The Power of Firsts


A joyful first session of camp has set the tone for summer here at Gwynn Valley. With programs dialed in, PFDs still damp from Adventures and campers staying in between sessions; life on camp is buzzing with collaboration and curiosity. Many firsts occur during A Session; first time at camp for some, first time riding a horse, first time on the water mat, first time sharing a bathroom, first time sleeping under the moonlight and many more formative experiences that cultivate wonder for children. 

Instilling a sense of independence and agency is a valuable lesson campers can experience here with the secure supervision of staff. I remember a few of my firsts at camp; learning to cut my own food with a knife in the old Dining Hall, tying into a harness for the first time and conquering my fear of heights at Looking Glass Rock on Riverside, and my first time milking a cow on the Farm. I find First’s to be wonderful and scary, two things can be true. 


On a neurological level, when we do things for the first time our brain is forming new connections through neurons in our brain strengthening or creating new pathways. This allows for growth and reorganization of learned skills and habits, also known as neuroplasticity, to take place. With the brain and physical body working together, campers can be fully immersed in the process of learning and growing in a safe environment free of a competitive nature. Tasks and experiences campers have at home might be replicated in a different manner at camp, like how to clear a dining table or cohabitate in a cabin with 9 other people, providing ample opportunity for neuroplasticity to take place. With the compassionate guidance of staff and support of their community, campers can integrate new challenges and paths with ease.


Mountainside returned from their first adventures this summer ready to celebrate their success in the field at Tajar Ball joined by ice cream, hayrides and of course dancing. Riverside headed out for their first paddling adventure of the season on the French Broad River, Green River and Tuckasegee River. Young Leaders completed their first round of Discovery’s on main camp learning how to facilitate programs and guide younger campers. 

Experiencing a camper’s delight accomplishing a First is one of my simple joys at camp. The success in accomplishing a First at camp cannot be measured by the outcome, but by the completion of stepping into a new experience with trust, confidence and support from others. Facilitating these experiences for campers has been a First for some staff this past session and will continue to spark joy in their own development as leaders. I relish the many more opportunities staff will have this summer guiding campers on the river, in the pot shop, on the trails and in the cabins. 


To the first campers of summer; thank you for being a part of the magic that is Gwynn Valley.  To the first friends and families who sent their children; thank you for entrusting us to guide, nurture and facilitate core experiences for your campers. To children and families yet to step into these 400 acres this summer; we look forward to your impact and engagement in the natural world with us, to learn and grow together is a gift for all.