Where the Wild Things Are at GV!

Dear Parents & Friends,

As I write, Mountainside is walking back from the Hunt Farm where they found out which adventure they were going on starting on Monday of next week.  Our Hunt Farm view looks right into heart of our Blue Ridge Mountains and was the perfect setting to set their minds toward the upcoming outdoor adventures.  It’s almost dark and they are talking excitedly about things that Mountainsider’s talk about after another great day at GV.  In a couple of days they will start their training days in the adventure they have chosen.

That weather high pressure is still beaming down on us and it was quite chilly this morning at around 57 degrees here at camp.  Almost everyone had on their jumpers (sweatshirts) as the Aussie’s call them.  I didn’t come out of mine until a bit after 11 this morning.  It should be the same tonight.  This makes for great activity conditions both on and off site.  We had several trips out of camp today including Main Camp kayakers, hikers and climbers.  With the weather and prep they did beforehand, every single trip was a success.  There were some tired campers from the trips but that makes the day and sleeping even better.

Climbers went to the South Face of Looking Glass Rock and were like spiders out there today.  They set up three climbs that campers had multiple opportunities to climb.  Kayakers were on the Green River all day and will be returning with another group tomorrow.  The Hikers (Nature Skills & Camping) walked to the top of John’s Rock which overlooks Looking Glass and surrounding Pisgah.  You should see pics of these trips sometime late tonight or early tomorrow.  All three groups will be going out again later this week as will the Biker’s for two days.

If you stayed back in Main Camp today you had sign-ups in the morning and in the afternoon.  You may have caught a fish at the Mill or been involved in a morning ice cream making session.  Hordes of campers were at the lake today trying out the zip line and the tension traverse.  It’s a tough challenge to make it all the way across without falling into the water.  The zip line is just pure fun especially if you can perform a spider man as you’re zipping along.  The lake water is cold but the sun warmed everyone to the point of wanting to jump back in.

For those that wanted a dry land experience there was so much to choose from including in the sports arena: basketball, fat bat baseball, soccer and of course the infamous Thunderball, aka, GAGA.  The afternoon saw campers playing capture the flag, more soccer and archery.

A beautiful day ended with our Thespians putting on their drama performance for Main Camp this evening.  They did a great job performing “Where the Wild Things Are”.  We discussed this book during dinner at my table and every camper and staff member had read it.  Even our table Kiwi, as well as a visiting Aussie, talked about their experience with it as a child.  We were trying to guess when it was written (1963) and of course most of the campers thought that was eons ago.  Come Friday on closing day, you will hear a song or two from our musical.  By the way, Debbie wrote all the music.

Riverside started their water component today with a trip to the Green River to get their paddling legs.  They will navigate the waters of the Tuck tomorrow and I may tag along as the video boater.  We’ll keep you posted on their progress.


We talk a lot about program at camp but I feel the essence of what we do is about the bonding and friendships that happen at camp.  They are different from those that occur at school and on sports teams. The intensity of living together and experiencing life together, without distractions, creates the ideal setting to form lifelong friendships and really get to know people well.  Friends are one reason that campers and staff return to Gwynn Valley year after year.  At camp, there is time for friendship to blossom and grow.  Time together in activities, in the cabin, and at the table are part of getting to know each other, and making memories while communicating face to face instead of over a phone or the internet.  Miss Mary Gwynn, our founder, built her camp around inclusion, respect and kindness.  There’s little competition, no color wars, tribes, no A team or “in crowd”.  Staff gently coach campers who need to develop social skills in areas such as listening, initiating conversations, and understanding non-verbal  cues.  Camp is made up of children of all varieties being together and involved in great activities.  Staff are trained to help kids connect and one of the best places I think this occurs is at the table.  You have more variety there and all different ages.  No one can tune out with earphones or just be a wall flower.  Questions are always being asked and ideas thrown out all the time in between bites.  I see friendships forming and being valued every day.  There’s nothing better.

So parents, if others ever question your decision to send your young child to camp, let them know that it’s hard for you to let your child go, but that you’re giving your child a gift that will have positive impacts for years to come.  Thank you for sharing your child with us.  Stay tuned!

A Special Day In So Many Ways!

Dear Parents & Friends,

An absolutely beautiful day again here at camp as we held our Special Day for Session D.  The weather has been just as yesterday – breezy and clear.  As I write Riverside is gathering on the Gatehouse Green to see the silhouette of our mountains as the sun has already dropped.  They are getting ready to launch into their paddling component tomorrow.  It’s a good group and I’ll know they’ll do well.  If you don’t know about Riverside it’s a small adventure program for those finishing 8th and 9th grade.  It’s very community oriented and is overseen by a head counselor, logisitics person and two cabin counselors.

We just finished our Sunday Service here at camp and the theme was “God’s gifts”. A number of campers sang, danced, played instruments and provided us all with gifts they wanted to share.  Later on tonight we will host Staff Rec which is when our staff gets together to socialize and share some food.  We hold it in two sessions so there is always 1 staff member left in the camper cabins.  This is a great way to keep our troops happy, give them some free time with just adults and eat some really good food.  They deserve it because they spend a lot of time with your children.

It’s been a great weekend and we held our Special Day today with a morning and afternoon session of Time Travel With Dr. Who.  This morning at breakfast we were visited by several famous people and many appeared throughout the day.  Half of camp went through several water oriented games in the morning and the other half switched this afternoon.   Campers traveled with their cabin mates and there were at least 12 different stations that challenged everyone.  There were brain games and athletic endeavors and pushing ones limits (like jumping off the side of the Titanic into the cold North Sea before it sinks; you have to use your imagination).

It was such a fun day and everyone cheered when folks completed some of the more difficult tasks.  That’s the way it should be.  As our Vespers theme stated, we should all share in the joy that comes from one another’s gifts.  Everyone has things to share and give and I feel camp is such the perfect environment to do that in.  It’s hard to describe that feeling of our total camp day with everyone involved.  Many magic moments happen each day and it’s sometimes so spontaneous and you can’t  capture the magic in words, pictures, or on video.

We all spent most of the day outdoors today and it was great with our brilliant sunny weather.  Our play increases children’s physical activity level and we certainly did that today. Children who play outdoors are more likely to be active learners. Children who move and play when out of school are ready for the attention often needed for classroom learning. Time spent outdoors increases persistence. Outdoor games often require persistence. Children must try and try again if their attempts fail.  And…. outdoor play is fun. Children who are happy are successful learners. Children are naturally happy when they are moving, playing and creating outside. This joy opens them up for experimenting, learning and growing.  We are playing outside and growing inside at GV.  Stay tuned!

A High Pressure Overhead Brings the Best of the Best!

Dear Parents and Friends,

We’ve had an unbelievable weather day here today.  I woke up early this morning to come shoot some footage of our view because it was so clear.  All day long it’s been crystal blue sky and a breeze blowing throughout.  We’re under a big high pressure that’s going to be around for a few days and boy does it make a difference.  We lost the humidity that we usually have this time of year and traded it for cool sunny weather.  It will likely get down to around 57 here tonight and that’s chilly on the normal summer scale.  Good sleeping weather and we have several cabins who are camping out tonight. Campouts are good bonding times for cabins as they get away from the hustle and bustle of Main Camp and Downtown GV to go to the edges of camp, cook out over an open fire and then sleep in a shelter even closer to nature.  That sleeping bag you parents packed will come in handy tonight even for those who will be snuggled away in their cabins.  We have had a beautiful and action packed day here in the Valley!

I spent some time with Riverside today getting them ready for the river and their next trip out on Monday.  We were refining and fine tuning strokes and their understanding of what to use when and muscle memory to the point that it’s almost automatic.  After an hour and a half of drills we got everyone on the dock and did the GV Plunge.  Ask your Riversider about the “Plunge”.  It’s a fun water thing I’ve done with campers for years.  They also learned the Groucho Marx which is an interesting way to get back into your boat by doing a backward flip while in the water.

After breakfast, we began the last morning of B-Day Discoveries on Main Camp. For campers, this means a day of wrapping up projects and polishing skills in half of the discoveries they have chosen for the session. For some program areas, the lesson was totally wrapped up today. For example, weavers took their finished projects off the loom and tied them off, potters were working on glazing their wares and most craft projects were coming to fruition.  Those who are part of the Fine Arts production will share their hard work with the rest of camp next week. For those who are in outdoor adventure Discoveries such as biking, climbing, white water kayaks, and camping skills and nature, there will be off camp trip opportunities all next week.

Boys being boys and Wonder Woman in their midst

I spent some time this morning in various activities including weaving, arborist climbing, bookmaking, pottery, the Mill, mountain biking and kayaking.  You will notice from the pics that our sports group was playing touch rugby.  That’s something of an influence from our international staff and all the good things they bring to the table each summer.  It’s always good to be out in program in the thick of it.  I usually am carrying a video camera which helps me into the fold.  Everyone wants to be on GVTV.

It’s been another great day here at GV.  Brookside visited with Mountainside tonight to ask questions about the MS program.  When Riverside and Mountainside are with us camp it’s like one big family.  It’s nice to have our older campers be seen and share some of the neat programing that happens in their realm.  Our outdoor world is where nature is available 24/7 is there to surprise, delight and investigate.  Stated in a recent Patagonia catalogue, “The world often expects children to put aside childish ways in favor of preparing for the future.”  Here at camp we know that playing outside is an important element in preparing children for the future.  We as adults should play outside more often as well.  Hope you got some play time in today.  Tomorrow is another day of opportunity.  Stay tuned!

Golden Days of Summer

Dear Parents and Friends,

Today was a perfect summer day! Although the weather was cloudy for some of the day, we managed to avoid major rain outside of meal times and rest hour, allowing all activities to continue as normal. As we near the end of our first week of D session, it really feels like we are in the groove of camp. Everyone just seems to really know what they’re doing and program runs smoothly!

Today we wrapped up our last round of ‘A Day’ Discoveries. By tomorrow, all discoveries will be complete. In the 2nd week of D session, program will be much more free form with sign ups in both the morning and afternoon. I love D session for this reason; it allows the camper so much choice and so much freedom to try out all the activities we have on offer! Next week will also afford many opportunities for off camp trips for adventure activities, advance horse rides at the Hunt Farm, Musical rehearsals, etc. It’s amazing to see campers take what they learned in discoveries to the next level.

After dinner we had a camp wide Gold Rush game. Jed and Elly May, two friends panning for gold in 1803, stumbled into Dr. Who’s Time Machine (a carry over from Tuesday night’s UK campfire) and found themselves at Gwynn Valley Camp tonight! It was quite a surprise for them and for the campers who helped them collect all the gold around camp. Gold rocks of all sizes were scattered around camp, and cabin groups had to work together to find the hidden gold and bring it back to a central location for collection. The Young Leaders joined in the game as sheriffs (who write speeding tickets for groups running too fast), tax collectors (who collect your smallest piece of gold), guides (who help you find the safe & secret passages to transport your gold), robbers (who steal all your gold), and fool’s gold manufacturers (who help you design and color your own gold). Campers had a blast running around camp finding hundreds of rocks that were spray painted gold.  After all cabins had worked together to collect enough gold to send Jed and Elly May home, we celebrated with a treat made of ‘chocolate gold’.

We love having Riverside back in camp for a few days! They spent part of their day preparing for their upcoming paddling trip, practicing strokes on the lake before they take them to the river on Sunday. This morning Riverside went through the high ropes course, which is always nerve wrecking for some and exciting for all. This evening Riverside made ice cream at the Mill and pottery at the Pot Shop. They enjoyed watching Main Camp cabins running around looking for gold, happy to be doing their own thing yet still connected to some of the magic of Main Camp.

Mountainside enjoyed a down day in between mini-adventures. They spent the morning doing sign up activities put on by their counselors. Mountainside sign ups sometimes include traditional Main Camp activities like tie dye and soccer, but can also include some MS exclusives such as mud masks swimming in Carson Creek. This afternoon Mountainside enjoyed their 2nd occasion for ‘cabin activities’ which can include hiking to the Rock or Connesstee Falls, the ropes course, craft activities, etc. all as a cabin group. This evening they spent time on the Gatehouse Green watching the sunset and talking about our connection to and impact on the environment while at camp. Once major component of the Mountainside program is the exposure to the natural world. We teach campers about Leave No Trace ethics that help minimize our impact on the wild places we visit.

We are grateful for another golden day of summer here at Gwynn Valley and look forward to another wonderful day tomorrow!


Twilight Play – A Camper Favorite!

Dear Parents and Friends,

Our day started much like the past few days with a cool morning followed by a warm but beautiful day with a breeze blowing all day long.  Thank goodness for the breeze.  It wasn’t as hot as it has been, but it was warm.  We held Twilight Play this evening, where we add an activity period after dinner.  Most all activities are open and you can go anywhere you like.  It’s a great time of the day and is a great way to end the day in the dusk of just before dark.  It takes the place of campfire and campers love it.

Tree climbing was a great place to be this morning as the temperature went up.  Under our hemlocks next to the lake is always a cool and refreshing place to learn the “ropes” as well have fun and check out the great views from the top of our trees.  We started tree climbing the year we took over camp and it has been a hit since then.  It’s very different from climbing a wall or even a rock.  Works off the same principles of rock climbing so all safety protocols and equipment are the same.  The climber starts on a rope ladder and about 15 feet up and begins to use the many branches that the Hemlock affords. As you may or may not know most of our Hemlocks in the southeast are dying because of an insect called the Wooly Adelgid.  They have wrought havoc on the trees and we’re doing what we can to treat many of ours in camp proper.  So far so good and think we’ll be able to keep the ones that are important to inner camp (about 40 + trees).

A cool place to be this morning was Shady Grove where our looms are being worked to overtime with campers learning to weave and warp or something like that.  The patterns and combinations of colors are endless.  You must visit Shady Grove on the last day of camp.  It used to be the Lodge for our Hillside cabins and then  was a cabin but it’s been converted to an Arts and Crafts area.  Not far from Shady Grove is the Mill where life reverts back to the 1890’s when the Mill was built.  It’s a rare piece of history and realism since we still use the water power to grind corn into grits and cornmeal.  This afternoon they were popping popcorn over the open fire that always has some being prepared.  Ice cream churned by the power of the mill is another favorite along with the occasional cobbler and Johnny Cakes.  As I strolled by this morning several campers were taking turns churning butter in an old fashioned butter crank.

The Farm always attracts a crowd because of all the baby animals.  The piglets seem to grow each day and this morning at breakfast every table got to vote for the 10 names that they would be called.  There was a long list of nominations and it seemed that famous recording artists were in favor.  Well… Mama pig is named Beyoncé so I guess that makes sense.  The goats are mischievous little ones who love to leap onto your back if you’re down on all fours.  Each day the campers make a goat bridge which the babies walk across.  It’s a massage like you’ve never had before.

Arts central or the Bong Tree as we call it, was making form candles today.  You have so many colors and fragrances to choose from.  They really turn out beautiful and are a nice addition to any home.

The other “coolest” place to be all day today were activities centering around our water sports, being at the lake, SUP Boarding, kayaking, creek hiking, and swimming.  The “Watermat” produces the most noise in camp and each day you can tell when there’s a group on the lake using it.  There’s never a dull moment as campers run, slide, and jump off of all sides.  You can easily get a whole cabin on it without it sinking.  Several cabins have taken tubing trips down the French Broad as did Raines Cove today just after lunch.  There was also a signup this afternoon that attracted kids from all over camp.  It’s a lazy river type trip with 2 or 3 faster moving parts that usually takes about an hour and a half.  For a cabin it’s a great way for a little bonding.  Others will take a hike in order to swim at Connestee Falls or possibly hike to “The Rock” where you can see for miles.

Camp life really starts in the cabin and works outward.  That’s one reason we hold what we call “Open House” in each cabin every session.  That’s when a leadership team member and an activity leader visit the cabins to meet with just the campers.  It’s a great way to ensure that your child’s experience in the cabin is a good one and to make sure that the counselors are doing a good job.  We visit with the cabin for about a half an hour and talk about a lot of things; their counselors, what they are looking forward to, favorite activities, how they are getting along and many other topics.  It provides good insight into their cabin life and how it’s going.

There are lots of checks and balances at camp.  We have lists, roles, check ins, meeting spots, roll calls, buddy systems, and other ways of supervision and guidance during our busy days.  The structure is never heavy, but underpins the organized chaos that camp is.  With that organized chaos should come fun, learning and many chances to build relationships throughout the camp experience.  It’s life outdoors, without screen time and the focus is on the “simple joys of childhood”.   We could all use that so stay tuned!

A Cooler Day and Wonderful Evening!

Dear Parents and Friends,

Our day was sunny, bright and warm and with our shade, water activities and fun quotient it was a terrific day here at GV.   Tonight was Tajar Tales for Hillside  and s’mores night for those Brooksider’s.  We also had a giant picnic on the Green that everyone attended.  Our kitchen staff has worked all summer long and made unbelievable food so they all got together tonight away from camp and enjoyed some comradery outside of the workplace.  The Sloppy Joe’s today at lunch were over the top good.   We’re into the meat of our session now after having our second full day of Discovery activities.  At our table I asked who experienced something brand new today and most responded to that with: creek hiking, wet exit in a kayak with a skirt on, tree climbing, weaving on the looms, etc.  I also asked what they were most looking forward to in the week ahead: their campout, rock climbing trip out of camp, Tajar ball, tie-dye, and more.  There is always something to look forward to at camp.  Each cabin usually keeps a calendar of events so the children know what’s coming up in camp.  There’s a good bit on our schedule each day and every day has a significant event for someone or sometimes for everyone.  Tomorrow night is Twilight Play which everyone loves.

On my travels today, I stopped by the Bong Tree to see Tie Dye.  There were a plethora of colors being used.  I do not own a Tie Dyed shirt from Gwynn Valley.  I always tell my staff that I wore Tie Dye in the early 70’s.  I get some puzzled looks.  On the sports scene, one choice among many that campers had was the overall camp favorite of Thunderball.  We started playing Thunderball about 7 years ago here at camp.  It’s a game that came over from Israel and is a form of dodge ball with the exception that you don’t actually pick the ball up and throw it.  You slap it with your hand or fist and try to get others out by hitting their legs from the knees down.  Some camps call it GAGA.  Sometimes I think there are campers that would play all day long and never tire of this game.  Of course our other most popular game here is soccer.  There’s rarely a day that goes by where there’s not a bit of fotball that’s played. Archery is another sport at camp that’s very popular.  Our sports crew have done a good job of teaching it this year.  It’s like Thunderball in its appeal to children.  Another crowd pleaser is 9 Square in the Air.  Most all of us have played 4 Square.  9 in the Air is I think more fun and somewhat different.  I learned about 9 Square at a national conference and played for a couple of hours inside a hotel ball room with all adults.  It’s fast moving fun for all ages.

On the waterfront, our stand up paddle boards came out today and we attached a Go Pro camera to several of them.  I’m hoping the footage turned out well.   There’s always some new activities at camp and there has to be.  Last summer we taught Blacksmithing for just one session and this summer it has been offered every session but A.  I think the most wonderful new aspect to camp is our Dining Room and Kitchen that was built over the winter.  For most of you, you know it’s a vast improvement from previous years.  For new campers it may be difficult to understand the old building vs. the new.

Old Dining Room and Upper Dwellings

As stated above, there is always something new for campers every day.  It’s akin to going to your favorite candy store and picking just what candy you want to sample today.  This candy is actually good for you and makes you smarter, stronger, more agile, eager, resilient, and most of all it’s fun.  You also get to share with your friends.   Our outdoor play is mostly structured and it’s so much fun to play outdoors all day, sleep under the stars as many cabins are doing this evening and even eat outside for our picnic.  It’s just good for the body and soul.

Outdoor play increases attention span. Often children who have difficulty with pen and paper tasks or sitting still for long periods of times are significantly more successful after time spent outside. Outdoor play is imaginative. Because there are no labels, no pre-conceived ideas and fewer rules, children must create the world around them. In this type of play, children use their imagination in ways they don’t when playing inside. We’re playing outside and growing inside here at Gwynn Valley! Stay tuned!

It Was UK Day At GV!

Dear Parents & Friends,

Today is UK (United Kingdom) Day here at good ole GV.  The whole day was mixed with good food, visits by reigning monarchy and a wonderful evening campfire that included many campers dancing, singing and being in skits.  Our international staff did a great job giving us a first-hand look at so many aspects of their country which lasted all day long.

Every Tuesday is International Day here at Camp so we get to know a lot about the countries that many of our staff and children come from over the summer.  It’s a great way to learn about a country’s customs, food, songs, stories and general facts.  I think it’s also a great addition to our program to have someone in your cabin who may speak a different language or doesn’t come from our country.  Camp is the kind of place that brings people together.  It’s an even playing field for campers and staff alike.  Our staff grow very close after working together for over 10 weeks.  Campers do the same and some camp friends stay friends the rest of their lives.

Our UK friends started us off by William Wallace (Braveheart fame) reciting a portion of his speech while his lads came rushing across the field to spirit him on against his battle with the Loch Ness monster who had taken up residence at the GV lake since last night.  Now I may be wrong, but I think I missed something there in UK history and don’t remember Nessie and Wallace battling it out on top of the watermat for the Kingdom.  You might guess who won because Nessie disappeared under the water never to return to Gwynn Valley.  Breakfast followed in true English style with toast, eggs, sausage and beans to top off the toast.  Far be it from me to question anyone’s eating preferences, but I wonder if the Queen eats that for breakfast.

Campers were on their B Day of Discovery this morning and taking two brand new activities.  I wonder how many folks were trying out things they have never done before. Our cool morning started a bit foggy/cloudy just like British Isles and then the sun popped out.  I headed to the farm where they were just beginning to feed the baby calves.  Many of us are really hungry at breakfast because it’s the longest time between meals.  Well, these calves are the same way.  They are ready for those giant bottles of formula mixed with milk.  It doesn’t take long to drain about 2 liters.  Their instinct, even with the bottle, is to punch mother’s milk pouch, so you’d better be standing to the side because this happens frequently during the process.  From there it was into the corn field where we picked over the remaining ears of 15 rows of corn.  There were about 12 children and each one picked about 25 ears of corn. Within just a few minutes we had 300 ears of fresh silver queen, which was shucked by everyone after lunch today.  The farm is a magical place where people, animals and food create a pretty cool part of the circle of life.

Coming back from the farm, I dropped by horseback riding and watched as these young riders maneuvered their horses in and out of cones and around the ring.  These long legged creatures are so patient with all the novice riders we have.  Later in the hour the campers were sitting backwards on the saddle learning to feel and just balance without feet in stirrups.  Staff were tethering the horses as they walked.

From there it was onto Dancing Dreams where Camping Skills & Nature were learning to build fires and then serve up some s’mores.  Building a fire is not always easy and some of these youngsters were trying for the first time.  Each group had a small fire starter (a small bit of wax rolled in newsprint), to spur that flame on.  When it rains about every other day, it’s hard to find dry wood.  I didn’t stay for the s’mores and made my way to the office to download the video I’d been shooting all morning.

During the summer we shoot hours and hours of video.  Some small amount is used to update our promo video and most goes toward session highlights which I put together after the summer is over and carry on the road with me.  It’s uncut and very real camp from each session and we make it available to you near the end of the year or just after.  You can see some of these if you go to Gwynn Valley’s Vimeo site.  I don’t use You Tube because some of the things you find there are a bit unsavory for children.  Vimeo has a much different approach to “appropriate”.

We continued our UK Day at campfire tonight with lots of skits and music as mentioned above.  Simon Cowell had stolen all the British music and it was up to Gwynn Valley staff and campers to get it back.  We saved such famous artists as the Beatles, Queen, One Direction, The Spice Girls, The Proclaimers, Adele, and of course Ed Sheeran. It was an evening of fun, dancing, and humor typically British which I love.

All day long we mostly spend outdoors combining informal play and formal learning. Children can incorporate concepts they have learned at school in a hands-on way while outdoors. For example, seeing and touching the roots of a tree will bring to life the lesson their teacher taught about how plants get their nutrients. Our Nature and Camping Skills program takes children right to the source of our natural world where you can’t always go in a classroom setting.  Gus is excellent in leading a group through the woods where there’s something around every corner.  For children it’s mysterious, exciting and little scary when turning over rocks and rotten logs to see what you might find.  I know what you’re thinking parents, what might you find in that case?  Good question and yes, we keep everyone at a safe and healthy distance until we know there are no surprises under those pieces of the natural world.  Children are naturally inquisitive and are always interested to know about identifying snakes and lizards.  We do our best in describing what to look for in a poisonous snake and the types that live in our mountains.  Many teachable moments happen throughout the day at camp.

Even with our hot sunny day we learn to drink water, wear our sunscreen and to respect our natural surroundings, it’s power and to take it seriously.  We’re always on the “sunny side” here at GV even when it’s raining.  Stay tuned!


Growing With Each New Experience!

Dear Parents and Friends,

It’s been a beautiful day here, a little warm but no rain or thunder storms which is rare so far this summer.  Campers dove right into their Discovery activities this morning with gusto.  It was a fine morning to visit with programs, so I started close to Downtown GV at the Mill (our oldest part of camp built in 1890).  As many of you know the Mill has been restored and continues to grind the corn meal and grits we grow and serve in our dining room.  This is all done by your campers and our staff.  Water power continues to be a sustainable resource that takes us back over a hundred years to a simpler life, when the Mill was much more than a novelty.  This morning they were grinding and cooking Johnny Cakes over an open fire.  A J-Cake is a simple concoction that can be cooked over an open fire or on your stove at home.  I’ll include the recipe at the bottom of this writing.

From there I went across the alley to Pottery where they were forming their first coil pots.  Coil pots are primitive, but effective in getting started in building your first piece – hand building as it’s called.  Some folks had big coils and some had small ones; each artist to his or her own.  Just behind the Pot Shop at Yanderside they were marbling paper which no two pieces look the same and the colors and designs are amazing.  I’m always astounded at the things one can do with simple colors and design.  From there it was onto Shady Grove where weaving all kinds of materials makes for many wonderful things.  First hour this morning they were weaving on our looms, which require hand and foot coordination and a keen eye to repetition and keeping your thoughts on thread count and your personal design.  The bare thread that hangs in hanks on the wall when entwined on the loom are beautiful and again each one can be different.

As the morning wore on, I could understand why you might want to be near the water if you were not  in a shady crafts building.  SUP boards were learning the in’s and out’s of SUPing as they moved gently on the tops of their boards.  Every now and then you would hear a splash as one member might try shifting their weight to turn or change position on the board and would feel the gentle cushion of water as they plopped into the lake.  Kayakers were experiencing their first time on the water sitting in a cockpit not much bigger than a chair seat and getting used to water, water everywhere and new paddle strokes.  A kayak is like a sports car and it responds so quickly and surely.  They will advance to wet exits on their next time.

Out of the sun and back into some shade I visited with Mountain bikers as they learned about riding single track and techniques like braking, looking out and down and not just 3 feet from your front tire.  Pete did some cool things where he had the campers walk the trail with their hands just below their eye brows so you only saw what was right in front of you and then walked the same trail with your hands just slightly below your eyes where you couldn’t see your feet or things close to and out from your feet.  When riding you need to constantly be scanning forward and close to see as much as you can.  Sometimes way out front and sometimes close.  Focusing too close may make you lose your balance or not allow you see the next obstacle.  I think the campers really learned from this exercise and biking skills went up a notch.  They will continue through the week to strengthen their confidence and skills in progressively more difficult trails.

Mountainside and Main Camp climbers were at the wall this morning and learning knots as well as belay techniques.  I took a few pictures while there and noticed when I got back to the office that everyone had their learning face on.  Campers were really concentrating on learning and focused.  While smiles are important for you to see, it’s also important for them to be present when staff are going through all the techniques and safety measures.  We work on making these skills easy to learn and fun.  The learning curve goes way up when you can just walk up, put on your harness and helmet, tie your own knots and be able to articulate the belay signals.  As always a staff member is double checking it all as you go through the items one by one.

All of this builds independence while here at camp.  This sense of independence will give our campers  confidence in what they do and the courage to go out on their own to try new things. Camp is a great place for children of all ages to become more and learn “I can” instead of “I can’t”.  In our new setting, it will help them to speak up for themselves and to make decisions on their own. The sense of independence they develop here at Gwynn Valley will serve them for the rest of their lives.  Following are some ways camp instills independence.

You’re away from home, sometimes for weeks! For a lot of young campers, going to camp is the first time they are away from home. It can be a big adjustment for children. By starting camp at a young age children will be more comfortable being away from home, as they get older. This comfort in new places will allow children to be themselves no matter where they are. It will really benefit them when they are leaving for college or other similar experiences. Your child will feel confident beginning a new experience in a new place.

You’re with new people. Similar to being in a new place, first time campers will also be surrounded by mostly new people, both campers and counselors. We have lots of siblings who come together and also friends, but they will certainly meet new friends.  They will learn how to interact with others in the cabin, at the table and in activities.  Relationships aren’t always easy and they may be faced with people with whom they don’t get along. They will learn that people are different.  Being able to be civil and respectful of those people will show a sense of maturity. Surrounding yourself with new people helps instill independence because you have to learn how to communicate with others and be confident that you’ll be able to make new friends.

You have to try new activities.  It’s easy to only do activities that you know you are good at, but trying new activities will help you become more independent. For example, if you attend a specialty camp you may get to focus on a skill that you may not be exposed to in a more traditional camp setting. Exposure to our farm and the animals there is a new experience for most campers.  Trying new activities will get you comfortable with trying new things later in life. You will meet new people and have to test yourself with these new activities and while it may be daunting at first, trying new activities will be one of the many stepping stones to help you become a better person.

You have to speak up for yourself.  To be independent, you have to be able to get by on your own. An important part of this is being able to speak up for yourself. As young children, we are dependent on our parents to meet our needs. However, at camp, without their support, you have to be able to ask for things yourself. This will ensure that you have what you need and are taken care of, which is important once you are living on your own.  We do our best to partner with you as parents and on some level hope to provide the same care as you do, but it’s not the same.  It’s been said that one teacher can’t meet the needs of every child.  We have lots of teachers and mentors here.  We must work together to achieve this goal in making great children.

You have to make decisions for yourself.  Learning to make smart decisions is an important part of growing up. We are constantly learning from our mistakes and learning what decisions will give us the best outcome. At camp, without parents there to help, campers have to make decisions on their own. They can be minor things, such as what you should have for dinner; to larger ones like what is the risk of me turning upside down in my kayak.  Being able to make your own decision and to tell the difference between right and wrong is an important aspect of independence. It sets up a belief in yourself that you can trust your instincts.

We see all of this happening each and everyday here at GV.  Everywhere I turn I see campers becoming more than they thought they could and shining the light of confidence.  It’s a good feeling.  Camp does a world of good for children!  Stay tuned!

Gwynn Valley Johnny Cakes

3 eggs

1 ⅓  cups milk

⅓  cup oil

2 cups Gwynn Valley Cornmeal

1 cup all purpose flour

¾  cup sugar

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon baking powder

  • Mix well and cook on a medium hot griddle until golden brown on both sides.

Opening Day D Session!

Dear Parents and Friends,

Thank you for bringing such a great group of campers today.  We’ve had a great day apart from a short thunderstorm during our lunch hour (perfect timing).  The added bonus from the rain that came through, was a cooling down from the previous hot days this week.  After lunch campers began their first day at camp.  We serve an early lunch at 12 on opening day and there’s little time to settle into thinking about home and parents.  After lunch we went right into signups and then off to activities.  We hope you are safe and sound wherever your destination.

Activities open for the afternoon were Pottery, Horses, Sports, the Mill,  Fine Arts, Climbing, Crafts, Tie, Dye, Lake Fun, Sports, Camping Skills and Nature, Archery and swim assessments at the pool.  Mountainside was playing ice breaker games on their green up in the cove. They play a lot of games to get to know one another and start the session off right with activities that provide group bonding and getting to know one another.  It was certainly a vocal crowd.  They were having a blast.

Campers also signed up for their Discovery Activities today.  They will take those four activities through Saturday which last for 3 days each and happen every other day just in the morning.  The Discovery activities are as follows: Farm/Mill, Horses, Archery, Track and Field, World Sports, Climbing (3 types), Soccer, Candles, Weaving, Fine Arts Musical (Where the Wild Things Are), Basketry, Batik, Printmaking, Stand up Paddle boards, Creek Hiking, Navy Seals, Water Quidditch, Camping Skills and Nature, Campsite 101, Fire Building & Outdoor Cooking, Mountain Biking, Pottery (2 types), Outdoor Living Skills, Print Making and Whitewater Kayaking. The afternoon has 2 more hours of activities that provide campers with a variety of sign-ups each day.  These can be 1 or 2 hour activities and there’s no limit to the possibilities.  Staff can provide a one-time activity or several of the same over the week. This should be a great week as the session begins.

Our first campfire ended not long ago and our program staff put on a skit that had everyone laughing.  They are a talented and funny group who will be teaching your children throughout the session.  We also sang a few songs and Head Counselor Molly, read a Tajar Story.   We wrapped things up with cabins being dismissed as Debbie played Sheep May Safely Graze, which has been a tradition for many, many years.  Our Mountainsider’s and Riversider’s hold their own campfires in their own quarters.  It’s a full day here at camp and at least one camper fell asleep during campfire tonight.  A long day of travel and a full day of activity makes for snoozeville.

Dinner tonight was the traditional first night of pasta and marinara sauce which in most cases, is very child friendly food.  Salad from the garden and fresh broccoli rounded out the meal.  To top things off, each cabin got a giant cookie, and I do mean giant chocolate chip cookie at their table.  It had their cabin name on it written in icing.  After supper we all went to “after supper activities” and there was a great choice of things to do.

Riverside leaves tomorrow for their climbing trip and they are going to Foster Falls in TN.  They’ll be gone through Thurs. of this week.   Mountainside begins their mini-adventures tomorrow and will be in and out of camp as they sample each adventure.  As the session progresses, we’ll have more and more trips out for all three programs including Main Camp.  We look forward to reporting on those and hopefully will have some photos up.

Last night the whole staff met for our campfire before we started D, Mountainside and Riverside sessions.   We told our staff that these campers have been waiting to come to camp all summer.  Our goals are being met through their work of providing the following aspects that define Gwynn Valley and it’s program:

Camp has been a safe and supportive environment where children can develop authentic relationships.

It’s a place where we’re unplugged and focused on collaborative living in our groups of cabin, table, and program communities.

We’re providing parenting on a different level, with structure and support as they gain hard and soft skills each day. We aspire to partner with you and carry on your work. 

We’re helping the campers reconnect to the natural world where they are participating in human powered activities.

And last but not least, we’re allowing them to relax and just be kids or as we say at GV, “the simple joys of childhood”.

Can you think of a better way to spend 13 days or three weeks.  Stay tuned!

C, C-2 Closing and Video!

Dear Parents & Friends,

Thank you for a great ending to our C, C-2 Session today. We’ve had a wonderful time hosting your children.  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 here at camp.  Hope to see you next year!

Grant & Anne

PS  As promised, here’s the link for the C, C-2 video.     C, C-2 Video Highlights