Normally in a Sunday update I will spend a good deal of time talking about the messages delivered in the Sunday Service and at the Council Fire. And while today’s Sunday Service message about heroes is indeed important, I thought I would tell you a bit about another facet of Sundays here at camp. It is the block of time that sits in between the Sunday Service and lunch time. This block usually lasts for about two hours…and we plan nothing.
First, an explanation. One of the things that I think we do a pretty good job of here is in structuring the boys’ lives at camp. Each day has a predictable structure and a high degree of planning and programming is put into each day. With twenty different program areas and special events planned often, the boys are virtually always entertained with some exciting structured program. To be sure, this is one of the things that I think makes Nebagamon work so well for the boys. There are tons of ranks to be passed, tons of projects to explore, and tons of structured fun to be had…there is almost always something going on.
But, today I want to focus on the unstructured time that we build into camp life. 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!!!
As I mentioned earlier, one of these times at camp is the two hours following the Sunday Service every week. It is a time when there are no organized activities…just free time. Time to read a book, time to find toads under your cabin, time to grab a friend and head to the tennis courts for a game, time to work on the shelter you have been making in the woods, time to just sit with a friend and talk about…well….everything….and nothing. (We do offer some pick-up game opportunities for those for whom downtime this early in a session is not ideal for dealing with any adjustment issues they may be coping with.) But for the most part, the world’s greatest backyard and neighborhood is a free range for exploration, imagination, recreation and creation.
For me, this is a great time to just wander the grounds and get a feel for the pulse of camp.
I was treated to a great (and quite competitive) game of basketball on our new 10 foot courts. I got to see a relaxed and almost silly game of ultimate Frisbee on the Lower Diamond. On the Hill, one of our staff members took it upon himself to offer a clinic on Euchre for those that didn’t know how to play or wanted to get better. (THE card game here at camp, no matter what the Magic devotees tell you!) But perhaps my favorite sights were just the groups of kids “hanging out” and bantering. I happened upon several of these groups. There was the group discussing the best dessert at camp (if you must know, its coconut cream bars….though there is a strong case to be made for brownie glop…..and blondies with ice cream…..and S’more pie…..and butterscotch pudding…..and caramel apple bars……and banana cream pie….and caramelitas…..and…..and…..and!!!). There was the group of Lumberjacks just returned from their 14 day Isle Royale Big Trip regaling the guys about to leave on their Isle Royale trip with advice about the best sites for tents, swimming, and the best views.
And then I happened upon two boys, one Logger and one Swamper, one from Dallas and one from San Francisco, that had never met each other before Monday and had never before this week set foot on the grounds, sitting on our swinging bench, known by some as The Homesick Bench. Each of these boys had mentioned to me previously that they were feeling a bit homesick. Ugh….two homesick boys had found each other and were dragging each other further down that rabbit hole. I quietly walked up behind them expecting to hear the worst. But, it turned out just to be bad for one of them as the other boy exclaimed “UNO!” and the game had been won…..
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 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 (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.
END SOAPBOX TIME.
All is well in the North Woods…