Fun at overnight camp leads to gaining crucial 21st century skills

So here’s my favorite story of the day: At breakfast this morning one of our newest, youngest campers from Westchester, NY turned to his counselor and said “I just want to go home”. The counselor was completely caught off guard by this, and with a sinking feeling in his chest gingerly asked “what do you mean?” The young man replied “you know, the bunk. Where we live. Can we go back there now? I like it there”. 

Very quickly new campers are starting to voice that this place feels like home to them. 

Today was a great, regular day of camp. The weather was warm and sunny, and everybody spent the day having a lot of fun at activities. At last night’s opening campfire Athletic Director Bob’s speech was all about how we should never lose sight of how fun camp is, and I’m really glad that he addressed this topic. While teaching social competence and 21st century skills is incredibly important, one of the reasons our camp can produce those outcomes is because this place is a kid paradise, and there’s fun taking place everywhere you look.

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Like at Gymnastics. I watched our Freshmen boys have their first gymnastics period of the summer, and for most of them it was their first time ever trying out the uneven parallel bars or vault. April, who runs the activity, had a series of games planned that had the boys leaping, laughing and asking Head Counselor Walshy when they would get to do this activity again. Because they were in such a positive mindset, they were open to the lesson plan April snuck into their fun, energetic play, and each finished the hour better at skills that were knew to them.

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Well, actually, it wasn’t new to everyone. One of the boys in the group is a competitive gymnast at home, and he was a little nervous before today’s activity. He wondered if his new peers would appreciate his passion for the sport. So he tentatively showed them some of what he can do, and as you can see from the photo they were utterly transfixed. They started cheering for him and shouting his name over and over again. Suddenly he was known as a “pro” in this area, and felt the love from his new buds.

Gaining your peers’ respect for your passions and talents — even when they don’t share your level of interest — is one of the greatest feelings in the world. It lets you know that you can totally be yourself, which is pretty key when it comes to Camp friends. As this young man explained to me afterwards “well he’s great at baseball and he’s a great singer, but they thought I was cool ‘cuz I can do this”. He’s right. They do think he’s cool, and I think they’re all very quickly getting what this community is all about. We all support each other as we try to become our best selves, whatever shape or style that ends up being. 

Our girls’ waterfront is adjacent to the gymnastics pavilion, so after seeing my fair share of tumbling I wandered onto the Evergreen docks just in time to see a camper try water skiing for the first time. The first time out she fell, and while bobbing out in the middle of the lake she got a little teary. Seeing this her three new Evergreen sisters jumped to their feet to soothe and then encourage her. They cheered as she opted to take a second attempt, and went absolutely bananas when she not only got up but made it all around the lake. Take a look at how vocal and encouraging her counselor was in helping her achieve this goal! 

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It’s this sort of support from friends and mentors, coupled with so many fun moments, that makes our overnight camp in New Hampshire such a ripe laboratory for deeper learning. So often we forget how much easier it is to learn and master new skills when we are in an environment like this. 

I was thinking about just this as I hung out with the Evergreen Inters at Cooking. As I walked down the stairs I could hear their shrieks of delight and the distinct smell of baking pizza. They were so excited to show me that they had shaped their dough into hearts. What a great example of creativity!

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But as I was asking them about this activity I learned that not all had been smooth sailing. Their activity counselor had paired them up, and not every group was able to easily decide on the shape of the dough or the ingredients to use as toppings. In one group there was an issue when one girl wanted to strictly follow the dough recipe while the other was interested in some experimentation. And yet as you can see from their smiles and body language these disagreements didn’t last. In under 50 minutes they had figured out how to work through their differences and collaborate. Some compromised with toppings split down the middle, while others apparently articulated their position enough to win the other partner over. The result was tasty homemade pizza, a really fun time…and some great lessons in 21st century skills like adaptability, compromise, and learning how to advocate for yourself. Just look at how happy they were! 

IMG_1036-1.jpgWhile I was sitting in my office after dinner I got a call over the walky talky from Mark, the Sophomore Unit Leader. “Get down here right away”. In most situations those words would have worried me to no end but I could hear the delight in his voice.

When I got to the Freshmen/Sophomore Compound this young man was there to greet me. “Can I take your order, sir?” Huh? It seems that in a moment of truly wonderful creative play a group of 8, 9 and 10 year olds had decided to raid the dining hall and set up their own hot chocolate stand. They had made a booth, named their business (“Hot and Sweet”), drawn up signs and set prices. They had posted handmade advertisements around campus, and had even created “Camp money” for people to spend at their shop. The result was laughter and hilarity and so much happiness it was not to be believed. 

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Our young proprietors and their happy customers

People of all ages were showing up from around camp to sample Hot and Sweet’s  “gourmet” drink creations. Watching it unfold even the counselors were commenting on what a great example this was of everything we try to teach at our summer camp. They were being intensely creative, but also negotiating and compromising. They were trying to model being responsible entrepreneurs while also making sure to take into account the interest of their “customers”. And above all else, you could see on their faces that they were having the best time possible.


A camp counselor explaining how all of this creativity unfolded

This is the sort of fun our boys and girls have every day of our 7 week season at our overnight camp. It’s also the sort of environment that gives them permission to take risks, try out new ideas, and figure out how to be their best selves. Today is only Day #3 and already our girls and boys are making friendships that will last a lifetime. 

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Camps Kenwood and Evergreen is a brother-sister summer camp located in Wilmot, New Hampshire. We offer more than 35 different, amazing, fun activities every day of the week!