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A summer at our overnight camp teaches you about healthy risk taking

As parents we want our children to be comfortable exploring the world, and yet we also want them to be quality risk assessors. Being an independent and responsible person requires proficiency in both. Like all other important life skills, this can only come with practice…and some failures. At our brother-sister overnight camp in NH we work to make this the perfect laboratory for figuring out the difference between healthy and unhealthy risk taking.

It takes so many different forms. Like working with power tools. Very few of our campers have ever using a wood router or table saw before coming here, and yet at two weeks into the summer our campers are confidentially and safely learning how to carve beautiful designs into furniture they’ve made in our wood shop.

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RELATED: Staying at camp for 7 weeks is amazing and teaches resilience

This is not something that one learns immediately, and the prospect of using tools like these can be really daunting. Mike, our head of the wood shop, begins with safety demonstrations and simple projects, and novice lessons on how to properly sand, plane or use hand tools. Over time our girls and boys grow more comfortable in the shop, and regularly produce furniture that remains in their homes for years. But often along the way nails fracture a board, the wood glue doesn’t bind properly, or their design concept just doesn’t work out. And when these things happen our campers know to support their peers and encourage them to try again. 

This is how you build up your skills, gain confidence, and know that this was a risk well worth taking.

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I saw this in our theater the other night at Evergreen’s Lip Sync Night. Every bunk was asked to pick a song, choreograph a dance to it, and then perform it on the stage in front of our entire girls’ camp. 

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Our girls turned this into one of the highlights of the summer. And yet this night was not a guaranteed success. Even as they got ready backstage — dressed in their costumes, having practiced over and over again — many of our campers wore facial expressions I read as “I’m really not sure that this is for me”. This should not come as a surprise, as performing in front of a crowd can be intimidating. 

This event works, and is so much fun, because of the supportive audience. When you know that every single person watching you 100% has your back, and that all you are going to get it applause and encouragement, suddenly pretending to be Taylor Swift or the Spice Girls on a stage stops being scary and actually becomes liberating. 

Bunk after bunk, from 8 – 15 years old, we saw our girls ham it up. And after every single act our Evergreen girls and their counselors took to their feet and shook the theater with their love and cheering. 

This is how you find your voice, lose your self-consciousness, and realize that anything is possible.

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Last night was our first theatrical production of the summer. Our 8, 9 and 10 year old boys and girls took to the stage in a musical review of songs and scenes from classic Disney films. Most of the songs were ensemble pieces, but in each of them there was a moment where one or two campers stepped forward to sing a solo. 

Our combined audience of 450 campers and counselors sat on the edge of their seats as each soloist began to sing…and then was showered with applause afterwards. Some of the voices were gorgeous, and others squeaked and occasionally veered off key. It didn’t matter to this crowd of camp friends.  While you could see the nervousness of each performer as they stepped to the microphone, you could see it melt away as the notes flowed and the love came from the audience. Each song was beautiful and funny and adorable, and at the cast party afterwards our youngest campers were sharing with pride how anxious they had been, and how proud they now felt. 

This is where you discover truly supportive friends, learn to step outside of your comfort zone, and try things you aren’t initially good at.

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We also play a lot of sports here, and offer many, many traveling teams that our campers can be a part of. Being on a team can help give you a sense of belonging, but it can also help you understand that every endeavor has ups and downs. This week different age groups took part in tournaments in basketball, tennis, soccer, golf, baseball, gymnastics, and lacrosse. Only a few we came in 3rd or 4th, a bunch came in second, and in soccer, golf and lacrosse we came home with first place! What was reported from every single coach and counselor was that our kids played their hearts out and always demonstrated good sportsmanship regardless of the score.

Acka-lacka-ching to all of our players, and a special shout out to our senior girls who won Evergreen’s first-ever lacrosse trophy! 

This is where you collaborate with others towards a mutual goal, learn to effectively communicate with your teammates, and accept a win or a loss with a healthy perspective.

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We like to send our campers on amazing outdoor adventures. Earlier this week the Kenwood 1st Year Seniors went on a 2-night/3-day climb up Mt. Washington. For almost all of them this was the hardest, longest, and most beautiful mountain climb they have ever done. A number of them asked to meet with me ahead of this trip, anxious about if this was too risky for their skill level and endurance. I assured them all that this was a trip I took when I was a 13-year old camper, and that Travis, our head of outdoor adventure, was incredibly well suited to lead them up and down the mountain. Travis is an experienced professional mountain guide, and he also has his certification in Wilderness EMS. I knew that while this trip had its challenges the boys would ultimately return home grateful for having participated. I had no idea how right I was!

On the first day they hiked to the halfway point, and on the second they reached the summit. Returning home on the third day they stopped by a stream and had one of the greatest brushes with nature in our overnight camp’s history. Far enough away to be safe, but close enough to truly experience it, the boys watched as a mother moose taught her young calf how to safely cross the rushing water, and then the two walked off into the dense forest.

When they came home it was all they could talk about. They were in absolute awe. The hours of hiking and nights spent on the trail were totally worth it, and they knew that they had seen something incredible that most people never get to. Suddenly the challenges of an adventure like this became a defining moment of their camp experience. 

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It was such a big deal that these four guys got up at assembly last night to announce it…in four different languages. Speaking in public can cause major anxiety for people (especially when English is your second language), but at K&E we normalize it with our twice daily all camp assemblies. Everyone tries to make their announcements short and funny, and all summer long campers of every age have been learning to take a healthy risk, step out in front of the crowd, and share their important information. These four good buddies told the story of their Mt. Washington adventure in Russian, Spanish, English and Mandarin! 

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Each of these life changing events or activities are able to take place because of the rapport our counselors build with our campers. Before every lip Sync night, woodshop project, theater production, team tryout or backpacking trip our counselors help their campers weigh whether or not it would be physically and emotionally safe for them. This quality risk assessment and healthy risk taking is the result of living in a warm, nurturing, intentional camp community.

This is where you get to figure out how to be your best self. This is Camps Kenwood and Evergreen.

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