Without a doubt, one of my favorite times of the day here at camp is the G-Swim period. From 4:30 until 5:40, the boys are totally free to do whatever they please….no lessons, no structured projects, just free time. For those who prefer, there are areas around camp that offer structured activities, but for most campers, this time of day is just for hanging out and doing whatever tickles his fancy. Our four-square courts are always packed, the Rinde Ball (roof ball) spot in the Axeman Village is always in use, there are ping pongers, basketball games, tennis matches, and the Magic the Gathering card players are always out in full force. And then there are the boys that just sit around and talk, or wander with their buddies all around the greatest backyard on earth…Camp!
In our attempts to provide our children with opportunities, enrichment, and the possibilities to excel, sometimes we modern parents wind up over programming our kids. We all marvel at how many hours in a week are spent driving our kids from activity to activity. We sometimes lose sight of how much time we had, when we were children, that was totally unstructured. Time that we just jumped on our bikes and bummed around town, or the preserve, or the park, or in the ravines. It was in that time that we explored the sciences (what happens when I throw this stick in the stream?), our own physical limits (if I jump, can I make it to that next branch?), and made other mundane and amazing discoveries. I fear that in our efforts to provide our kids with all of these structured enrichment activities, we sometimes cheat them out of that discovery time…time with nothing to do and nowhere to go. I am grateful that we have a schedule here at camp that deliberately builds this time into every week, and, in fact, every day.
Because there is LOTS to get done when you are doing nothing. And what better place to do it, than at camp!
You may have already caught wind of the change heralded by child development experts supporting unstructured time, playtime without parent supervision, and “wild playgrounds.” Experts are proponents of empty time that makes children’s brains practice skills that would not be practiced in an environment of prepackaged entertainment. Experts encourage some playtime that is child-led and parent-free that stimulates problem solving and creativity. Experts promote access to play areas that include a little risk, not the padded, rubber floored, highly manicured playgrounds that exist in so many suburban areas, but rather ones that look more like a junkyard with tools that introduce a little risk such as saws, hammers, and sometimes even fire, where children can self-organize and invent their own fun. In other words……CAMP!!!
END SOAPBOX TIME
But, the unstructured G-Swim period is also for, well, G-Swim (general swim). It is when you can just go swimming…no rank work, no instruction, just plain old playing in the water. I always make it a point to be down at the waterfront during G-Swim; it is super fun! Our second session kids have really embraced G-swim this year. Given the incredible weather, there has consistently been a great crowd of campers at the lake, swimming, splashing, and playing in the water.
I love this part of the camp experience. Now to be clear, Lake Nebagamon is not a waterpark, not a fancy swimming pool with fancy pool toys, there are no giant blobs, and it certainly is not a beach resort with jet-skis and wakeboards. This is a lake…just a plain old lake…with the only adornments being a pretty rudimentary waterslide and a diving board attached to a wooden raft. (Well…maybe not a plain old lake. We are talking about, hands down, the best swimming lake in all of Wisconsin with a clean sand bottom and clear spring-fed water!) The fun in this lake comes from one primary source…it comes from the kids themselves. The games played at the lake are largely kid-invented games, with kid-invented rules, and kid sensibilities dictating them. (With staff making sure that kid safety sensibilities do not rule the day!) They are great games that involve running in the water, splashing, and excellent flying knee drops (performed with just about the same levels of reality and true contact as one would expect in the WWF!).
Now, like virtually any camp in the country, one of the methods that we employ to maintain safety during G-swim is the buddy system. Each camper pairs up with another boy for the time they are in the water to make doing counts easier for our lifeguards, and also to look out for each other in the water. At the very beginning of the summer, I noticed that the boys chose very predictable buddies for G-swim. They would choose either their friend from home, or the boy that they had been in a cabin with before, or someone they already knew quite well. But in just the ten days since these guys have been here, they have already abandoned the need to stick with what they already know. Yesterday, I was struck by the diversity of our buddies out there. I noticed a 3rd grader buddied up with a 6th grader, another 3rd grader with a 7th grader, and a 4th grader with an 8th grader. These were clearly not their “buddies” from home. These were friendships and mentorships that were spawned here at camp. They played games in the water and engaged in easy conversation with each other as though they were “buddies” from home…or brothers. Yes…that’s it…like they were brothers.
This very same phenomena was pointed out to me by a visiting prospective family that I was giving a tour to the other day. As we were walking by the art shop, the mom stopped with a surprised look on her face and said, “So, wait. It looks like all age groups are here working on this project? Is that right?” I puffed up into my most proud camp director mode and bragged about how we love that our community is so healthy and complete here that indeed, our older boys and younger boys work together on art projects, on canoeing skills, in fishing, and just about everywhere in camp. (There are a few projects separated by age groups when it makes sense. For example, we separate ages in the athletics project when the boys are playing basketball. However, there are few things more gratifying then when I get a chance to post up a 2nd grader on the 8-foot basketball courts! Gotta show ‘em who is boss from time to time!)
Things feel just great here.
This morning I called one of the dreaded “Bell Meetings” for the entire staff. The “Bell Meeting” is an uncommon event and typically means that there is some correction to relay to the staff. Oftentimes a “Bell Meeting” is to deal with a problem at camp or something that needs to be addressed. But today’s “Bell Meeting” was just the opposite. I pulled the entire staff out of breakfast just to tell them what an incredible feel camp has to it these days. I told them that they were creating a level of camp magic that I had very seldom seen in my time in this job. I told them that they were indeed a special group. (More on that in a later update.) And then I told them there was too much trash on the ground around camp. Gotta show ‘em who is boss from time to time!
All is well in the North Woods.