First Time Camper Family

We are so glad to have you join us at Gwynn Valley!

As a first time camper, we hope this list will help you know a little more about what to expect from your experience at camp.

New Camper Open House

Each year we typically hold an open house for new campers and their families. We will host an open house for new camper families and prospects on Saturday, May 25th, 2024. The tours will be at 2:00 PM and should finish by 4:00 PM. Please contact our office (828-885-2900) to RSVP for this event. 

Anxiety & Excitement

These two emotions feel the same physiologically, your heart beats fast and cortisol surges. The difference lies in how we conceptualize that feeling. Both feelings indicate that uncertainty lies ahead: excitement indicates it’s something to look forward to, while anxiety indicates it’s something to be feared. When we do anything for the first time, there’s always uncertainty. We all need uncertainty; in fact, you can’t grow without it. Stepping out of your comfort zone will always feel, well, uncomfortable and that’s normal!

Read more about reframing anxiety as excitement in NY Magazine and in The Atlantic.

The science is found in this study published by the American Psychological Association.

Memories to Last a Lifetime

Many former campers stop by our office and tell us what an impact camp has had on their life. We’re always surprised that even campers who only came one summer will still often say that their time at Gwynn Valley was their fondest childhood memory.

Camp-Speak and Inside Jokes 

With Tajar Ball, Special Day, Thunderball, Friendship Circles, and Kumihimo (pictured on the right), camp can sound like a foreign country! There are lots of unique events, places, phrases, and traditions all of which contribute to our sense of community. It won’t take long for your camper to pick up the lingo but expect that they might have to interpret their stories for you when they get home.  Here are some Gwynn Valley terms explained:


Kumihimo or Kumi, is a thickly braided string.  The camper in the picture to the right is making Kumi by crossing the strings in the pattern written on the wheel she is holding.  They make great key chains!

The Tajar:

The Tajar is a mythical creature that lives here at camp.  He’s part Tiger, Badger, and Jaguar.  He’s quite a mysterious and illusive creature.  Legend has it that if you see him once, you forget; if you see him twice, you forget you forgot; if you see him three times, you are friends for life.  We celebrate his birthday every session (except for C1 when we celebrate 4th of July) with the “Tajar Ball”, a costume ball in which everyone dresses up in costume.  We have a cook-out for dinner and then have a fun carnival after our picnic. The Tajar likes to engage in what we call “Tajar folly” on his birthday.  On the day of Tajar Ball, the children wake up to find the Tajar has played some silly tricks like leaving canoes on the green or hanging tea cups from a tree.  We also like to read the campers stories about the Tajar from a short story collection written by a former staff and camper parent Rick Brown.


Thunderball is a dodgeball type game played in an enclosed wooden circle.  The campers can only hit the small rubber ball open-handed and it must hit campers below the knee in order to get them “out”.  This game is popular in the Northeast US and is usually called “Ga-Ga Ball”.

Friendship Circle:

Each night, the cabin holds what we call a “friendship circle”.  It’s a time for the counselors and campers to debrief their day or have good discussions on things like making friends or practicing gratitude.  A good example is “Rose-bud and thorn” where the campers share what their favorite part of the day was (their rose), something that might have been difficult or challenging (their thorn), and something they are looking forward to (their bud).


We have a really fun tradition at camp to let the campers know when it’s time for “light’s out”.  Each night, we have a few activity leaders walk around to each cabin and serenade them with a verse or two of a song.  Once the campers and staff hear the “serenaders” they know it’s time to turn out the lights.

Special Day:

On Sundays, instead of going to our regular program activities, all of camp participates in activities based on a theme for the day.  Some Special Day’s in the past have been “Dr. Seuss Day, Olympics, Harry Potter Day, Disney Day,” and more


Homesickness & Campsickness

While you may be expecting your child to experience homesickness, you may not be prepared for them to experience campsickness! Many campers after returning to their normal life really miss the connections and experiences they had while at camp. It can be hard for them to explain to others why they love camp so much. Encourage them to tell you their stories, sing camp songs, and keep in touch with their new friends.

It is perfectly normal for a camper to experience homesickness. Read more about how we handle homesickness here.

Cabin Placement

Children are placed in cabin groups according to their grade in school and age. Parents are encouraged to provide other suggestions regarding social and physical maturity so that a proper placement is made.  Sometimes a cabin group is all one grade; other times it is a mixture of two grades, allowing for some flexibility of placement.  It is ideal for most children to come to camp without any friends from home because the campers can then be individuals without someone else defining who they are.  Also, they are completely free to make new friends and to learn the most from the diverse community at camp.

However, we recognize that some campers may need the security of knowing that someone will be there who they already know or want to be with, such as a friend, cousin, or sibling; therefore, requests for placement with a friend are considered. We do our best to place the two together providing both families have made the request. The request must be put on the application or be received in writing before May 1. When there is a cluster of friends from the same town, the process becomes complicated. In these cases we need your help to establish which campers can best be paired together.  It is very important that you discuss these matters with your child and his/her friend’s family, so as to avoid any potential conflict.  Please communicate clearly your wishes and then allow for some flexibility, as we attempt to satisfy everyone within the confines of what is best for each child.

To ensure that your request is noted, please put it on the application which is consulted carefully in the placement process.  If changes occur after you submit the application, you may log in to your Camp in Touch account and change or add your request. Anne Bullard, Director, will make the final decision in the cabin placement process.

Whether a child is on the Hillside or Brookside section of camp depends on the grade completed in school, camp experience, and ages of campers in that session.


Gwynn Valley is proud to be accredited by the American Camp Association. It shows that we have taken the time to ensure that our camp program undergoes a thorough review of our operations and meets the strict standards for accreditation.

The American Camp Association collaborates with experts from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Red Cross, and other youth service agencies to assure that current practices at the camp reflect the most up-to-date, research-based standards in camp operation. Camps and ACA form a partnership that promotes summers of growth and fun in an environment committed to safety.

The ACA helps accredited camps provide:

  • Healthy, developmentally-appropriate activities and learning experiences
  • Discovery through experiential education
  • Caring, competent role models
  • Service to the community and the environment
  • Opportunities for leadership and personal growth
  • As a member in good standing with the ACA and in accordance with The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Gwynn Valley prohibits discrimination in all its programs and activities on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age, disability, marital status, familial status, parental status, religion, sexual orientation, genetic information, political beliefs, reprisal, or because all or part of an individual’s income is derived from any public assistance program.

Serious Growth

Resilience, zest, creativity, optimism, curiosity, and personal independence are just some of the terms used to describe the non-cognitive skills that kids are improving while at camp. Camp provides a perfect environment for this kind of growth because camp:

  • Invites exploration and play. Fun accelerates learning, it’s so fundamental they don’t even realize they are learning something!
  • Provides support without constant evaluation.
  • Focuses on collaboration.
  • Has a ‘try something new’ environment.
  • Teaches and values self-reliance and resourcefulness.
  • Encourages manageable risk-taking. Kids need a safe place to fail, where they can realize they’re still okay and get the chance to try again. They face failure and get to the other side.
  • Facilitates relationships. Technology is absent so old fashioned behaviors happen and kids learn how to interact with each other and how to make friends.


“Even though it’s an 8 hour drive for us it was worth it to hear Suzanne relate her experiences, especially about the farm animals and picking the vegetable.”