Tradition

Book Review: How Children Succeed

Written by Audrey “Sunshine” Monke for Gold Arrow Camp

“We think that even if your children have the academic skills they need – and we’re doing our best to make sure they do – if our young adults grow up and they don’t also have strong character skills, then they don’t have very much.  Because we know that character is what keeps people happy and successful and fulfilled.” -Tom Brunzell, Dean of Students at KIPP Infinity (quoted in Tough’s book)

I read Paul Tough’s latest book (How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character) with great interest as both a parent and as a youth development professional.  Tough, a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine, shares a compelling series of narratives about research studies, a chess team, and various schools and programs that have figured out, through trial and error, how to help youth succeed.  While he focuses primarily on children coming from poverty, he also discusses the issue of character development in affluent kids.   Throughout his book, Tough threads together an indisputable fact:  our children’s character matters – a lot.

As Tough states early in the book, “What matters most in a child’s development, they say, is not how much information we can stuff into her brain in the first few years.  What matters, instead, is whether we are able to help her develop a very different set of qualities, a list that includes persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit, and self-confidence.  Economists refer to these as noncognitive skills, psychologists call them personality traits, and the rest of us sometimes think of them as character.”

Our challenge as parents, teachers, and others who work with youth, is providing our children with opportunities to develop the character traits that will help them find success later in life.

I highly recommend this book to parents, educators, and others who work with children and young adults.  Tough’s message about the importance of helping our youth develop character needs to permeate and change how we raise this generation of kids.  And his description of the programs and techniques that are working serves as a guide to those of us who want to help kids develop character strengths.

Character Traits Which Predict Success

“But over the past few years, it has become clear that the United States does not so much have a problem of limited and unequal college access; it has a problem of limited and unequal college completion…. [students] need qualities of motivation and perseverance – as well as the presence of good study habits and time management skills –“

-Paul Tough, How Children Succeed

 

According to Tough (and the many research studies he cites), certain character traits are much better predictors of success than a child’s IQ or test scores.  Among these traits, an important one is the ability to delay gratification.  As we have seen in our debt-ridden culture, many adults who do not have this skill create for themselves some major life problems and disappointments — the antithesis of success.

So how do we help kids learn to be better at delaying gratification?  There’s only one way.   They cannot get everything they want right when they want it.   They need to not get some things, face that disappointment, and have to work for a long time to earn what they want.   According to Tough, affluent parents are often guilty of “overindulging kids, with the intention of giving them everything and being loving, but at the expense of their character…”   Learning to work for something they’d like to purchase, or waiting until they achieve a particular milestone, is helpful in building up our kids’ “delayed gratification” skills.   Even if we can afford the latest technological gadget our child desires, it does them a disservice if we always run out and purchase it for them.

Tough acknowledges how hard it is for parents to not give in to our children’s desires,  “…in fact, we have an acute, almost biological impulse to provide for our children, to give them everything they want and need, to protect them from dangers and discomforts both 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 they can overcome, even if just to prove to themselves that they can.”

An episode on Modern Family last season featured the dilemma of Haley not having any hardship to write about on her college application.   Her mom created one by dropping her off miles from home and making her walk home.   It was a humorous example of a real problem — Colleges want to see that our kids have some “grit,” because they will need it to complete college.  But for many kids, their lives have not been conducive to developing that particular trait.  Life is often too easy for kids on the higher end of the socioeconomic spectrum.

As a camp director I talk to a lot of parents, most of whom are very supportive and sane (since they’re willing to let their kids go to camp in the first place!).  I remember one mom, though, who couldn’t stand her daughter experiencing any discomfort at all.    She was extremely upset that the “bear bag” (food bag kept up in a tree so as to avoid having animals come into camp) got stuck up in the tree on her daughter’s backpacking trip.  The kids didn’t have any food for breakfast and had to wait until 9:00 am to eat.  She was horrified and distressed and could not understand how we could have allowed her daughter to face what seemed to her to be a terrible hardship.  I wonder how this parent might now be reacting to more serious hurdles her teenage daughter could be facing?  What impact does over-reaction have on the development of character?  I think that our well-meaning care, and sometimes over-reaction to negative events in our kids’ lives, doesn’t help them develop grit and other character traits we really want them to have.

Tough tells us about how, in recent decades, character traits have been studied and catalogued.   In their book, Character Strengths & Virtues: A Handbook for Classification, Martin Seligman and Chris Peterson include a list of 24 specific character strengths, including traits like fairness, integrity, humor, social intelligence, kindness, and gratitude.  On a list narrowed down by Peterson to be less unwieldy, we learn of seven strengths that are especially likely to predict satisfaction and high achievement.  Cultivating these character traits “represent[s] a reliable path to ‘the good life,’ a life that [is] not just happy but meaningful and fulfilling.”

The seven traits are: Grit; Self-control; Zest; Social intelligence; Gratitude; Optimism; and Curiosity.

In KIPP academies across America (charter schools with high academic standards geared towards low income kids), students are graded on these seven character traits.  A student-teacher conference could include a discussion of how to beef up self-discipline or optimism skills.  I was intrigued at the thought of making good character as much of a discussion with our kids as their grades and test scores.  I think as parents we need to be more intentional about teaching our kids about character and helping them see both their strengths and the areas they need to work on.  I don’t envision giving my boys a character report card, but I definitely want to open the lines of communication and keep this handy list of seven traits nearby!  I’ve printed out the list in a large, bold font, and we’ll use each trait as a dinner table discussion starter.  What does it look like when someone is good at delaying gratification?  How do self-disciplined people approach homework?  I can think of a whole range of questions I’m certain my children will not want to discuss, but we’ll do it any way.

According to Tough, conscientiousness (a boring-sounding trait) is the characteristic that best predicts success in all parts of life (work place, relationships, health).  He talks about words used to describe conscientious people:  hard working, orderly, reliable, respectful of social norms, and high self-control.    The most important descriptor, according to Tough?  Self-control.   Kids who are conscientious grow into adults who “do well without material incentives, have better grades in high school and college, commit fewer crimes, stay married longer, and live longer.”    Seems like a good character trait to work on developing!

Can Character be Changed?

But how do we help develop conscientiousness in a kid who is simply not described by the above-mentioned adjectives?  The secret, per Tough, is focusing on habits and teaching kids growth-mindset thinking (see Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset).  Kids need to learn that they can change themselves by changing their habits.  Not a self-disciplined person?  Make some rules for yourself to help develop new habits and turn yourself into a self-disciplined person.  When reading about the power of changed habits, I immediately thought of a good friend who over three years lost more than 100 pounds by changing her exercise and eating habits.  Is she a self-disciplined person?  She is now!   Our kids need to learn the same thing.  If they don’t have a particular character trait, they can develop it by practicing new habits.

“Habit and character are essentially the same thing.  Some kids have good habits and some kids have bad habits.  Kids understand it when you put it that way, because they know that habits might be hard to change, but they’re not impossible to change.”

-Angela Duckworth (quoted in How Children Succeed)

Doomed to Fail?

Even in the bleak landscape of extreme poverty, Tough shows us that a teenager who appears to be on a path toward failure can be helped.  He tells some inspirational stories of kids who have lifted themselves from the depths of poverty onto a path towards success.   What is needed, according to Tough, is just a single mentor who can show them that hard work and dedication can help them to achieve their goals.  Tough describes several successful programs that are doing just that – taking kids from the worst of backgrounds and helping them develop the tools and skills needed to be successful in college and the workplace.  I highly recommend anyone who works with teens (at risk, poor, affluent, or otherwise) to read Tough’s book and learn about how these programs have been successful.

I was inspired by Tough’s statement that, “..adolescence can be a time for a different kind of turning point, the profoundest sort of transformation:  the moment when a young person manages to turn herself away from near-certain failure and begins to steer a course toward success.”

Read the Book

Tough covers so much in this book, and I won’t spoil it for you by including everything I learned, but I will add that he has a lot to say about the influence of family and the importance of parental nurturing.   He also talks a lot about grit, an important character strength.   He describes the right way to set goals, which involves not being overly optimistic or pessimistic but instead using “mental contrasting” to see both the positive outcome and the obstacles that need to be overcome.   I loved Tough’s narrative about the chess team and the lessons the kids learned from their failures, from going over mistakes and getting to the bottom of why they made them.    I wanted to take up chess immediately and make my kids join the school chess team, but only if they have a coach like the one Tough describes.

Read How Children Succeed.  You won’t regret it.  And you may be inspired, like I was, to work on some of your own character traits while you’re helping your kids develop theirs.

SevenCharacterTraits (PDF for you to print out for dinner table discussions!)

How Children Succeed, Paul Tough

Character Strengths and Virtues:  A Handbook for Classification

School of Hard Knocks, New York Times Magazine Sunday Book Review, by Anne Murphy Paul

KIPP

Raising Happiness

Related articles
Categories: Benefits of Camp, Campfire, Fishing, Friendship, Fun, GAC, Health, Joyful Kids, Kids, Kindness, Optimism, Parents, Self-Esteem, Social Skills, Technology, Tradition, Traditions | Leave a comment

Four Reasons for Two Weeks of Camp

Written by Audrey Monke, Gold Arrow Camp

“Do you have a one week session?” is one of the questions we often get asked by parents who are new to our program.  The question is usually preceded or followed by the comment,  “Two weeks is too long for my child.”

I thought it would be helpful to outline for new parents why Gold Arrow Camp has a two-week session length as our primary camp offering.   Although we also offer one-week specialty camp options at the beginning and end of the summer, Gold Arrow Camp’s core program is a two-week session, and that is the length of time the majority of our campers attend camp.   We also have campers who are “Monthers,” who attend four weeks of camp by combining two two-week sessions.

There are many benefits to camp, regardless of length of stay, as per the American Camp Association study.  So, I urge you to find a camp that fits your family’s needs and schedule, even if Gold Arrow is not the best fit for you.

Our program, up until the 1970s, was a month-long program.  Many traditional, East Coast camps still offer only one seven or eight-week session.   To people in the West, this sounds crazy, as most programs on our side of the country are one-week in length.   However, families who have been part of Gold Arrow and other traditional camp programs understand the benefits of a longer camp stay.

Many traditional camps in California have started offering one-week programs, because that’s what many parents think they want for their child.  Fortunately, our camp families have kept our two-week sessions consistently full, so we will continue to offer what we consider the best length for our program.

Why does Gold Arrow Camp have two-week sessions?

Here are four reasons:

1.  Community and Friendship Building

2.  Breadth and Depth of Activities

3.  Social Skill Development

4.  Independence and Confidence Building

Community and Friendship Building

Eli had the greatest summer camp experience.  He knew no one going to camp and come home with a host of new friends.  He had a huge smile on his face when we greeted him and it lasted for a long time.  He was pushed to achieve and he was proud of himself for achieving his goals. -Mr. & Mrs. Whitney Liebow

My children lead busy lives during the school year with various teams and enrichment programs.  Going to Gold Arrow Camp allows them to unwind and gain a new perspective on friendship, goals and life.  From my perspective, GAC is summer the way it is supposed to be for kids.  Thank you!! -Mrs. Kimberly Haulk

While a lot of fun happens during even just one day of camp, spending more time connecting and building bonds with counselors, cabin mates, and other campers is one of the benefits of a two-week stay.

The first week of the session, there is an adjustment period for the first few days, when campers are getting settled and getting to know one another, the schedule, and the activities.  By the middle of the first week, campers feel settled and comfortable at camp, and relationships have the opportunity to start getting deeper.  Friendships, while they can definitely be formed in one week, have a better chance to grow stronger and deeper with more connection time.

Because all of the campers in the cabin group are at camp for the same length of time (two weeks), there are no departures and arrivals in the middle of the session to disrupt the group’s cohesiveness and the bonds that have developed.  Everyone arrives together and departs together, with the exception of our Monther campers, who stay on for another session after their first two-weeks end.

Breadth and Depth of Activities

Gold Arrow Camp is a great summer camp experience. Our son has gone to GAC for 4 years now and every year he sees old friends, makes new ones, tries new things, compares his skills at the activities from the current year to past summers, can be independent and responsible for himself and his belongings, and gets to enjoy the beautiful camp setting away from the heat in Phoenix. He is already looking forward to next summer when he will receive his 5-year blanket. -Mr. & Mrs. Michael Nord

We take advantage of our location on Huntington Lake, in the heart of the Sierra National Forest, by teaching campers a large variety of water and land-based recreational activities.  Many of our activities require extensive time and instruction. Sailing, as an example, is an activity that begins with a 2 ½ hour group lesson, and can be followed up by many additional lessons as campers opt for more sailing during Free Time.  Without adequate time, it would be impossible for campers to even get to all of the activities we offer, let alone build skills in them.   We want our campers to get exposure to all of what is offered at camp, and have the opportunity to pursue activities they are passionate about.

During their two weeks at Gold Arrow, campers have the opportunity to learn to sail, ride a horse, shoot a rifle, get up on water skiis, and participate in a myriad of other activities.   Many of these sports require time and practice to master.  For first-time campers, two weeks is just enough time to expose them to all of the different activities and start practicing and improving skills.  Returning campers continue to build upon and develop new skills, even after five or six years at our program.  The depth of instruction offered, the opportunity to improve recreational skills, and the ability to earn different patches and certifications all distinguish Gold Arrow Camp’s program.

We have two outpost programs, away from our main camp, that take up a portion of the two-week session.  We have a water sports outpost camp on an island on Shaver Lake where campers enjoy one or two nights camping on the beach.  At Shaver Island, campers spend their days on the lake improving their skills in waterskiing, wakeboarding, and kneeboarding.  While these sports are also done at our main camp on Huntington Lake, their stay at Shaver allows our two-week campers time to really improve their skills with a lot of “behind the boat” time.  Our other outpost program is backpacking.  All campers go on a one-night overnight backpacking trip and get to experience outdoor cooking, sleeping under the stars, and living in nature.

There are some activities that we wait to do until the second week of camp, when campers are feeling connected and more comfortable taking risks.  At the end of the second week of camp, we have our dance, and several all-day, sign up trips.  Campers can opt to spend the day sailing across Huntington Lake, going on a long horse trail ride, climbing challenging terrain on a rock climbing trip, and more.

Honestly, even two weeks seems short to us.  We barely get campers to all of our activities, and it’s time for them to go home!

Social Skills Development

Gold Arrow Camp added a new dimension to our daughter’s summer.  She was able participate in sports and activities she had not done before; further develop her social skills by meeting new people and being involved with her cabin mates a large part of each day; and enjoy free time in a beautiful setting free of electronics. -Mr. & Mrs. Richard Heard

Kids benefit from experiences living and working in groups regardless of the length of time.  However, I believe that allowing a group to really bond and connect also allows kids to grow their communication, teamwork, and conflict resolution skills more than when they are in a shorter-term program.

Independence and Confidence Building

“Both girls came home SO happy!  Melissa came home today, Jesse last week.  Melissa had gone to camp knowing no one, and upon her return, she had to finish BIG hugs good-bye with friends before she’d get in the car to go home.  On our drive home, she went a mile a minute with stories about her 2 weeks at GAC, and when she got home, she burst into tears, saying she missed camp, her friends, and that she wished she could live at camp all year round!  At that point we told her she could go back next year for 4 weeks, and she became overjoyed with excitement, and wanted us to sign her up for 2012 right then and there.  Jessica ‘Jess’, also had an amazing experience.  She came home last Saturday, after 1 week, as she was a Nugget.  She, too wants to go back next year, this time for ‘either 2… maybe 4 weeks.’  Considering she’s only 7, we are amazed.  Both girls look like they grew 2 inches each while away, but it’s really an extra gained confidence where they’re walking taller and prouder with themselves.  We are SO thrilled that we found Gold Arrow Camp, a camp their second cousin went to almost 20 years ago.  As the famous vanilla tree has been rooted at GAC for years and years, we look forward to our girls being rooted there for years and years to come, too.  Thanks for such a positive, growing, and out of this world experience!” -Melissa Wald

As a multi-generational Gold Arrow Family, nothing beats your child immersed high-up in the Sierra Nevada for total fun and adventure. Every day brings a sublime surprise. They return with confident Sierra Nevada Mountain swagger that is part-and-parcel with a positive can-do attitude.  -Mr. Michael Bonderer

GAC gave our daughter the freedom to make choices, and the support to make good ones.

Our daughter went from not being able to sleep overnight at friends houses to spending three weeks at GAC.  GAC provided our daughter with the confidence of knowing that she can accomplish anything that she sets her mind to complete. -Mr. & Mrs. Ken Reichman

For many kids, their stay at camp is the first time that they have ever been away from their parents at all.   Some have attended sleep-overs, weekend scout camps, or week-long school programs, but for many campers, their first stay at Gold Arrow is the longest they’ve been away from their parents.  We know this, and our counselors are trained to help first-time campers get adjusted to being away and learn to cope with feelings of missing their parents.

Campers feel a great sense of pride in themselves after “being on their own,” and having fun, without mom or dad nearby.   While two weeks seem slow to parents, especially during their first camp experience, the days fly by at Camp.

“Two weeks was not enough for our son….now he’s a MONTHER!” -Mr. & Mrs. Chris Pedersen

Categories: Being Positive, Benefits of Camp, Campfire, Communication, Community, Councelors, Friendship, Fun, GAC, Optimism, Raising Happiness, Self-Esteem, Social Skills, Team Building, Tradition, Whadda Whadda Whadda | 3 Comments

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: