Your Child on Nature!


Dear Parents & Friends,

Sorry for not posting a blog yesterday.  I was on a day off and frankly you can pretty much guess what transpires each day when you view the pictures.  There was a short storm last night just after dinner and much of our internet went down for a good and many of the pics were late in loading and getting into your hands at home.  I sometimes forget how rural we are when I go to a larger city and see how connected they are.

One of the great aspects of camp is that we are plugged into nature here and one another with no access to screens if you’re a camper.  I spent a good portion of my young life outdoors and in a neighborhood that bordered lots of vacant land; woods, fields, streams and the like.  I was probably in high school or college when I realized that I had ADD.  Growing up in the 50’s and 60’s we were kids that had somewhat mild behavior issues (which explains the “Unsatisfactory” and “Needs Improvement” on conduct that frequently was listed on my report card in my elementary grade years). I don’t think I was hyperactive but had a really hard time listening and focusing.  Testing was difficult and any distraction or noise during those times made it difficult for me to focus.  Outdoor sports were parts of life that I looked forward to.  When I got into outdoor adventure activities in my late teens and early 20’s I realized how much more focused I was when I was in nature and performing some tasks that really required my full attention.  I loved climbing because you had to be right there all the time and I realized that I could focus and keep my attention span going for much longer periods.

Back during this past winter two articles on nature and our brains and children with ADD/ADHD were written by a woman named Florence Williams.  One appeared in National Geographic and the other in Outside Magazine.  The article in Outside specifically targeted teens with ADD/ADHD and how an outdoor program called SOAR has had a great deal of success in working with these groups (mostly boys) and how they met with that success.  SOAR just happens to be in our backyard right up the mountain from Gwynn Valley.  What’s worked for them is shifting the whole academic year outdoors, where they alternate two weeks in their basecamp (rural and wooded) and then two weeks in the field.  Their executive director states, “We’re not reinventing the wheel—we threw out the wheel.” They’ve found that outdoor pursuits like climbing, backpacking and paddling were a magic fit for their students.  Ms. Williams states, “If you look at the symptoms of ADHD, maybe they’re not really symptoms anymore if you get in the right profession or the right ecological niche.  We learned some of this by looking at extreme athletes, who found that niche.”  The traditional classroom is probably not the place for these kids.

For these and all children, camp is such a respite from those classrooms where great things can and do happen, but it’s nature and the outdoors that we need so much.  We need nature for the reasons above and to get us away from those screens that occupy so much of our time.  You know the statistics and I won’t go there.  Camp promotes exercise and fitness and studies consistently show that aerobic activity targets the same attentional networks that ADHD medication does.

In Ms. Williams Nat Geo article, “This is Your Brain on Nature”, she discusses how scientists are looking at how nature affects our brains and bodies.  ”Everything from stress hormones to heart rate to brain waves to protein markers—indicate that when we spend time in green space, there is something profound going on. In 2009 a team of Dutch researchers found a lower incidence of 15 diseases—including depression, anxiety, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, and migraines—in people who lived within about a half mile of green space.” What researchers suspect is that nature works by lowering stress.  Just a simple view from a window can make a huge difference.  One Stanford researcher says “Nature may influence how you allocate your attention and whether or not you focus on negative emotions.”  Somewhere in our DNA we still have that connection to nature. Spending more time outdoors might be the antidote for our modern lifestyle and that distant connection to our primitive self.

Enjoying creative time outdoors!

Enjoying creative time outdoors!

I think camp is certainly much more than the antidote.  When kids engage at camp, they stimulate the areas of their brain responsible for problem solving, critical thinking, decision-making, and creative thinking. They learn cooperative skills living and working together and solving problems together.  They gain resilience, perseverance, curiosity, self-control, and more!

I see this every day at camp.  This morning I was working with some Mountainsider’s who are trying their hand at primitive woodworking using a drawhorse (shave horse) and draw knives to build a stool.  This project will take them over 10 hours to complete.  We are delving in skills that are very old but not forgotten.  We’re taking a red oak log sections and making stool legs.  We then will pick and cut the stool tops from a downed White Pine from last year, that has been rough sawn into 2 inch slabs, that are 10 feet long.  At first it was a bit overwhelming because we dove right in.  In just an hour and a half working on the legs they gained so much confidence and familiarity with the tools and the project.  We were also working outdoors in the shade next to Carson Creek.  This project kept their attention for that long without a break and really focused.  Play around them and people passing by were un-noticed.  Great things happen when we work and play outside.  Our bodies need and crave that connection and the simple joys of camp life does children a world of good.  Stay tuned!

I urge you to read these two articles and get out there yourself to enjoy the green space around you.

ADHD Is Fuel for Adventure

National Geographic – Your Brain on Nature

Open House, Good Food and Twilight Play!

Dear Parents & Friends,

Here at Gwynn Valley we are at the end of another busy and beautiful day. It was another hot day today but a breeze seem to cool us throughout the afternoon heat.  We got a little drizzle during the dinner hour tonight which helped to cool things off.  Several cabins were again camping out tonight and cooking dinner over an open fire.  Every cabin at camp goes on a campout regardless of age.  Our campout shelters are built up off the ground and are closed in on three sides with a shed roof.  All have campfire circles for cooking and hanging out around the campfire and several are close to or on the main creek (Carson Creek) that runs through camp.  It’s such a good experience for these children to camp out with their cabins.  For many of them it will be their first time and possibly first time cooking over a fire.  Meals are simple so please don’t think that they are cutting up vegetables and sautéing them or anything fancy.  It’s usually pan pizza, quesadillas or hot dogs.  Once they get to Mountainside and Riverside meals become a lot more sophisticated.

Today was our second day of Open Houses, which is when we have leadership staff and program leaders visit cabin groups in their camp homes (the cabins) while cabin counselors take a 30 minute break to refresh themselves or prepare for program. During Open House, the visitors ask campers about camp life, cabin life, and their counselors. This gives campers the opportunity to discuss matters of all kinds with adults who are not directly involved in cabin life. It’s a great way to find out if counselors are doing a good job in the cabin, because children will let you know if they aren’t.  It also gives us lots of great ideas about how to make Gwynn Valley better. One of my favorite questions to ask is “What is one thing you would never change about Gwynn Valley and one thing you thing we could change to make Gwynn Valley better?” Sometimes we hear suggested changes such as “Make the pool warmer!” or “Serve dessert every day!” Today I visited Mountain View and everyone was having a great time so far at camp.  They are looking forward to their campout on Sat. and love their counselors.  Most of the girls are returners to camp and we also had a couple of first timers.

Speaking of desserts… we had chocolate pie at dinner this evening.  That was on top of meatloaf, mashed potatoes, salad from our garden and squash from the garden.  In fact all those items came from the GV farm.  I hope you all know that we do raise our own beef here at camp and if children ask we do tell them, but not many think about that frankly.  Our kitchen team continues to serve creative, crowd pleasing meals 3 times each day. For breakfast this morning we had a breakfast bread that had carrots and zucchini in it, but it was disguised and everyone loved it.  That along with eggs, apple juice and a variety of cereals and yogurt hit the spot.  For lunch we had BLT’s and pasta salad, fruit and something else good that I can’t remember.

I also spent a part of this morning in a tree filming our tree climbers going for it as they made their way to the top our two hemlock trees near the office.  Hopefully we can get a video out with that included in the next few days.  What a great perch to see campers gaining skills, pushing themselves and feeling the exhilaration of making it to the top.

This evening for campfire we had Twilight Play, which is an extended program period after dinner. We offered up a number of activities including mountain biking, hike to the rock, horseback riding, archery, candles, popcorn making at the mill, pottery, sunset swim at the lake, and many more. Campers often ask to keep playing as we wrap up after supper activities, so it’s a real treat for them to keep on playing for another 30 – 40 minutes. We wrapped up around 8:30PM, about when our evening program normally finishes in the lodge.

In yesterday’s musings, I spoke about our teachers teaching and here’s a link to a video that I put together yesterday.

Teachable Moments

In the world of Older Programs… Riverside returned from 4 days of climbing at Foster Falls, TN. They encountered a little rain, but still managed to climb every day and loved swimming in the pool at the base of the falls. They were glad for warm showers back at camp this evening and they are looking forward to a few days on camp before they head out paddling on Monday. Mountainside groups went on their 3rd of 4 Mini-Adventures. Two groups were off camp paddling and pioneering in Dupont State Park while the other two groups climbed and mountain biked here on property.

Tomorrow is another day of opportunity, and after a full day like we’ve had, that camp bunk feels so good and I would say that most will sleep till  the bell tomorrow morning.  Good dreams had by all.  Stay tuned!

Many Teachable Moments!

Dear Parents & Friends,

Another great day at Gwynn Valley and we’re just experiencing a little front that may drop some rain on us after bedtime tonight.  Two Mountainside cabins went to the Farm after dinner tonight and two MS cabins were there last night.  Six cabins are camping out tonight so we had quite a few missing from the dining room dinner table.  Usually when a cabin camps out they also cook out.  It’s not an elaborate cookout but tasty none the less and certainly there’s always s’mores. What would a campout be without them!  When Anne and I first came to GV, chocolate had been eliminated from the s’mores recipe.  One of our first acts was to reinstate chocolate back into the recipe.  Yes, it might hype the occasional camper but it’s definitely worth it.

I spent most of my day in program today videoing and going around to a multitude of activities.  I started at Mountainside watching Austin and Katie teaching the biking group and from there went over to the climbing wall where Brody and Duffy were working with the climbers.  I checked in on soccer and then headed over the waterfront to observe and film our kayakers.  This afternoon I visited the mill, pottery, and back to waterfront.  Everywhere I went there were teachers teaching and doing a great job.  I shot some footage that I hope to put up sometime tomorrow.  Our staff shares a lot of information each day.  I often hear from staff that children ask a lot of questions.  This is a good thing.  I know I share a lot of info teaching dancing, like tonight.  I’ve learned to not go too slowly and bore them with details and let them figure it out.  As soon as things slow too much campers get fidgety and entertain themselves.  Sometimes that’s great but not so much if you’re trying to get them to follow dance instructions.  Better to let them learn as they go for the first couple of rounds.

That’s all well and good for Mountain Dancing but not for teaching how to belay for climbing or gearing and braking in mountain biking.  We all learn differently and we have to throw out a big net to make sure we’re getting on everyone’s wavelength. For many years while teaching paddling, I taught using the whole-part-whole method.  Show the stroke, then break it down part by part and then show it again and talk about it and what it does to your boat.  We can sometimes get into analysis paralysis when teaching skills and I’m always adjusting my technique with each group I work with.  Teaching is a gift and at camp we’re working toward betterment of our teaching techniques and the way we impart information to children.  You know pretty quickly if you’ve perked their interest and if you have them wanting more.  It’s a good feeling when you know you’ve hit the target.

Hillside was delving into some imaginative realms tonight listening to Tajar Tales. Imagination is a big part of camp and imagination creates happy stories that your child can remember and tell for a long time.  “Imagination can be more powerful than you think”, says parenting expert and psychologist, Dr. Randy Cale.  “It allows you visualize life situations and act them out mentally to decide what the best course of action is. With guidance, children can use their imagination to help them solve just about any problem. They can prepare for just about any situation and gain remarkable confidence. And the really cool part here is that each and every time that they practice, their belief in themselves and their skills grows stronger.”

Brookside danced tonight to Going to Kentucky, Paddy Cake Polka, Sasha (Russian Folk Dance) and the Virginia Reel.  Debbie’s hands were smoking by the end of the evening.  Many of these dances are mixers where boys and girls dance together for just a short time.  Obviously we’re not trying to put the opposite sexes together and it’s by choice to dance with the opposite gender or not.  I must say that it’s quite comical to see boys avoiding any contact in a dance when you have to clap hands, elbow swing one another and promenade.  Most girls are good with this and comply with what the dance narrates, but the boys are exiting that highway every chance they get.  I remember those days and we certainly don’t want to rush that developmental stage.  Our focus is about inclusivity and making new friends instead of exclusive relationships.  We make friends in our cabin groups, table groups and activity groups and even at Mountain Dancing.  Camp was made for friendship.  Some camp friendships last a lifetime.  Camp just does kids a world of good and we’re so glad to be a part of that “good”.  Stay tuned!

The Song of Camp!

Dear Parents & Friends,

Another warm and beautiful day here at GV.  The mornings are wonderful and by 10 it really starts to heat up.  Mountainside started their mini adventures today and everyone was divided into 4 groups to try out each adventure component; biking, climbing, paddling and pioneering.  They will be participating in “minis” for the next 3 days.

First time alternate day Discoveries started today for those who are now getting to participate in their next two activities for the morning.  I went to Horseback riding and watched several young people who had never ridden a horse without assistance.  They learned a good bit from mounting the GV ponies to turning and how to stop.  No rear endings in our ring please drivers.  From there it was down to the farm, where one enters the corn patch to pick ears that were shucked at lunch and eaten at dinner tonight.  I know of no grocery store where the produce is that fresh.

Even on the first day of pottery you can see wonderful things beginning to take shape.  Skills are being taught and campers are being shaped by staff to culminate in some wonderful experiences in Discovery mornings.  Some are working in artistic endeavors while others are working toward building sports or swimming skills.  Others are anticipating a trip off camp to a distance waterfall, climbing site or flowy single track biking trail.  Whatever your interests we are all making friends and living where everyone is an important member of the camp community, cabin, activity group and table group.  So many chances for human interaction and no screens.  For most, if not all children, life with screens  will come soon enough.  As a soccer coach many years ago, I told my teams that soccer is a game of many touches.  You have many chances to make contact with the ball.  Camp is analogous to soccer because you have so many chances to build relationships while here.  These small steps of independence, gaining skills, confidence, resilience and even leadership grow into bigger stepping stones as we grow older.  Spending time with talented staff members rubs off on children and they emulate a lot of what is passed down.  You as parents see that every day as your children become like you in so many ways.

I love seeing campers experience newness like this afternoon at the Mill, where the campers caught fish from the mill pond and then learned to clean and yes, gut the fish to prepare them for cooking.  After just enough cooking over an open fire, they took the meat off the bones and mixed in cornmeal from the mill and made fishcakes and again back to the large fry pan over the fire.  Needless to say everyone ate what they had prepared and were so proud that they caught, cleaned and prepared this dish themselves over an open fire.  Our mill was built in 1890 and I think today’s activity was a frequent occurrence at that site many years ago.  It’s good to be able to walk back in history and enjoy the simple joys of preparing and sharing food as a team.

We can talk about the benefits of a good camp experience all day or even what are your favorite activities.  What it boils down to is what we call the “song of camp”.  This is hearing a healthy, positive, quality camp experience; one of  laughter, the chatter of voices, questions being ask and answered and words like I heard today, “I would have never guessed I would be doing anything like this”.  “I can verses I can’t” is music to my ears.  And then,  very often, you’ll hear a song — individual voices coming together to make a song of one,  see a group that is bonding and really enjoying being together.  This happens quickly and easily on Mountainside and Riverside.  These small groups really learn about one another, ones strengths and weaknesses.  It can also be a conversation at the table over simple subjects like your favorite book you’ve read recently or your favorite Disney movie.  Even our Riversider’s are heard singing Disney movie songs.  Or more serious ones like why I’m a vegetarian (I had two at my table last session).  Children want to know things and they are naturally inquisitive.  I think our outdoor environment heightens their awareness of what’s around them and it raises their levels of recognizing awareness.  Playing outdoors simply makes children smarter.  When you play outside you open up more of your senses, you witness more of budding life around you, you create more imaginary worlds and you negotiate with each other to create a more playful environment.  And… Outdoor play is fun. Children who are happy are successful learners and good leaders for the future. Children are naturally happy when they are moving, playing and creating outside. This joy opens them up for experimenting, learning and growing.  Wish you were here to see it happen in the GV environment.  Stay tuned!

Only the Beginning!

Dear Parents & Friends,

Happy 4th of July and hope you all are enjoying your time off today.  Our day started with a bit of history as Paul Revere charged through camp warning us that the British were coming.  Actually they’ve been here all summer and this time they are our allies.  We have about 15 staff from merry ole England. After that blip on the history timeline we also traveled back to the Boston Tea Party which was reenacted right on the Gwynn Valley lake.  Then without a hitch Lewis and Clark along with Sacajawea emerged from the woods and walked right through all of our campers off toward their western destinations.

We held our first morning of Discoveries and everyone was starting to work on skills in a number of activities that were offered.   The Discoveries are as follows:  Farm/Mill, Soccer, Stand Up Paddleboards, Archery, Creek Hiking, Horses, Climbing, Wizard of Oz production, Weaving, Batik, Gourd Art, Needle Point, The Great Tajar Challenge, Mountain Biking, Pottery, Whitewater Kayaks, Camping Skills, and Nature.  Many of these activities are offered in a different form each afternoon as well.

Just after morning activities France gave us Miss Liberty who made to our shores and stood stately as folks came into the dining room.  Lunch today was out of this world.  The kitchen outdid themselves with a Texas Style smoked brisket, corn and beans from the garden, scalloped potatoes, fresh fruit, and a great sauce that could be used on about anything.  There was more of the same tonight for dinner with a meal straight out of the south – Jambalaya using camp’s poultry,  southern tomatoes and cucumber salad and green salad all from the garden.  At the end of the meal the kitchen staff came out with a King Cake for each table as we listened to Louis Armstrong on the PA.  Normally we have burgers and fries for the 4th, but I’m not complaining at all.

After dinner tonight there was a pie eating contest (counselor’s only and I can’t imagine having to eat pie after such a delicious dinner).  The camper’s loved it and it’s been a tradition for several years.  Post pie was an introduction of famous women in our history starting in the 1700’s right through today.  After that there was an American Parade of Celebrities and then a small carnival on the Green just outside the Lodge.  Fireworks were offered up after dark by our Team Maintenance crew and they did a heck of a job.  Campers and staff sit on the far side of the lake and most if not all fireworks reflect off the water from the sky.  It’s a nice time of the evening after a hot day and by that time everyone is ready to cool down and enjoy the show in the sky.  Most of our younger campers come to the fireworks in their PJ’s.

There is also a short video clip of my wanderings throughout the day today as I hit many activities this morning.  It’s just a sampler of visiting the farm, mill, arts and crafts, the climbing wall and ropes course and several other activities in camp.  Just click on the link below.  My day takes me out amongst your children.  I want to make sure they are having a great time at camp and experiencing the simple joys of life at camp.

Only the Beginning!

As we celebrate our freedom I also want give thanks for the many blessings we have as a free nation.  When we are at our best, we have rigorous and often heated debates over politics and policies. We espouse and we listen to differing views on immigration, economics, or faith. And hopefully we agree to disagree with one another based on our own personal beliefs.  Let us remember to recognize our own flaws as individuals and to treat others as we would like to be treated.  I give thanks for having so much in our nation of plenty and the opportunity to work with your children.  I’m also reminded of those near and far who don’t have the privileges and lives that we have.   Again, Happy 4th and stay tuned!

Opening Day C/C-1 !!

Dear Parents & Friends,

A cool morning turned into a warm day as we opened C/C-1 Session.  Many thanks for dropping off your children as we head right into the middle of our summer with a lot of returning campers as well as those who will experience Gwynn Valley for the first time.  Tonight at campfire we had those raise their hands who were returning to camp for 1 or more years.  Most campers had their hands in the air and we’re really glad to have our new campers to GV.  One our values at camp is acceptance and we acknowledge the fact that we come from many places and have a lot to share which includes new friendships.  What a better place to do that than camp and especially Gwynn Valley.  We make it a priority to incorporate those new campers into our fold and make them feel that are part of the GV family.  It doesn’t take long and already I’m seeing friendships being formed.

Those that have been to camp before know that we start off our first day of camp with a bang.  There’s not a lot of down time the first day or any day, but especially the first day when campers might have a tendency to think too much about home.  Activities were assigned the first day with campers Climbing, Horseback Riding, Arts and Crafts, Sports, The Farm, The Mill, Fine Arts, Waterfront and more.  Always an active part of camp, the Waterfront had the Zip Line humming with camper after camper trying to go for the Spider Man.  The web spinner would be proud of our fledgling “spidies”.  Others were going off our brand new rope swing and loving the chance to cool off in the lake.  Some were trying the Tension Traverse which is a real challenge located at the lake.  You may see some photos of this as the week progresses.

After lunch we held our Discovery Skits, which provides campers with a glimpse of the kinds of activities they can take in the morning while at camp.  They get 4 choices for an every other day schedule, one each hour of the two hour time slot. These activities work on progression skills and give the camper a chance to carry a project through to the ultimate end whether it’s paddling, creating a piece of art, biking more difficult trails and much more.  Afternoon signups happen every day for either two one hour activities or one two hour period.  The two hour provides a chance to extend that activity time and really experience the moment.

We also had swim assessments this afternoon. The swim checks allow us to gauge how well campers swim and their comfort level in the water.  These are done in the pool where you can easily see the bottom and its only 5 ft. deep at the DEEP END.  It’s a great teaching pool and allows those who are a bit uncomfortable in the water to take it on gradually.  The depth starts off about 4 inches and gradually goes to the 5 ft. mark.  The pool is a wonderful way to build confidence in the water and gain new swimming skills.

Tonight’s dinner was a delicious noodles and bolognaise sauce , salad and broccoli from the farm, and the GIANT COOKIE with each cabin’s name on it.  We will move to our tables tomorrow at lunch where we’ll mix up ages and programs and you’ll have yet another group that you belong to at camp.

After supper activities are a free time for campers to choose one activity after dinner.  It changes each evening and a variety are offered each night.  Usually there’s a ball game or two of some sort, games on the green, some kind of arts & crafts, story telling, and any number of other activities.  Tonight after the activities we held our first campfire and cabins began introducing themselves through cabin skits.  Mountainside and Riverside also started up a session today and they were out on the Gatehouse Green playing games and learning about teamwork and creating that small community aspect.  They will head out on adventures tomorrow.  Mountainside starts their mini-adventures tomorrow with each camper trying out all four adventure activities- mountain biking, paddling, climbing and pioneering.

Tomorrow brings our first full day of camp and as we move into the session. Camp is a great place for these young people.  It’s full of life building moments and experiences that sometimes don’t come until later in life.  This is due to being able to make decisions on their own and live in a large family like atmosphere.   It’s a place where you’re under the watchful eye of staff who are younger than parents and pretty cool.  It’s a good place to be guided into fun and skilled activities that you can continue into your adult life.  We maximize our time outdoors, playing hard, eating our farm grown food, and getting good rest by night.   What more could a camper ask for.  The “simple joys” of GV abound and it’s an exciting time as we begin our session. Stay Tuned!

Closing Day B Session!

Dear Parents & Friends,

Thank you for a great ending to our B Session today. We’ve had a wonderful time with your children and will carry lots of good memories from those children that were here for the two week session.  Soon you will receive a link to an evaluation that we are hoping you will participate in.   We appreciate you taking the time to help us keep Gwynn Valley an outstanding program.

For those of you that have arrived home we hope that your child’s experience has captured all the magic of what camp can be. We know you will hear stories and songs as the weeks go by and that the camp experience will become a great memory. Placed in the hands of a mature staff a camper really gains a good bit from “playing outside which produces growing inside”.  From all of us, thanks again for sharing your children with us for two weeks.  Hope to see you next year!

PS   If you didn’t get the link for the last video its:

B Session Highlights Reel