 SAT score will never outweigh the important communication and relationship skills he or she will develop at camp. Whether on a backpacking trip, cheering each other through a ropes course, or chatting around the campfire, the interpersonal skills teens build are the same ones they’ll need to be successful adults in families, communities, and companies.

 

#2  Take Safe Risks and Challenges

 

Teens thrive on risk. Thanks to recent findings (described in Age of Opportunity and Brainstorm) about the unique attributes of the teen brain, we now understand the reason for the “mortality bump” for 17-year-old boys. They do stupid, daring things not because they aren’t aware of the dangers, but because—to them—the reward of leaping from a rocky cliff or speeding along a curvy mountain road seems to outweigh the risk.

A teen at camp has the opportunity to take many safe, controlled risks. Climbing to new heights on a rock wall or ropes course, jumping the wake of a boat on a wake board, or reaching the peak of a 10,000-foot summit are all healthy risks teens take at camp. Plus, being in a controlled camp environment frees teens from exposure to health risks like alcohol and drug use.

 

#3  Experience Character Growth and Develop Life 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

Schools aren’t doing a very good job teaching kids grit, perseverance, and leadership. But that’s not their job. Rather, schools are VERY busy teaching the core curriculum and assessing how well our kids know it. No school has time to see how “gritty” a kid is, but at camp, the “grit-meter” is always running, and it’s personal character—not a report card or an athletic achievement—that rises to the top.

Teens also develop other important life skills at camp, including independence, responsibility, and decision-making.  Teens grow considerably in an environment away from their parents where they are forced to live on their own and find their own resources.

 

#4  Meet Positive Role Models

 

Watch or listen to a popular music video, reality TV show, or sports event, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find positive young adults teens can emulate. But walk into any well-run summer camp and you’ll be surrounded by wholesome, outdoorsy young people who like being around others and doing fun activities. Camp offers teens the opportunity to be among young adults who are positive role models and to form close relationships with them. Most camp counselors are hard-working college students who want to serve others. They are friendly, personable, and are just the kind of young adults you want your teen to become.

 

#5  Discover Their Best Self

 

We live in a world where teens—often by their own parents—are steered towards success via the SAT, the college admissions grind, a “good” major, and a high-salary job. Look around at many adults, however, and see where that path got them. Despite knowing better, we still expose our kids to the same gauntlet.

Perhaps college education is the best option for most young people, but I’ve met many who are halfway done (or all the way done) and still don’t know who they are or what they are passionate about. Camp experiences offer teens the chance to step back from the treadmill of academics, competitive sports, and their sleep-deprived, over-scheduled existence, and instead think about what’s important to them. Many campers become less self-absorbed after spending a few weeks at camp, learning to train their focus on others. They also discover new hobbies and avenues to pursue in education and their future careers.

Each summer, tens of thousands of teens leave their phones and car keys at home and head to summer camp as campers, counselors in training, or counselors. Many teens who have never been to camp cannot relate to how a teenager could make such crazy personal sacrifices. And yet, teens are the age group that fills most quickly at many camps. Because, perhaps more than any other time during youth, camp offers the respite, recreation, and renewal to help teens thrive. Teens who have already been to camp know this and want to come back, year after year.

 

 

Gold Arrow Camp offers a Junior Counselor Program for returning GAC campers and an Outdoor Leadership Course for teens (grades 9th-11th).

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.

The Gift of Handwritten Letters

Recently, I’ve been going through the many boxes of letters, photos, and memorabilia which I have collected over my first five decades. It’s been a time-consuming task, but I’m trying to organize into a smaller number of boxes what has been accumulated over the first half of my life.  What has struck me most is the huge number of letters I amassed from my childhood, high school, and college friends. Until this week, I didn’t remember how much we corresponded, but I just finished going through hundreds of letters.  I now have proof of the many friendships that were solidified over hours of writing to one another.

I mostly have the ones written to me, but I can assume from the “Thanks for your letter”s that I was writing at the same rate as my friends were. Maybe some of my letters are in a box out there somewhere?

Not only was there a huge volume of letters (see picture), some of the letters were ten pages long, with tiny writing. Others were short notes or fun greeting cards. Most of them were in beautiful, cursive writing, even some from boys!  What an amazing thing to think about. Back then, without the distractions we all have today, we had TIME to write letters like that!  Plus, we enjoyed it and we were good at it!  We wrote letters because often long-distance phone calls were too expensive.  Many of us traveled and studied overseas, so the letters chronicle our trips.

The process of trying to get rid of most of this paper required that I at least skim through each one. I pulled out many that I simply can’t bear to throw away.  I found letters from my late grandparents, with their words of wisdom. I found letters my parents had written to me over the years.  I also found letters from friends showing major teen angst, which is a good reminder now that I have teens of my own. We weren’t that different back then after all! It’s just that we didn’t splash our anger and sadness at each other on Facebook. We wrote each other heartfelt notes.

One thing I realized is that my kids will not have a big box of letters like mine. They don’t write letters like we did in the pre-computer, pre-email, pre-social networking, pre-cell phone era.  But then I had a revelation! They DO still get to send and receive letters.  It’s when they’re at camp!  I have told parents how much campers enjoy getting “real” mail while at camp (the kind with a stamp), but now I have realized another benefit – they will have these letters as keepsakes and memories of their childhood. And you, as parents, most definitely should save all of the letters you get from your camper!

Among my box, I came across a postcard I sent to my parents in 1977, when I was a camper at Gold Arrow Camp. This is what it said:

 

My postcard home from camp, 1977.

“Dear Mommy,

I think it’s mean that you have to write a letter to get into dinner, but I’m glad to write a letter to you because I love you. It’s been raining since we got here. But we still went horseback riding. I wrote a letter to daddy this morning and sent it. Camp is so fun. I can’t wait to tell you. My counslers name is Liz. She’s nice.

Love, Audrey”

Let me tell you, we have gotten some good laughs in our house over this postcard. Not just about how I spelled “counselor,” but about my comment about the “Mail Meal” (dinners on Wednesday and Sunday that you need to have a letter or postcard home as your ticket in). The dreaded “Mail Meal” has been a camp tradition for as long as anyone can remember, but I didn’t even remember thinking it was a bad thing.  My adult view is much different than my ten-year-old one! I now understand how much parents need those letters.  I hope most kids get beyond the “I have to write this letter” part, and share some of their feelings and memories of camp. The resulting memorabilia will be priceless.

So, here’s to another benefit of camp I’ve only this week realized. We have the chance for our kids to experience the (almost) lost art of writing and receiving handwritten letters. And you, as a parent, have a chance to write down words that your child will be able to read and keep long beyond any email you’ve sent them!

P.S.  Did you see this hilarious book?  P.S. I Hate it Here: Letters from Camp  It is full of some really funny, real letters kids wrote to their parents from camps.

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!

National Public Lands Day

National Public Lands Day is September 25, 2021! NPLD is a great way to connect with nature and give back to our public lands. There are many opportunities to help restore and improve public lands across the country. For more information about National Public Lands Day and to find an event near you, visit https://www.neefusa.org/npld.

If you participate in NPLD, please send us a picture to mail@goldarrowcamp.com or tag us in your social media posts!