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Happy Halloween and some thoughts

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We wish our Camp Pinnacle family a Happy Halloween. Halloween is easily one of the the three favorite holidays for the Dockendorf family.  I’m going to use pumpkin carving as a metaphor for how high the bar is being raised in our  globalized world.

When I was a kid, back in the dark ages, my parents would present me with my annual pumpkin a few days before Halloween. I would take my knife (kids could have knives back then), hack out a couple triangles for eyes and a nose, try to cut a couple of teeth into the mouth, throw in the candle, and there it was—my best effort! It was all my own work and done in half an hour. No stress whatsoever as I rushed outside to play. I had made my contribution to the neighborhood Halloween experience, and all of the pumpkins in the neighborhood were equally mediocre. That being said, nobody knew differently as we roamed the neighborhood in search of tricks and treats.

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween!

Fast forward to 2015: The pumpkins carved in my youth would be ridiculed now. Much of America is too busy to even bother to carve their own pumpkins.  Enter the faux-carved foam pumpkins available in stores everywhere!  For those making the effort, pumpkin carving, thanks to fancy stencils and an arsenal of carving tools, has gone completely over the top!

With thousands of stencils to download, many parents feel their young kids couldn’t possibly carve a pumpkin that would live up to today’s expectations. So some parents take over the task and end up carving the pumpkin themselves.  I was just about to fall into that trap.

My 8-year-old son, Charlie was obsessed with a New England Patriots  pumpkin. (We live in NC… go figure?) After a Google search with examples of complicated Patriots designs, I easily opted against the $10.95 Patriots Pumpkin stencil kit. I had to admit to Charlie that while I was surely good at something, I was hardly the Picasso of pumpkin carving, and we would have to opt for a much less ambitious pumpkin. Tears were shed!

Although we knew our best effort would pale in comparison to all that we had seen on the internet, we decided the best alternative was to create our own pumpkin. It was not the fanciest, the scariest, nor the most unique, but it was our pumpkin. No stencils, no dragons, no football helmets, and yet it was certainly worthy and “scary” enough to adorn our front stoop. And Charlie was even allowed to use a knife! We did it together, and we had fun. The process was far more rewarding than the result. The neighbors may grimace at our low-rent pumpkin, but by lowering the bar, we actually enjoyed the experience more!

The bottom line is that the consistently high bar for everything is stressing out both kids and parents. Kids often wonder how they are going to measure up. And they feel our stress as we wonder, too. Sure, the stakes in the global economy are much higher than they used to be, but there are costs to raising our kids to be “exceptional”—costs we don’t always take into account. As parents, we have certain image of success in mind for our kids—sports championships, music recitals, high grades, attending an Ivy League school—and as a result of these high expectations, some kids become more afraid of failure than ever before. High expectations are a good thing. After all, we want our kids to stretch themselves. But having unrealistic expectations isn’t healthy, nor is raising kids who feel that they aren’t allowed to fail, or that everything they do has to be perfect.

And isn’t it possible that we may be setting the wrong goals for our kids? What if we reframed things?

Hiking Tenant Mountain

Hiking Tenant Mountain

What if we focused less on specific goals and more on one simple question: How as parents do we find ways for our kids to shine? And guide them toward places where they feel happy and on point?

Put differently, perhaps we should focus less on accomplishment and more on finding great environments where our kids will experience successes and feel accepted.

I believe a “great environment” for kids has three important components.

First, it should be a good match for a child’s talents and interests—a place where they feel they have aptitudes and feel a desire to improve these aptitudes.

Second, the “great environment” should provide challenges and opportunities to grow by overcoming successively greater challenges. I.e.,  confidence grows from competence. And resilience grows because of hard work and even more by picking oneself up after failure. That “great environment” is a place where the culture says it’s OK to fail, and provides plenty of support when you do. A growth mindset that rewards hard work over innate talent is the theme here.

The final component of a “great environment” should be community and acceptance. This is often neglected when parents consider activities for their children. But as I look at my three daughters’ soccer teams at the end of the season; far more important than the skills gained or the games won, was the incredible rapport the girls developed and the friendships that extend beyond the field. To me, soccer,  like most youth activities, is merely a vehicle for healthy friendships, healthy bodies, and a respect for all that comes as a result of hard work.

Boys Cabin Playing Games

Working together and playing nice!

Which brings me to Camp Pinnacle. Ultimately, our goal is to create that “great environment” described above for your child. We want camp to be one of the healthiest and happiest times of a child’s life. Our campers say they love being in a place that doesn’t judge them and loves them for who they are, not who they are “supposed to be.” In a world where the bar is being raised every day, we want Pinnacle to be a place where kids can temporarily escape the competitive and digital world and simply enjoy being themselves!

Sometimes the simplest pumpkin is the most satisfying. Charlie and I are both glad we chose not to carve that Patriots pumpkin. By carving our own design, we were ultimately much happier.

2015 Summer Memories Video

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We miss our Pinnacle campers. So we made you a video that shares scenes from last summer at camp. We want to give you a reminder of  some of the fun, adventure and great friendships we all shared.

Great news! Everyone who has already signed up for summer 2016 will get an Under Armour brand Camp Pinnacle hoodie in time for the December holidays. And it’s not too late to get this CP Hoodie – Sign up by November 2, get the cool hoodie, and you will also save $100 on tuition!

Camp Pinnacle Summer Memories 2015 from Camp Pinnacle on Vimeo.

It’s been a busy fall at Pinnacle. We have had a wedding or special event at camp every weekend since camp ended in August. We have hosted 12 school groups who have traveled from as far away as Florida or Ohio. Our last school of the year, The Brookstone School from Columbus, GA is currently having an incredible week of outdoor education at Pinnacle. Richard has been serving his great food all fall and he has just closed the kitchen for the season. Ben is currently in Florida meeting new families while Rachele and Fayssoux are hard at work improving 2016 activity programming.

Upgrading Nantahala Cabin

Upgrading Nantahala Cabin

The leaves are changing, the water in Wolfe Lake is getting brisk and all of the water toys are resting peacefully in storage. Our thoughts are already turning towards next summer. We are excited for the many improvements we are making to both the program and the facility. Tom and his facilities team are hard at work. They are refurbishing girls cabins, building a new crafts area, and will soon be adding a Maze. There will be many exciting new biking trails and lots of surprises.

We hope your school year is going well – we miss all of your energy at camp and hope you will join us for summer 2016. Please stop by if you are ever up this way this winter.

Video: 2015 Camp Pinnacle Orientation

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Tuckasegee Girls atop their new Tree House!

“Tuckasegee” girls atop their new tree house!

Camp Pinnacle is open and off to a tremendous start! We love this group of Session 1 campers, and everyone is having lots of fun, taking “reasonable risks” as they try new activities and accept small challenges on personal frontiers. With only two weeks to create incredible experiences, campers were out climbing rocks, summiting mountains, and camping out as early as the second day of camp!

We are ecstatic about our 2015 counselor team. Being a great camp counselor is a challenging and demanding job, and there is much to learn, even for experienced staff with years of experience. Our counselors go through two weeks of training, where we cover first aid and safety, teaching activity skills, and how to build the close-knit and kind cabin communities that make Camp Pinnacle so unique and wonderful. We begin by forming a cohesive counselor community; when we value and treat each other with kindness and respect, it sets the tone for the entire summer at camp.

New Fireman's Pole Outside the Renovated "Graveyard Fields" Cabiin

New fireman’s pole outside the renovated “Graveyard Fields” cabin.

Knowing how powerful a summer camp experience can be, we are constantly keeping up with the latest trends in youth development, education, and brain research in order to equip our counselors with cutting edge knowledge to help them be the best counselors possible.

Below are our 2015 suggestions for those who share our obsession in helping kids experience personal growth.

Our Kids

From Harvard’s Robert Putnam, the expert on community who wrote the seminal book, Bowling Alone, we have a treasure trove of data on how kids succeed among the inequality brewing in our country. One of his many conclusions is that it matters deeply who your kids go to school (and camp) with. He also stresses that non-cognitive skills (communication, collaboration, creativity, grit and resilience—the things we teach and practice at Camp Pinnacle) are very often the key to adult success.

Two generations ago, the vast majority of “our kids” went on to live lives better than those of their parents and society generally aided them. But their children and grandchildren (the current generation) have had less opportunity amid diminishing prospects and less help from the “bigger community.” Putnam tells the tale of a widening gap between “rich” and “poor” and lessening opportunity through poignant life stories of rich and poor kids from cities and suburbs across the country, drawing on a formidable body of research done specifically for this book.

Find the book here.

The Road to Character

Responding to what he calls the culture of the “Big Me” (which emphasizes external success), David Brooks challenges us, and himself, to re-balance the scales
between our “résumé virtues”—achieving wealth, fame, and status—and our “eulogy virtues”— those that exist at the core of our being: kindness, bravery, honesty, or faithfulness—focusing on what kind of relationships we have formed. (Read more about how we focus on character development at Camp Pinnacle in this blog.)

Looking to some of the world’s greatest thinkers and inspiring leaders, Brooks explores how, through internal struggle and an understanding and appreciation of one’s own limitations, people have built a strong inner character.

Find the book here.

Masterminds and Wingmen

The author who brought us Mean Girls and Queen Bees and Wanna Bees, Rosalind Wiseman has now written the definitive book on boys: Masterminds and Wingmen. Using a panel of more than 160 boys, Wiseman exposes us to the world of teenage boys and gives us great insight into the lives our boys are experiencing, the rules of boys’ world, and how male teenage power structures work. She introduces the “Act like a Man Box” and the effects attempting to live up to these expectations can have on young male behavior. As school and the economy change, we are concerned that boys are falling behind, and we hope the culture we create at Camp Pinnacle will help our male campers (as well as our female campers) succeed in life outside camp.

Find the book here.

Below are books we still use frequently and have included on previous lists.

Mindset Carol DweckIn Mindset, Stanford researcher Carol Dweck explains why it’s not just our abilities and talent that bring us success, but whether we approach challenges with a fixed or a growth mindset. Praising intelligence and ability isn’t the best way to foster self-efficacy and confidence, and may instead actually jeopardize success. Instead, understanding that the brain is malleable, and that we are all works in progress, leads to the development of a growth mindset. By encouraging and rewarding effort and hard work over innate talent, we can better motivate our kids to more eagerly approach new challenges while building resilience. We use Dweck’s book in counselor orientation to show them how to encourage our campers to develop a mindset focused on continuous growth rather than accepting our talents and abilities as fixed.

Find the book here.

Childhood Roots of Adult HappinessHarvard professor Edward Hallowell gives us a
wonderful five-step program to help give our kids a childhood that creates a footprint for them to
become happy adults. In The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness, Hallowell promotes childhood as a time to provide opportunities to feel connected to others, to play and be joyful, to practice and attain mastery in numerous activities, to fail and build resilience, and to receive recognition.

We use Hallowell’s model in our counselor training and
wrote a blog about how his model applies to Camp Pinnacle.

We love this book!

Find the book here.

The Big DisconnectOne of the Wall Street Journal’s “most important reads for 2013,” The Big Disconnect: Protecting Child and Family Relationships in the Digital Age discusses how technology is affecting family relationships and how parents’ involvement with technology at home affects family connections. Renowned clinical psychologist and author Catherine Steiner-Adair explains that families are now in crisis around this issue. Not only do chronic technology distractions have deep and lasting effects, but children desperately need warm interactions with the adults in their lives.

Drawing on real-life stories from her clinical and consulting work, Steiner-Adair offers insights and advice on how parents can achieve greater understanding and confidence as they come up against the tech revolution happening in their living rooms. When Camp Pinnacle campers have an amazing experience and succeed beyond all expectations without any technology, they are often given a unique perspective on how technology fits into their lives. Read a recent blog we wrote about her book.

Find the book here.