Dealing with Cabin Fever

Gwynn Valley Families, We hope you’re all weathering the varying degree of lockdowns and school being out. I saw this article this morning in the NYTimes and thought of all of our families. It does have some much-needed humor.…/coronavirus-families-cabin-fever.…

Also here’s some info on books for children of different ages that you may be able to tap into.…/10-books-to-rewild-your-child…

We wish you well and hope you are staying sane and healthy.

Mary Gwynn: Female Leader, Visionary, and Pioneer

In honor of Women’s history month, we want to share an article about our fearless leader, Miss Mary Gwynn, who founded Gwynn Valley as a single woman back in 1935. She was a pioneer on so many fronts. Her values and vision 85 years ago remain the foundation of our camp culture and program today. Miss Mary was a female entrepreneur during a social and economic climate when such action was rare for a single woman on her own. She was an early adopter of international staff exchange programs, bringing international staff to Gwynn Valley and celebrating their culture to create a global village here in the North Carolina mountains. The idea of a co-ed camp was a bit radical for the time, but Miss Mary’s vision was clear and her commitment to the core value of acceptance drove a culture of inclusion. The tradition of socioeconomic inclusion also started with Miss Mary and her practice of providing scholarships for campers of all socio-economic backgrounds. So much of what Miss Mary started makes us the camp that we are today. We celebrate her pioneering spirit today and do our best to uphold the values she instated back in the 1930s. 

Read on for the complete text of an article written by Rick Roghair, who serves as the Professional Development Manager of the Iowa Association for the Education of Young People (IAAEYC). Rick was a staff member here in the 1970s. Among other responsibilities here at camp, Rick served as one of our celebrated camp pianists before Debbie Deboard joined us nearly 40 summers ago. 


Written by Rick Roghair, Professional Development Manager of the Iowa Association for the Education of Young People (IAAEYC)

Mary Gwynn, founder of what became Gwynn Valley Camp, near Brevard, North Carolina, envisioned a special, nurturing environment where younger boys and girls could thrive at a noncompetitive camp that emphasized individual and group achievement. Gwynn Valley nurtured each child by building character and relationships in a community that fostered personal challenge, a connection to nature, and the simple joys of childhood. “Miss Mary” opened her ‘child’s world’ camp in 1935. She combined hiking and pioneering with fine arts, creative writing, and crafts to create something very unique. She fashioned the camp based on the values of simplicity, acceptance, non-competition, and an appreciation of the natural world.

From day one, Miss Mary established her philosophy using a different focus. She wanted to ensure that each child explored her or his sense of self by creating a noncompetitive program. One favorite expression for every child was, “Do something difficult every day.” She embraced a ‘challenge by choice’ philosophy – each child was exposed to a variety of new opportunities every morning, and every afternoon selected an activity to learn more or to build personal skills, surrounded by like-minded children. Each child was encouraged to try something challenging, no matter her or his skill level. Although competition has a value and place, her focus was cooperative skills by participating in group activities each night, followed by campfire, singing, and stories.

Simplicity allowed focus on the “simple joys of childhood,” including camping under the stars, canoeing, singing, swimming, dancing, hiking, archery, and much play. The result was making friends, talking through conflicts, experiential learning, and immersing one’s self in nature. Miss Mary celebrated diversity in all forms, which allowed each camper to fully enjoy being herself or himself. 

Miss Mary provided a nurturing environment to allow each camper to learn and to grow, and to conquer personal fears. No one was a loser and self-confidence soared. Secure and safe relationships with caring adults and other children were the hallmark of her philosophy. Each child developed leadership skills in a safe environment. Miss Mary employed staff from all over the nation and the world – often 12 countries or more. She registered both genders – not very common in the early years – in separate cabins, of course! Miss Mary encouraged children of color to register (one story says she was tarred-and-feathered for this). She provided scholarships for children of poverty. Over time, boys and girls of all ages played against girls and boys of all ages in soccer, other sports, and in other group activities. A child could select English style of horse riding (look that up to understand how it is different), Red Cross swimming instruction (in the lake or with the newts in the freezing cold creek-fed pool), or the arts (using only the best materials). Nature was important, and today, the camp raises 70% of the food consumed, and the ‘older’ side of camp is almost off-the-grid. Simplicity was the key, and to this day, technology is not allowed.

How do I know this? Miss Mary died five years before I became a cabin counselor and musician, and later, Fine Arts Director at Gwynn Valley. Her niece and husband owned and directed camp 31 years, and the current owners uphold her vision today. Miss Mary was a courageous forerunner and woman of vision regarding child development. She established a vision of developmentally appropriate practice. Miss Mary knew the ‘practice’ is about a child’s learning, provides individually appropriate activities, and that developmental practice is culturally important. Her work, begun 85 years ago, still aligns with the NAEYC 12 Principles of Child Development and Learning. Some things are just timeless.

Original Article can be found at 

Virtual Singing in the Lodge

Thanks for joining us for Virtual Singing in the Lodge today! In this time of physical isolation and uncertainty, it was powerful and heartwarming to gather together in (virtual) community. We had current campers and staff as well as alumni from many decades! It was so incredible to see everyone calling in from all over the world. For those who missed it, here’s a recording!

A big thank you to Blake & Ashley for their suggestion and to Lauren for helping us troubleshoot the technology. Thanks also to Debbie and Sol Driven Train for their gift of music on our Tajar Tracks! We hope you can join us again next time! Until then, may the road rise to meet you.…/9cNKCLDu72VObKfH1Gf9SJ8uNKi5aaa80Skbq_VYx…

Virtual Learning Resource

This week, Gov. Roy Cooper extended North Carolina school closures to May 15th, and many other states have made similar decisions. During this window of ‘virtual learning’ we want to share resources to help newly promoted teaching assistants (aka parents who are at home with their children!) with some resources to help keep your home-stays fun and engaging!

Here’s a tip to get you started from NPR’s Lifekit podcast on homeschooling during the coronavirus. We’ve seen lots of parents and educators sharing daily schedules – which are definitely important! – but we found this perspective refreshing. “While it’s good to have a general daily routine, you can also be flexible. It’s OK to let your kids sleep in a little later than usual–research shows many of our children and teens are chronically sleep-deprived.” So take advantage of this time to let your children (and yourself!) catch up on some of the sleep we are habitually missing out on in our normal go-go-go world.

What’s working at your home? If you have ideas for future resources to share, send an email to…/6-tips-for-homeschooling-during-coron…

Lessons Learned from the 2020 American Camp Association National Conference

At camp we always want to encourage children to try new things.  Whether it’s eating a hand-picked veggie from the Farm, climbing to the top of the tower, or making your first tie-dye; camp is chock full of opportunities to embody a growth mindset.  We also hope that our staff will employ an attitude of openness to new knowledge and experiences, role modeling for the hundreds of bright and impressionable minds that share this space with us each year.  With this intention towards growth mindset, four members of our year round team — Shelley (our registrar), Barbara (our finances maestro), Zeke (one component of our staff hiring brain), and Katie (another component of our staff hiring brain) — set out for sunny San Diego last week where the annual American Camp Association National Conference was being held.  

The ACA National Conference is an annual opportunity for camp professionals to come together and share resources and knowledge in a whole host of camp related fields.  It’s also a great networking opportunity. Our crew ran into a big name in the camping world: Tom Rosenberg. For those who don’t know Tom, he is the current Chief Executive Officer of ACA and a former Director at Blue Star Camps and Camp Judaea in Western NC for many years.  

Below are a few of the standout sessions and takeaways that our team can’t wait to share with the 2020 staff and campers!

Zeke:  I loved that the theme at this year’s conference was connections.  As a previous blog post mentions (A Connection to Camp), camp affords an incredible opportunity to help children explore their connections with the natural world as well as the nurturing community around them.  If I had to pick the most impactful sessions I attended, it would be the two that centered on interactive staff training activities and interactive debriefing techniques respectively.  As I will be stepping into a leadership role in Older Programs come summertime, I can’t wait to incorporate more intentional critical-thinking for camp’s current and future leaders!

Shelley: My favorite sessions focused on youth development.  The Opening keynote speaker David Yeager does research in this field and shared his findings that show how a shift in children’s mindset virtually eliminated the achievement gap.  His research showed that a growth mindset (instead of a fixed mindset) is critical in overcoming challenges, but also identified reframing a stress mindset, or seeing stress as enhancing your ability to grow, as a critical component to overcoming challenges.  Other sessions by Dr. Gilboa, aka “Dr. G”, focused on mental health. She had some really great exercises for staff training and strategies that we can use with our staff to help them learn to deal with stress.

Katie: This was my second ACA conference. I went to sessions focusing on staff and different ways to improve staff training. One of my favorite sessions was called “The Campfire” led by John Jorgenson. We explored the most effective ways to lead games and songs while keeping the campers and staff engaged and having a fun time. Another  session that I really enjoyed was called “Happy Staff are Good for Business”. This session was led by Ivy Cohen of Camp Leaders, one of the international staffing agencies we work with. Ivy focused on ways to improve the job satisfaction of staff during the summer. She also emphasized ways to collect and use feedback from your summer staff. 

Barbara:  I really enjoyed the 2020 ACA conference!  A highlight for me was a session “Alums are the Key”.   Methods of increasing your Alumni database were discussed as well as the value of Alums in referrals of campers and staff and of course donations for the Gwynn Valley Campership Foundation. Another nugget was the session “Using Trauma-Informed Training to Bridge Youth Development”.   ACA reaches 10.3 million campers annually; of this number, 6.5 million have experienced some type of traumatic experience.  Thus the need to understand, recognize and respond appropriately to childhood trauma is crucial to creating the ultimate learning environment for our campers.

Attending the ACA National Conference in February is always a great way to inspire our year round team and generate new ideas for the summer ahead. We can’t wait to put our learning into action as campers and staff begin to arrive at camp in a few short months!