A Session Kayaking Trip

We were paddling the Upper French Broad that comes out of the Pisgah National Forest. The West, North and East Forks of the French Broad join just above where we put in. It’s a good beginning river for those getting on moving water.A Session Kayak Trip from Gwynn Valley on Vimeo.

Leaving Your Parents for Camp!

Dear Parents, Campers & Friends,

Here’s a recent article by Bob Ditter, who is a widely recognized consultant to the camping community and is renowned for his expertise in the field of child and adolescent development.  I recently attend several workshops of Bob’s and he always challenges us as Directors to make the camping experience one of lasting memories and a stepping stone for a child’s maturation.  He mentions an article in the New York Times Magazine from last Fall that’s titled, “What If the Secret to Success Is Failure?”  It’s an excellent read.  Enough of my babbling.  Here’s Bob’s article.

I was talking with a colleague the other day about her teenage son. She was telling me about all the self-centered, self-occupied ways he behaves around the house when she finally said, “I think the reason teenagers are so obnoxious and challenging is otherwise we parents couldn’t bear to let them go!”

This reminded me of a passage I’d read last fall in a New York Times Sunday Magazine article by Paul Tough titled, “Character Test: What If the Secret to Success Is Failure?”

Parents . . . have an acute, almost biological impulse to provide for . . . children, to give them everything they want and need, to protect them from dangers and discomforts large and small. And yet we know — on some level at least — that what kids need more than anything is a little hardship: some challenge, some deprivation that they can overcome, even if just to prove to themselves they can. [The education many children receive at home and in school may not] provide them with the skills to negotiate the path toward . . . a happy, meaningful, productive life. In order to do so, [children] first need to learn how to fail. (Tough, p. 85, September 14, 2011)

In addition to a little hardship I would add that children need to get away from their parents from time to time! I don’t think children can truly get a sense of what they are capable of and what they truly have a talent for while their parents are standing around watching. Children need an enduring sense that they can figure things out and manage what life throws at them—indeed, to trust that they have the capacity to cope! As long as Mom or Dad are in the wings to pick up the pieces a child will never truly know whether he or she has what it takes to make it on their own.

In his latest book, Happy and Homesick, Michael Thompson, the child psychologist from Boston who has written extensively on boys and the social landscape of children, talks about “the empathic connection between parent and child” as a “fundamental part of our nature—instinctive and unquestioned.” Yet, this same strong wired-in urge to protect and provide for our children can actually backfire. It can actually prevent them from finding their own strengths, their own abilities and their own self-confidence. Dr. Thompson elaborates:

As a child you don’t know what you truly feel unless you are away from your parents. Away from home children know what they hate and what they love, what makes them miserable and what makes them happy, because they are having the experience on their own. Children who go away to camp often report that only at camp can they “be themselves.” As one eleven-year-old boy said, “Sometimes at home I feel pressured, but at camp I don’t feel people are judging me.” (Thompson, p.14, May, 2012)

One of the most powerful outcomes of the camp experience is the sense of self and the self-confidence children can away from their parents. Indeed, a child is more likely to pass a swim test under the watchful eyes of the nineteen year-old swim staff than if their parents were there. As Dr. Thompson explains, “When a child is anxious and frightened, it sets off a parent’s anxious identification, and when the child then sees worry in the parent’s face—or, worse yet, a forced cheerfulness that doesn’t fool the child for a second—it makes the child even more anxious. When a child accomplishes something away from her parent she can be absolutely sure she owns that accomplishment!” (p.19)

 So I have two recommendations: buy Michael Thompson’s new book when it comes out in May, 2012; and send your child to camp so you can read it!

Thanks Bob and thanks to Bunk1Buzz where I read the above post.  Camp does do a world of good and that’s why a Gwynn Valley experience is so valuable in a child’s life.  We are looking forward to seeing you this summer for the simple joys of childhood!


Thank You Georgia and More!

Dear Parents, Campers and Friends,

As the temperature hovers close to 60 today, I’m reminded of the last couple of winters we’ve had here at camp with lots of snow and cold temperatures. It’s been a mild winter so far this year with some daffodils blooming at the end of January!  Even though Feb. is half over, we can always be surprised by a late winter storm or two.  Good weather has provided lots of good days for camp preparations.  We’re getting ready for camp like gangbusters and are so excited about the upcoming summer.

A big thank you goes out to one of our campers, Georgia from Atlanta, who sent us a wonderful version of our Gwynn Valley Mountains framed in tiny Hemlock cones spread around the edges of the picture she drew.  We love receiving those kinds of gifts and it makes us yearn for the presence of all of our campers.

Thank You Georgia for the Great Art Work!

We have been traveling to promote camp as well as interviewing staff over the past many weeks since the new year started.  We’ve also attended some very good workshops on a local and regional level pertaining to the camping industry.  Just last week three of our staff attended a workshop by Bob Ditter, a child psychologist who is very well known in the camping industry for his work with “keeping children safe”.  His work centers around the best hiring practices for staff, training counselors, camper and staff development, and strong supervision which is key in any setting for children.  It was a full day of wisdom and practical information from Bob.  I had dinner with him and a few other directors that evening because I serve on the NCYCA Board (North Carolina Youth Camp Association).   It was a great day and reaffirmed that Gwynn Valley is doing an excellent job in our work with children and staff.   Next week five of us will head to Atlanta to the American Camp Association’s National Conference to spend 4 days soaking up information from experts in the camping field and meeting camp directors from all over the country.

Last year about this time I wrote an article for a magazine and website called 60 Second Parent entitled  “Is My Child Ready for Summer Camp”.  As a sequel to that I want to add the following thoughts based on an article by Carolyn Meyer-Wartels, Psychotherapist and Parenting Counselor,   “Five Convincing  Reasons to Send Your Child To Summer Camp”.   As many of us know, some children are born ready to attend camp and some parents plan that event from day one, maybe because of their own great camp experience or they feel that the opportunities for growth at summer camp should be part of the maturation process.  Others, (children and parents) are less enthusiastic about camp and leaving  the home nest for even a short period of time.  We’re all quite different in our parenting styles and it’s good to remember not everything works for everybody.

Here’s what Carolyn writes in her article and I feel she is right on target in her justification for a summer camp experience.

1.  Stepping outside of the comfort zone.  We are the generation of padded playgrounds and soccer trophies for everyone on the team.  Nowadays adults tend to rescue children from experiencing uncomfortable feelings.  Yet a little discomfort, in a supportive environment, can give kids the tools to push themselves when something challenging emerges, leaving them with a true self-esteem boost. Being a little uncomfortable in new situations whether it is while being social or acquiring new physical skills can help build self-reliant kids.

2. Kids get to try on a different hat. Kids may be the “shy one” at school but the loud one at camp.   They may be known as the best basketball player at school but at camp discover their creative selves.  Camp breaks through the tendency to self label and gives kids a space to try new things. For kids to figure out who they “want to be when they grow up”, they need to wear different personas, explore different activities, and connect with various people from different walks of life.

3. It fosters independence.  The first time children leave home for camp they may be worried about how they are going to make it.  Yes, there is staff everywhere to help them if they get a splinter and remind them to wear sunscreen, but the truth of the matter is that they must learn to notice when they need help and clarifying what kind of help they need. Parents love to feel needed and monitor when their child is hungry or cold, but in order for children to grow into successful adults, they must learn how to be in touch with these needs.  Camp gently fosters this experience for kids.  This self-reliance is part of the journey of knowing yourself and learning to satisfy one’s needs.

4. The importance of different groups:  Going to camp helps kids to fulfill the idea of having more than one group of friends.  That’s right.  Kids tend to be happier and more well rounded with the freedom of having three different groups of friends. The idea for this is if the going gets tough with one group, there is another group to turn to.  Ask any middle-schooler, by the end of the school year, most are grateful to escape the enmeshed web of local friends for the fresh beginning of summer friends. It’s refreshing but more importantly, it is an important option for kids to retreat to.

5.  It’s a stress free zone:  There is no homework, travel soccer meets, citywide tests, dentist appointments, piano lessons or birthday parties.  While these activities might all sound like fun and games, these commitments carry a lot of pressure. They are scheduled activities that have many rules with physical, mental and emotional demands.   Camp gives kids a chance to clear their head from a very hectic year.  It is true that some camps are very scheduled while others are a little looser, but the mere fact that camp is in new geographic location, a separate hideaway, with different rules and expectations then at home, can for many let some wind out of a too tight sail.

At Gwynn Valley we witness these points each and every summer.  We see children grow in their own confidence, trying new things, making new friends and reaching for goals they might not have the opportunity to reach for at home or in a school environment.  Camp is that getaway that every child needs at some point and we think Gwynn Valley is that nurturing place where a camper can live out those “simple joys of childhood”.  We can’t wait to see you at Gwynn Valley this summer!


Happy New Year!

Countdown to Camp!

We are so excited because there are only 160 days until camp begins!  The new year brings a renewed sense of pushing that camp train toward its destination set for June 8, 2012.  We hope you’re on board. We will be out on the road in the weeks ahead to bring you our message about Gwynn Valley, the best camp ever for boys and girls ages 5-14.  Anne, Andy and I will be hitting the promotional trail so we hope to see you at a local camp gathering.  Check our travel schedule on the News Page and see when we might be in your area.

Many projects have been going on this fall and we’ll be able to reveal some of those in the near future.  We hope to bring some of that news to you via video in the weeks ahead.  You’ll see first hand what’s going on here at camp as we get ready for another fantastic season.  We’re also in the midst of hiring staff and at this point have over 90 people who have signed on for 2012.  Gwynn Valley has a large staff and we usually hire between 150 and 180 people for the summer.  Not all of them are here at the same time because of other work and school commitments.  Usually our team numbers about 110 including support staff.  This number includes our kitchen crew which is also large because it takes quite a few people to prepare such great, fresh meals and to bring our food from the farm to table.  If you know of an exceptional young man or woman who is keen on working with children, please have them contact us at mail@gwynnvalley.com or andy@gwynnvalley.com to receive information about staff positions.

While we’re getting ready for camp we hope you are as well.  I want to call your attention to a book coming out soon that talks about the value of a camp experience and being away from mom and dad.  I first learned about Michael G. Thompson after he published a book called Raising Cain – Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys.   It’s a great read about what boys need, what they are not getting, and is an excellent resource for parents.  Michael has written several other books about children.  He’s a nationally known speaker and his latest book is called Homesick and Happy: How Time Away from Parents Can Help a Child Grow.  It doesn’t hit the shelves until later this spring but is available for pre-order.  Here’s just a clip from the book, “If the single most important thing about camp is that a child’s parents are not there, that is still only part of the story.  Camp is also not school.  That simple fact can produce an extraordinary change in the climate of a child’s day, and therefore his or her emotional life .  Good things, certainly different things, happen for children when they are relieved  of the pressure of judgment, comparison, evaluation and striving that are an inevitable part of the school day.”

Mountainside Bikers at Dupont's Bridal Veil Falls

I’m excited to read about Michael’s observations and his take on how camps can benefit children. We at Gwynn Valley see children grow in so many ways while at camp.  We have children who experience some homesickness and get over it and we have children who may struggle a little more but overcome these feelings after a few days.  We do know that 99.9% of those who experience homesickness come out on the other side much stronger for their experience and can use that experience in so many other aspects of life and growing up.  So… we hope you are reading this and getting ready for another camp experience or reading this and thinking about sending your child to camp for their first camp experience.  Either way, we know that your child will benefit from a summer camp experience at Gwynn Valley.  Hope to see you this summer!  Stay Tuned!


Dear Campers, Parents & Friends,

Even though it’s a fairly warm day here at camp, true winter has been with us for a while.  Leaves have been gathered, hydrangea’s have been trimmed and many projects have been started in preparation for the coming summer.  We here at camp hope that you and your family are doing well during this festive and special time of year.  We’ve been fortunate to connect with many of our campers and families on our camp promotion trips up until Thanksgiving.  Those will resume again as the new year begins so look for us in a city or area near you.  We’ll be showing our new video,  which premiered in the fall.  Just this past week we went live with the video on the camp website.  If you haven’t had time to check it out, do so.  You might see someone you know.  There are also other videos from the summer if you click on the “You Rock” video at the bottom right side of the page.  Once it plays you find a few more scenes from our super 2011 summer.

Staffing is going very well and at this point we have over 85 of our outstanding staff from last summer who have committed for the summer of 2012.  We’ve been interviewing some new folks who will round out the excellent staff ranks for the summer.  If you know of a wonderful  young man or woman who is keen on working with children please send them our way.  You can never have too many good staff.

As many of you know one of Gwynn Valley’s values is simplicity.  With all the hustle and bustle of this time of year, don’t forget to stop and give thanks for all that we have, for family, for friends, for faith, for good health and for places like Gwynn Valley.  Anne and recently placed a metal sign above our doorway in the kitchen leading into our family room that is just the word “Believe”.  There are all kinds of magnetic additions you can add to it depending on the season.  It’s inspirational for our family in so many ways.  Just remember to start that “Believing” process by believing in yourself.  I think that Gwynn Valley provides children the simple act of believing in themselves and going forward to gain other life building skills that camp teaches.

At every camp closing our staff sings the song “The Irish Blessing”.  It’s a great way to end our sessions and I think the words speak for themselves.

May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be ever at your back.
May the sunshine warm upon your face,
And the rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again.
May God hold you in the palm of his hand.

May the peace of the season touch your lives in simple ways!


A home show presentation near you..

Gwynn Valley Camp is on the road!  Our camp shows are hosted by camper families and are for returning campers, alumni, and anyone interested in learning about camp.  These gatherings are a great way to speak to others who have attended camp and an opportunity to meet one of our Directors.  Come find out more about camp at a home show near you and watch our new DVD from the 2011 summer!  Check out our travel schedule for the next several months.  Check back often as we continue to update and add to the schedule for November, January, and February.