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THE SOAR BLOG

Camper Letters Home

Day 2

Hi Mom and Dad,

I miss you so much. Yesterday was kind of boring. We played games to get to know everyone in my cabin once everyone got here. There is a kid, Zach, that talks a lot, like never shuts up, and another, Kevin that has not said a single word. Last night I think he was even more home sick than me. Why are you making me come here again? Today we are doing the high ropes course, I am excited for that. Maybe I’ll start to make friends. Make sure that you give Sampson hugs for me. Tell Jack to stay out of my room!

Ps: Send me candy!

Day 4

I did the high ropes course! I got to shoot Zach with a squirt gun as he was coming down the zipline. I don’t get along with him so it was fun to do. He is just too annoying for me. Last night Kevin and I stayed up outside the cabin together because he was crying he wanted to go home. He has a dog and an annoying brother too! We both like football but he is a Patriots fan. The counselor Jamie is really nice. He talked to us about being homesick. He even gets homesick as a grown up! Tomorrow we are starting our backpacking trip. I do not want to go hiking. Can you get me the new Call of Duty?

Day 5

Backpacking was hard! We went up a really tall mountain carrying backpacks that had to of weighed 50lbs! We have a role each day. Today I was the chef. My other Counselor Kayla taught me how to light the back country stoves. We use white gas for them. Dad we should get one for our camping trips! I made mac and cheese with canned chicken for dinner. We had to have a veggie so I cut up broccoli and put it in it. Everyone loved it! I want to make it when I get home for everyone.  Kevin keeps making fun of me. I told my counselors and they made him apologize but I don’t think he really wanted to. Everyone is so tired. I am kind of excited to sleep under a tarp though. Tomorrow we have to hike 6 miles!

Day 6

Last night I fell asleep under the stars. There were so many! I got some bug bites but it was worth it. My counselors gave me some cream to put on them so they don’t itch too bad. We hiked 7 miles instead of 6 today. We got a little turned around and hiked a half mile out of the way before we noticed and turned back. It was okay though because we got to see an awesome waterfall. I was having a really hard time getting up a hill and was slowing everyone down. I felt bad but I just couldn’t hike any more. Kevin stayed back with me and helped carry some of my gear so I could get up the hill. His pack must have weighed 100lbs! I guess he isn’t as bad as I thought. We played Frisbee together after we got to the campsite. Tomorrow we are done backpacking! Thank GOD!

Day 8

Dad,

I went white water rafting today. The water was really cold.  I was in a boat with Kevin, Zach, Tyler, and Kayla. Kayla was a good guide. She let us all try to guide and taught us how to steer. I got us stuck on a rock but it was fun trying to get off the rock. I fell in on Lesser Wesser, it was so much fun. As soon as I came up Kayla grabbed me and pulled me back in the raft.

Tonight we stayed at a campground called Appletree. I had to be Sherpa today so I had to wash all the pots and pans. They were so gross!

Day 10

I was YODA today. I got to sit in the front of the van and tell the group what to do because I am the leader. We went to paintball. Kevin, Zach, and I teamed up against some kids from another group. It was fun to shoot them with paintballs. They don’t hurt as bad as I thought they would. We wore funny clothes from Goodwill to play. I can’t wait to show you pictures. Tomorrow we are going out to eat for our last night together. Yay! Real food! I can’t wait until I can get McDonalds and a soda. When you guys come to pick me up you can meet Kevin and Zach. We want to plan a trip to our house so we can hang out together.


Building Executive Function Skills at Camp

Executive Function skills are mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and figure out how to complete multiple tasks. For individuals with ADHD, these skills are weak, or non-existent, and, as a result, impact the way they manage their daily activities. As may be the case with your child, many of our campers have difficulty with these skills.  We believe that summer camp can help campers learn new ways of getting things done and feeling more successful, too.

The camp environment and staff provides a framework for modeling, mentoring, and teaching strategies for honing the campers’ Executive Functioning skills while they are participating in exciting, adventure-based activities. Many studies show that the best approaches to improving Executive Function skills are those that:

  1. involve children and teenagers keen interests, those that bring pride and happiness
  2. consider stresses in their lives and explore ways to resolve
  3. encourage to be active and in challenging exercise
  4. set up an environment of social acceptance and
  5. give chances to practice Executive Function skills

(Diamond and Lee, 2011).

Planning and Organizing for CAMP or “Figuring out What to Do and How”

At SOAR, campers are taught and shown ways for planning, organizing, getting things done, improving social interactions, and self-monitoring as they maneuver the various phases of the day. They are also given opportunities to practice these skills each day. A lot of planning and organizing is required to successfully complete each day’s activities.

  • Setting goals to work on while at camp at the beginning of session
  • Getting support from Instructors for working toward set goals
  • Going over each day’s plans with the Instructors
  • Learning and understanding the steps necessary to make the day’s activities happen
  • Preparing gear for trips, including backpacks, duffle bags, mess kits, and more
  • Keeping up with mess kits and keeping them washed and clean
  • Coming up with a system for keeping clothes sorted and dry
  • Learning steps for setting up tents and taking down tents

Responsibilities at CAMP or “Getting Things Done and Having Fun”

One of the hurdles for those lacking strong Executive Function skills is getting started with tasks and also in completing them. Some of the things that come into play for campers are just how interested they are in the activity, do they know how to go about getting it done, and overcoming feeling overwhelmed with not knowing where to start. A structured plan means each person has daily roles & responsibilities with meals, trip preparation, clean up, and more.

  • Encouraging each other to get tasks completed
  • Knowing when you need to ask for help and knowing when you need to offer help
  • Working to be cooperative with the team schedule and plans
  • Learning the value of taking the first step, or getting started
  • Aiming for an attitude of “keep trying”
  • Honing ways to make and be a friend

Self-Monitoring at CAMP or “How am I Doing”

Self-monitoring is a very effective practice for campers to use as they work toward improving daily habits, behaviors, and attitudes. Learning the practice of checking themselves for improvement is empowering as they begin to take ownership of their own set goals. End of the day discussions allow for campers to review their day and to reflect on successes and opportunities. Also, at the end of the camper’s session at SOAR, they take part in a review of their progress with their instructors and parents:

  • Reviewing how things went for you and your group, revisiting positive things and reflecting on opportunities
  • Thinking about activities and interactions that happened and how they may have been done well or may have been done differently
  • Remembering and using tips from Instructors on good ways to get things done and then practicing those skills
  • Using the support of Instructors on how to build friendships
  • Reviewing with parents and Instructors the progress made on goals at camp

Helping campers learn and adopt changes in their daily behaviors and habits result in better outcomes with planning, completing tasks, keeping track of their belongings, and self-monitoring. They end their camp session feeling proud of all they have been able to accomplish while having a great time. Summer camp provides a structured, safe, and happy place for campers to hone their Executive Function skills in a light-hearted and fun-filled way.

REFERENCE

Diamond, A, & Lee, K. (2011. Interventions shown to aid executive function development. Science, 333, 959-964.


Why Kids Need the Outdoors

Experts have long been asking the question…Do kids need the outdoors? Just like they need sleep, meals, education etc.? Our experience with outdoor adventure programs paired with other research and experience suggests that YES, yes they do! Spending time outdoors is believed to help build self-confidence, increase self-awareness, and improve interpersonal skills. It can also help reduce anxiety, stress, and aggression.

More and more, the daily activities and routines that make up children’s’ lives are happening indoors. Because our lives as adults are the same way, parents are reinforcing this way of life without realizing it. When given the choice, many kids will choose to stay indoors watching television, playing video games, or some other activity. In his well-known book, Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv gives this trend a name: Nature Deficit Disorder. While there are increased concerns in the parenting and child development community on the long-term impact of “screen time” on a child’s development, we should also be concerned about the immediate impact that growing up indoors has on social skills, self-confidence, and life skills that kids need to live emotionally healthy lives.

Many parents are turning to summer camp to combat nature deficits in their child’s life. Summer camp has long conjured up memories of cabin mates, lake swimming, arts & crafts, and camp fires, but for some kids who prefer to stay indoors, summer camp almost seems like punishment. Many of our campers here at SOAR struggle to make friends, often feel like outsiders at school, and would choose computer games over hiking any day. The idea of spending two weeks camping and living outside can be intimidating. However, it can also be life changing when given the chance.

The effects of a long-term outdoor experience, like summer camp, can resonate in multiple areas of children’s lives. So why do kids need the outdoors?

Social Skills

Any outdoor experience focused on kids is going to involve other kids! Whether it is summer camp, boy or girl scouts, a sports team, or a school sponsored trip, getting kids outdoors together can have a big impact on the way they interact with one another. Unlike school, the outdoors provides an environment that is naturally engaging and offers new experiences for many kids. As a group, they will be confronted with challenges that have to be addressed through communication, flexibility, and teamwork, helping build interpersonal skills that typically do not come easy for kids who are struggling socially. Completing challenging activities such as backpacking 20+ miles, rock climbing, or rafting class III & IV rapids also has a huge impact on confidence and the way kids see themselves. Realizing strengths and conquering fears gives kids a chance to rally around each other and not only begin to see themselves differently but begin to see each other differently. With this newfound confidence, stepping out of their social comfort zone becomes less intimidating.

Self-Confidence

Self-confidence is one of the biggest and most immediate impacts of being outdoors. In addition to helping kids feel comfortable to be themselves and pursue friendships, the confidence that comes with being outdoors improves self-image and can impact behavior at home and at school. Before each camper begins their experience at SOAR, we ask parents to describe their child’s level of self-confidence. We then ask the same question after their child has been home for about two weeks, and nearly 66% of parents indicate that they have seen an increase in their child’s self-confidence. When kids are placed in an outdoor environment, away from the comforts and routines available at home, they are challenged physically and emotionally. Naturally they begin to grow in areas such as independence, self-reliance, problem solving, teamwork, and so much more. Growth in these areas results in increased self-confidence, giving kids the push they need to persevere and reach their academic, social, and emotional goals.

Mental Refresh

Being outdoors has many therapeutic qualities. This is why we vacation by the ocean, roll our windows down on the way home, and prefer a big, green backyard. Nature and fresh air feels good! It lifts our spirits and leaves us feeling mentally refreshed. With the growing stress of being kid, especially a kid with learning and attention issues, hitting the refresh button is crucial to limiting behavioral and emotionally setbacks. An outdoor experience allows kids to unplug—from technology and life—and just be a kid! They get to try new activities, realize new strengths, appreciate home, and learn more about themselves in a non-threatening environment. The Attention Restoration Theory (ART) developed by Rachel and Stephen Kaplan in the 1980s explains that our daily environments, such as work or school, require direct focus and force us to try and ignore distractions. Sounds exhausting right? Imagine if you are a 6th grader with learning and attention issues. Really exhausting! ART suggests that natural environments do the opposite. They require indirect focus, which actually helps to restore attention, allowing us to focus better when we return to our normal lives.

Kids need the outdoors! Make a conscious effort to spend more time outside with your child. Here are 12 Ideas for Getting Kids into Nature from Childmind.org. Also start thinking about your plans for next summer! A longer outdoor experience may be just what your child needs to begin reaching their goals.

Have a reluctant camper? Camp is fun! It is a wonderful opportunity to experience nature and learn more about yourself. Of course, parents know that! If you are having a hard time convincing your child, let us know! We’d be happy to answer their questions and explain more about the amazing adventures that SOAR has to offer.