Nature and Camp – The Right Medicine!

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 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 just about drove me crazy. 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 for more than a few minutes.

Recently two articles (see link below) 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.

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 to cooperate living and working together and solving problems together. They gain resilience, perseverance, curiosity, self-control, and more! I urge you to read these two articles and get out there yourself and with your own children to enjoy the green space around you.

GV Campers at Cyclo-cross Nationals!

We sometimes say that “camp is a human powered event”.  I see that every day in the summer, as our campers move, jog, bike, climb, use their hands, hike, run, swim, paddle and of course use their brain to combine with all of these movements.  Camp is also a place that is an open door to many activities that we either don’t have a chance to do at home or have the time.  Camp can introduce and propel us into activities and hobbies that we can participate in for years.

This past week Asheville, NC and the Biltmore Estate hosted the National Cyclo-cross Championships.  If you’re new to the sport it’s kind of like a bicycle steeplechase.  Riders ride, run, cross over short barriers, go up steps and all kind of steep terrain up and down.  Bikes are similar to road bikes with slightly wider knobby tires and drop bars found on road bikes.  I volunteered a couple of days for the races and thoroughly enjoyed watching the riders, friends, parents and fans cheer on their favorites.  I did say parents because riders as young as 9 years old were out there to ride and compete on a national level.  Nationals also included men and women up to 80, so it’s not a young person’s sport.

I ran into Alex and Madalyn Green, both GV campers at the race and they were both racing.  Alex was interested in bikes before coming to camp and our mountain biking program perked his interest even more.   Alex and Madalyn were campers at GV for 5 years.  For the past couple of summers he’s been racing bikes and also gotten in cyclo-cross.  In talking with Alex and his parents he thoroughly enjoyed his time learning the trails around camp and surrounding Brevard.  I didn’t get to see Madalyn, because she was racing when I took the pic below.  Madalyn just started racing and is looking ahead in this new endeavor.  You go girl!  Out of a field of 77, Alex came in 22nd.  Keep in mind this is National’s and not some local race.  Congrats to him for a strong showing.


It’s great to see how campers flourish and take skills to the next level.  Camp is an outlet to learn new skills and push the envelope and comfort zone in a safe and fun way.  It introduces you to different and new environments that are not familiar or like home.  It stretches us physically mentally, emotionally and provides guidance by staff who act as parents while at camp.  And it’s human powered, getting us out there in the great environment of our surrounding forests and fields.  It’s playing outside and growing inside here at Gwynn Valley.  I’ll leave you with this quote, “Life is like riding a bicycle; to keep your balance you must keep moving forward. “

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inclusive Sports at GV – I Like It!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be a Helper!

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

– Fred Rogers

Dear Parents and Friends,

As families gather all over our land for Thanksgiving, we must remember those who don’t have the comforts and freedoms that many of us are provided in this country.  Thanksgiving is that time that brings most of our country together in the spirit of welcoming one another home and rekindling the family ties and love that binds us.  One of camp’s values is simplicity and that first Thanksgiving started out as a simple welcoming gesture extended to the Pilgrims by Samoset, a chief of the Eastern Abenaki tribe.  That welcome came from a group who had every reason to be fearful.

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Acceptance is another value we treasure here at camp and that is played out in the work to bring diversity to our camper and staff ranks.  As Paris and other cities struck by terrorism, takes a place in our thoughts this holiday season, we all must strive to understand one another and seek out the peace that our world so desperately needs.  Through the ages our country has been a beacon and refuge for those wanting a better life and where fear is not lurking over your shoulder.  Let us keep our thoughts and prayers focused on those who don’t have a home to go to or a country to live in.

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While uncertainty surrounds us sometimes, we must remember what Fred Rogers’ mother told him, “Look for the helpers”.  We must look for and be the helpers in a servant leadership role that each of us have in us.   We are thankful for your children who attend Gwynn Valley.  We are grateful  for our own families here at work and we wish you all the best this Thanksgiving holiday.  May the “simple joys” surround you and yours in the days ahead.

Grant Sails Into Wilmington!


Dear GV Families and Friends,

I was in Wilmington, NC last night for a show hosted by the Jean and Connor Keller and their three daughters, Callie, Jeannie and Diana. The girls invited friends and classmates, and we had a great turn out. Everyone enjoyed talking about camp and viewing our new video and video highlights from 2015!  In true Gwynn Valley style, all the children took home a piece of the farm in the form of popcorn grown on site.We raise the corn during the late summer and it was harvested about a month ago. It was a great evening in a great NC city with a lot of history.

I’ll be in Winston Salem tonight and hope to folks there!


New “You Rock Supercamper Video” and More!

Dear Parents, Campers and Friends,

Greetings from camp and hope all is well out there in homeland.  Downtown GV has been bustling in the past few weeks and even without campers here, lots of work is going on.  Andy, Maggie, Anne and Grant have all been out on the promo trail and will continue to do so in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving.  Come out and see us at one of our shows, view our new promotional video, get a copy of last summer’s highlights video and take home some farm grown GV popcorn that was just harvested a few weeks ago.

Speaking of video we just put out our 2015 “You Rock Supercamper Video” and it’s on the homepage of our website (  It was a fun project and makes me want to start our 2016 season tomorrow.  Who will join me?  It might be a bit cold.  Another Fall/Winter project will be to update our website with some changes that will take place into the new year.

As our weather cools we are making some improvements to various parts of camp and beginning to order gear for the summer.  Chestnut Hollow will be getting a bit of a facelift.  We drained the Lake several weeks ago to get a track hoe in to dig out a portion of the lake for a rope swing we hope to install sometime in winter or early Spring.  We’re also hoping to put a roof on the climbing tower for next summer so stay tuned for news about that.

Probably our biggest news is the beginning of our Young Leaders program which will kick off next summer.  Young Leaders is a leadership program focusing on whole person development to help teens transition from the role of camper to camp leader. The program will combine elements of leadership training, community building, service work, learning opportunities, first aid training, skill development, and age appropriate fun! Young Leaders will be given greater responsibility than in previous camper years under the guidance and supervision of 2 dedicated staff.  We’re excited to get this program underway and looking forward to having our first participants this summer.

Lots happening here at GV, so stay tuned!

New Gwynn Valley Video!

Dear Camper Families & Friends,
Greetings from Gwynn Valley! Fall is nipping at our heels, and the cool evenings are causing the leaves around camp to turn yellow and red. Soon the mountains around us will be blazing with color. Though this time of year is beautiful and peaceful, we miss having a full camp. Many camper and staff applications have already come in, and we are staying busy preparing for the 2016 summer.
Thanks again to our campers and staff for making 2015 a super summer!  Summertime is full with so much happening over the course of each day.  We do our best to capture our days through photography, which you parents were able to view each evening. We also capture a good bit of video each summer for our session highlights. We’ll be sharing the highlights on our fall and winter promotional tour, so please come to a show in your area to look for yourself or your camper on film.  Come as a family to share your experiences with prospective families, or better yet bring along a friend who might enjoy learning more about Gwynn Valley.
After several years of utilizing the same promotional video footage with a few updates each year, we decided to start from scratch this past spring and produce a brand new camp video. After looking around we went with some folks right here in Brevard. Real Digital Productions has been making videos for years, but this summer they made their entrance into the world of camp videos. They certainly brought a fresh perspective, and we are so excited to share this with you! They did an outstanding job of capturing the heart of Gwynn Valley. You’ll notice as you watch that there are no adult voices in the video, though some of our SITs do sound like they could be in their 20s! All the speakers are campers or SITs (Staff in Training) who are telling you about their experiences at camp and how these experiences have impacted them. The video has a really authentic feel and we know you’re going to love it!
Watch and enjoy!

GV Promo 2016 from Gwynn Valley on Vimeo.

Star Staff and How They Supervise!

Alright, this is going a bit far.  I just read an article about a dad that keeps an eye on his daughter with a drone as she walks to school.  Are you kidding me!  George Jetson even dropped his kids, Elroy and Judy, off at school.  He did have a robot for a maid, which is not a bad idea.  I won’t even venture toward counselor robots! I used to think that my children should all ride the bus, mostly because I had to ride it myself into high school, until I inherited an old chevy truck.  My wife had other ideas and we drove our children to school and she was right.  It was a great time to chat and spend time with them as the day begins and you help set the tone for the day with them in those few minutes.  It’s good bonding time and they grow up too fast and soon are driving themselves (prayers forward).


This prompted my thoughts about camp counselors and spending time with children and getting to know them in their time with us.  It’s essential and I’ll tell you why.  Supervision is key in the camp setting.  As you know, campers are not allowed to roam about Gwynn Valley without a staff member present.  Staff are ever present going to and from all activities and the cabin.  On the theme of supervision, visualize three circles that overlap one another forming a sort of a triangle.

The first circle is Understanding Me!  What type of counselor do I want to be.   There are lots of distractions at camp but campers are our primary focus and staff should put camper needs ahead their own.  Whenever staff have down time, not off time, it’s important to actively supervise your campers.  Staff should be engaged with them, playing with them and watching over them.  We coach and guide with quality. There are going to be times when campers need what we call unstructured free play, but staff should have eyes and ears on during those times. IMG_2837

The second circle is Understanding Environment!  This means knowing the physical space where you supervise.  To really do a good job of supervision, you need a line of sight and line of sound.  Ideally you need both but there are times that you can’t have both and you need sound and your listening antennae up.  That means supervising  (listening) during  bathroom, shower and at changing areas.  We encourage staff to pay attention to transition times between activities and other times, down time and of course night time (have a bag of tricks, entertainment and games handy).

The third circle and most important is Understanding Others!  Of course this is understanding the camper, their perspectives, who they are, where they come from, their needs and seeing how their personality fits into the cabin/activity group.  What campers need to know is that a staff member is interested in who they are and gets to know that child while they are here.  Staff get input beyond howzitgoin?  This is easy in a 24/7 residential setting.  We see very similar behaviors most of the time that you as parents see at home.  I’ve said this before, but our job is to partner with you as parents and uphold the character and behavior standards that you expect at home.  And… we do have that cool advantage, because camp staff are 99% cooler than parents. IMG_4813

So take those three circles and intersect them as described above and what you get in the middle is a great leader, a star staff member, and one who is well respected among campers and other staff.  It’s not an easy job, but when you’re doing your job well, it can be the best job in the world.  So…..drones aren’t such a bad idea because every counselor is a drone here at Gwynn Valley.  Looking forward to seeing you soon.

Through the Eyes of a Camper

My own personal view of camp is important, but in the big scheme of things, camp is all about the children.  I tell this to our staff every year and emphasize the reason we are all here – the campers. What they experience, feel and go home with is what really matters in our work.  We do affect those outcomes as described in the last installment of these ramblings.


Campers most of the time get it and connect those dots way before we think they do.  Each person expresses “camp” in their own way.  Capturing those thoughts is never easy and often you can’t begin to capture this on video or photos or in words. Once in a while we are the recipient of glimpses captured that do express what camp is and I was just sent one of those examples.  The following poem came to us this week and was written by a 4th grade girl who has been attending camp for several years.  She got it and has put into words how she feels about camp.  I will say that it not only touched our hearts because of the reference to a place we love, but she was recognized as only 1 of 2 elementary students in her school system that received honors for her writing.  Well said young lady!  Here it is.


The View By

Beneath my feet a rock so strong,

above my head a sky with a song,

to my right the path up which I seemed to soar,

to my left the pine trees sway as though dancing with glee galore.

I made my path through beauty’s way,

Until now I stand at last, aghast.

The best painter of all paints the sky,

with colors so bright they scream with might,

behind the mountains tall.

The lake below ripples with magic,

nothing here could ever seem tragic.

I am not alone friends surround me yet

we stand as only one,

as we watch the sky drown the sun,

soon it will be a new day begun.

The stars rise like awakening eyes.

Another magical place to which I have trod,

another place forget I shall not.



It’s Camp, It’s Real, It’s Fun and It’s Growth