Supportive camp friends help you to be your best selfJuly 10, 2015
I started my morning at this Evergreen Junior Soccer period. A number of these girls play on competitive teams at home, but just as many do not. Their coach had them involved in this great drill where groups of 3 had to pass the ball from one end of the field to the other, and then try to score on her (the coach was in goal). Some of the teams completed the task quickly, while others struggled to maintain control of the ball, or shoot cleanly on goal. What did our girls who had finished first do with that free time? They stood to the side and cheered on their friends. Relentlessly. And when each group had completed the task, they took a break (not for water or rest) but to do a silly dance. How often in life do you see a group of 12-year old girls behave so supportively, while not worrying about their place in some social hierarchy?
From there I wandered over to Arts & Crafts, where these goofy boys were busy working together designing t-shirts. When I asked them if I could take their picture the two in the foreground decided to make the silliest faces that they could…and another snuck behind them (did you notice him at first?). Some of the boys in this picture like to play sports at full intensity, while others are happy to play at a more casual level. And yet after a little more than a week of even knowing each other they are camp friends who have found a level of mutual respect — and mutual goofiness – that allows all three of them to feel like they can totally be themselves together.
The lack of self-consciousness translates in how our campers approach new projects and risky ideas. Today, this group of young women tried — and failed — multiple times at a really cool project in the Cooking Laboratory. They inflated balloons and then dipped them in different types of liquid chocolate. The first four or five attempts were glorious failures. One time the chocolate was too hot and didn’t cool properly. Another time the liquid bonded too tightly to the rubber, and they weren’t able to separate it once the balloon popped. But they never gave up, and they had tons of fun with each attempt. They also happily discussed with one another what they learned with each try, and what might eventually make it work. When they finally got it they cheered with delight, and as you can see, made an absolute culinary work of art (which they then filled with fresh fruit and ice cream).
This is the sort of learning and healthy risk taking that comes from being at an overnight camp where being yourself is the rule.
From there I headed to the Lacrosse field, where Coach Brian was working with a small group of boys on basic ball-handling skills. These boys had played this sport before, and he wanted to teach them how to effectively scoop off of the grass and keep the ball in the webbing. So he hid balls all over the field, and made the clinic into a giant Easter Egg hunt. I watched as the three kids ran around, laughing hysterically, trying their best to find — and properly scoop — every ball. Sometimes it took three tries to pick up the ball, and sometimes they fell out running back to the coach. But by the time the activity was over each of them had practiced over and over again how to do it, and they had gotten quite good at it!
What I loved about this activity — beside the fact that they were so enjoying their learning — was that they were so open to trying this new sport. There was no “but I don’t know how to do this…” or “I don’t like it…even though I’ve never done it before”. Instead, they seemed energized about seeing if this sport was something that they could be good at, if given the opportunity. As with the other activities I saw today, these campers were open to trying because there was no fear of failure. They knew up front that failure was part of the process.
On Thursdays we always have a picnic lunch, and we all enjoyed sitting outside together on such a lovely day. I love these lunches, and I love watching how happy our kids are when they have a chance to hang out with each other. Having true friends — people with whom you can be yourself — is such a necessary part of a happy life. It’s also a necessary ingredient to getting to be your best self. When you are with friends who like you for who you are you can simply be. You stop having to worry about opening yourself up to potential embarrassment or ridicule for the things you like or do. The opportunity to be yourself when you are a tween or teen is pretty rare (actually, it’s pretty rare in the adult world, too).
After lunch I spent some time down in the Photo Lab. These guys were busy being super creative with Photoshop, melding different images and ideas together. One camper would volunteer an idea, and another would voice how they might be able to produce it. Some things worked, and other things just made the pictures look terrible. Every idea was tried, and every change could be undone with the click of a mouse. You can see on their faces how much they loved this activity. I stood there watching them and marveled at how freeing it must feel to be 14 and 15 and have camp friends that you can collaborate with like this.
Later in the day a group of Kenwood Freshmen showed me the Pokemon and Magic Cards that they had created in the Photo Lab. How fun, how creative!
Trying new things extended far outside of our campus today. The Kenwood 1st Year Seniors were out on the ocean learning to paddle board. When he returned Adventure Dave took me aside to talk about how great the boys were today. He wanted to make sure that I knew how fun they had been, how readily they were up for trying this new activity, and how much they encouraged each other regardless of how quickly they progressed.
Dave also took them on a second adventure, climbing through the layers of seaweed to find different marine creatures. It was cold and wet and just a tad smelly, and they absolutely LOVED it. Dave taught them about the ecosystem they were exploring, and about the biology of the animals they found (and safely put back). It was an amazing outdoor marine biology lesson that felt to the boys like the coolest field trip ever. That’s what Camp is like when you are open to trying new and possibly strange things!
Our Ropes Course is 60 ft up in the air, linked to 13 different stations, and I spent much of the afternoon up in the trees with some campers. There’s a huge wooden ladder, a telephone pole you can leap off of (safely attached to a harness, of course), a zip line, and many, many more elements.
Today I had a chance to watch a group of Sophomore boys attempt to cross our tight rope and a rope bridge for the very first time. And while some of them expressed some nervousness, every single one of them found the courage to climb up the massive tree. Every one of them gave it their best shot. None made it across the tight rope during their first try.
Back on the ground they worked on their strategies with the Ropes Course counselors. They talked about how to use their feet differently and where to grab the guide ropes. Then each of them tried again. Some made it across on the second attempt, and two of the boys had a third go up the tree before successfully making it across.
It was an afternoon of watching these boys work past their perceived limitations and conquer their fears. None of them ever gave up, and throughout the entire activity all I heard was supportive talk like “I know you can do this!” and “we’re here for you!” No one worried about looking foolish for losing their balance and having to start again. Instead, it was just understood that this was a part of how you did this and how you got better at it. This is how children learn to be their best selves.
As we were descending from the trees one camper asked me “Jason, can I stay at Camp until I’m an old man?” I reminded him that this was exactly my life plan and for the same reasons.
(look at the counselor on the ground cheering the climber on)
Tonight, in Kenwood, the activity was called Camper Hunt. Our campers went all out for the event, and many spent their Free Play surveying the campus for the best hiding spot possible. Almost all donned the darkest clothing that they owned. Our counselors also took this activity very seriously, as the counselor with the most campers found received a gift certificate to our local pizza shop. Tonight was a particularly good night for hiding, with a total of 9 campers successfully outsmarting their counselors, staying hidden until the end of the event.
Camper Hunt is nothing more than a larger version of hide-and-go-seek, a game that few 11 and 12 year olds play. And yet our tweens were as into this activity as their younger friends, as evidenced by the young man in the picture below.
This new camper won the award for the most creative camouflage. When I arrived at the tent for the start his new camp friends grabbed me and said “you have to take a picture of him. Isn’t that awesome?” I agreed that it most certainly was and gave him a huge hug for being so into the spirit of our community. How wonderful to live in an overnight camp where moments like this are possible…and celebrated!
Tonight, in our girls’ camp, was the silliest, goofiest, grossest, most celebrated night of the summer: Jell-O Wrestling! Led by a referee still wearing her Evergreen Soccer team uniform from when she was 15 (yes, that is my wife, Deena, who in the rest of her life is a child psychologist), our girls jumped in and got MESSY.
They giggled, they laughed, and they squealed in the cold, gooey, colorful concoction. Our older girls made silly costumes (including putting their bras on the outside of their bathing suits because they knew it would be funny for their younger friends). Our American and International Counselors painted their faces with the flags of their home countries and pretended to be WWE wrestlers. Everyone cheered at the top of their lungs throughout the entire event.
In some ways Evergreen’s Jell-O Wrestling is the ultimate example of the freedom and lack of self-consciousness that our campers feel as a part of this community. Can you imagine them being so comfortable and so goofy with their home friends? All it would take to derail an event like this is for someone to roll her eyes and declare that this is decidedly uncool. But our girls LIVE for this night, and live for a chance to spend 7-weeks immersed in a community where they can be funny, smart, silly, awkward, shy, loud, athletic, and artistic, all on the same day. And it’s no different with our boys. They thrive just as much in this overnight camp culture where being yourself is the rule.
I write a lot in this blog about how our camp teaches 21st century skills like independence, leadership, resilience, healthy risk taking, collaboration, and creativity. These skills will certainly be crucial later in their lives, but what I observed today demonstrates how necessary they are when they are still young people. Over and over again I saw campers who were blossoming, on their way to being their best, happiest selves. That is why we teach these 21st century skills, and why being your self is such an important part of the culture of our brother-sister overnight camp.