Happy New Year!

Campers, Parents and Friends,

Here’s hoping you and your family have a wonderful beginning to the New Year, 2016.  This will be Gwynn Valley’s 81st year of operation.  Enjoy the short video that Jacob Bullard (my youngest son) put together.  Looking forward to another great summer at Gwynn Valley!


Unscheduled Free Time – A Great Gift to Give a Child!

As the holidays roll into town in the next few days, I’ve seen the need for the scheduled to be unscheduled in my own family.  My two college age children are home catching up with friends, going to movies, sleeping late and taking advantage of their short lived unscheduled lives.  My guess is that you as parents are seeing the same thing in your school aged children as they get a break from their routines.  This time of year chances are you are feeling the effects of the frantic pace we live in.  My own mom says how things are different and we’re (my family) all so busy and involved in so much.

According to a national study released by the University of Michigan, kids today have half as much free time as they did 30 years ago.  Does the overscheduled child gain from this?  According to the study from a brain development standpoint, some feel it is quite the opposite.  When kids engage in unstructured play, they stimulate the areas of their brain responsible for problem solving, critical thinking, decision-making, and creative thinking.  It is the empty hours that children learn to become self-reliant and responsible, which are critical life skills.  By over-scheduling our children, we are depriving them of something very special: just being a kid or as we call it at camp; “the simple joys of childhood”.

IMG_2875[1] Monday Afternoon Activites 097

Here at camp we think kids need time to recharge after a couple of hours of activities (that they choose on their own).  Before lunch there’s 45 minutes to wind down before eating.  After lunch there’s rest hour which can be spent daydreaming, reading, writing home (we do our best mom and dad), or playing quiet games in the cabin.  Not too many children sleep during this time.  It’s hard enough to keep them in their cabins.  Then there’s two more hours of activity and thirty minutes of free time before dinner.  After dinner is our most unstructured time at camp where you can choose any number of activities and those being more in the spirit of unstructured free play.  You may choose to burn some calories in a soccer game that may turn into kickball or a short hike may stop at a creek and its shoes off and feet in.  Listening to stories at lakeside might turn into cloud gazing and the child’s mind drifts in and out of the day’s events and life at camp.  Sitting with your friends on the Green Wall next to the Mill is wind down time.  Time to chat and listen to the sounds of the mountain song evening.

This holiday break we’re in is a great opportunity to retool our schedules and our priorities, slow down and set aside time for our children to just be kids.  Here are six ways to inspire us.

Get off the Frenzy Train – This is a great time of year to reflect on what our family priorities are and give thanks for time together.

Be the Role Model – Carve out time to turn off your cell phone, don’t check your email while waiting for the movie to start and just be with the fam.

Un-plan – Start to think about ways to unscheduled and reschedule with unstructured activities

Schedule Unstructured Family Time – And keep it sacred on that one day a week where you all watch a movie together or play a game of monopoly.

Tune Out “I’m Bored” – With children and teens this will happen.  Let them figure it out on their own and try not to cave to screen time.

Screen Free – Hold out as long as you can because he’s the only one in his class without a cell phone.  Be intentional about screens in your child’s life.  Whatever requires a cord or charger probably doesn’t inspire creativity or problem solving.

And Last But Not Least “Get Outside” –  I loved it this year when the major outdoor retailer REI didn’t open for Black Friday.  Their message was to get outdoors.  Get your family outside and do something together fun in a new outdoor place.  Take a picnic with some treats and just going to a local creek or stream and throwing rocks is part of the simple joys.  Outdoor play stimulates the brain and senses even more and you’ll have quality time with your crew.

As our Holiday card said.  Let there be Peace!  Here’s hoping you have the best Holly Days ahead and Happy New Year to one and all!

Inclusive Sports at GV – I Like It!

I just read a short blog about Inclusive Sports on the American Camp Association’s website and thought of our own values here at camp as it relates to inclusive or non competitive activities.  I like that term “inclusive” and we use that term a lot here at Gwynn Valley.  As we all know almost every turn in life carries some competitive overtones to it.  On the sports field and other venues, we refer to this concept at camp as a GV tie with no winners or losers.  Our emphasis and purpose in the GV tie is that we acknowledge our growth in the activity and no one comes away as being defeated, feeling failure, deflated, unsuccessful, non athletic etc.  Most children who play know the score at the end of the game.  Our role as staff and mentors is to de-escalate the winner – loser aspect and promote the fair play and skills learned by those on both sides and what a great game it was.

In our camp world where several age groups play together, you also have to consider that some campers are physically more gifted with size, strength, and age.  We’ve all heard the adage playing up and becoming better because of playing with those more gifted than you. As a young athlete growing up I used to love to play with the bigger guys and learned a lot from them and in some cases improved my own play by trying to play at their level.  Most times this was not so successful and sometimes when it was, it gave me confidence to try new things, move to another level and feel more confident.    A couple of good passes in soccer or basketball can result in a score and you don’t have to be the one to score to receive the accolades that go with it.  Any good coach or mentor realizes the assist is as key as the goal itself and it has to start somewhere.  Stephen Curry of the NBA Warriors, is a phenomenal shooter but he is also great at feeding assists to those who score.  That assist can also come in the form of support of a cabin mate who is up on the ropes course and feeling nervous. Thursday Morning Activities 114

Team play is crucial here at camp.  I believe the camp experience is a stepping stone and link in the chain of life.  You’ll play for a team one day; a work team, a project team, a surgical team, and you’ve got to become a team player.  Camp teaches you to live in a cabin as a team, eat at the table as a team, share food as a team after hiking 10 miles with a backpack through the rain, and carry those boats to load on the trailer after an exhilarating and hard day on the river.  Phil Jackson, NBA coach once said, “The strength of the team is each individual member.  The strength of each member is the team”.

Children learn in so many different ways and some of them learn by observance, watching a touch on the soccer ball, a behind the back dribble, or just keeping your heels down when trying to smear your climbing shoe on steep piece of rock.  “We learn to predict (think about) our movements before we execute them (move) so that we control them better (Flanagan, Vetter, Johansson, & Wolpert, 2003). This ability suggests that all motor activity is preceded by quick thought processes that set goals, analyze variables, predict outcomes, and execute movements.” Pulling this off requires widespread connections to all sensory areas and culminates in the brain’s cerebellum, which controls balance, movement and coordination.  Maybe I can do that and viola, it’s copied, practiced and improved on.  Others have to have that coach or counselor to help them through those steps and again practice until confident on their own.  And some may never get to that skill set, so we have to figure out what skills that child does have.  One camper may be able to climb like a monkey on the wall but is deathly afraid of heights 20 feet off the ground.  Another camper may flail on the wall but slowly makes it to the top.  They both have much to learn and through trial and error, they can see one another gaining more skills as they try for new levels of achievement each time.

Fri MA 146The good news is that movement and athletic endeavors are good for mind, body and soul.  People who exercise have far more cortical mass than those who don’t. Simple biology supports an obvious link between movement and learning. Oxygen is essential for brain function, and enhanced blood flow increases the amount of oxygen transported to the brain. Physical activity is a reliable way to increase blood flow, and hence oxygen, to the brain.  We all benefit from play!

Camp is a great place where failure or feeling like a loser most always leads to success because we can try again and again.  Gwynn Valley is a trusting environment where we achieve growth in our activities under the guidance of a mature and caring staff.  That is what we do best with a constant eye on those playing on the fields or out in the field. We make sure that camp includes all levels of fair play and in the end we all win.  Inclusive – I like that word.