Yesterday was a picture perfect camp day. Weather wise, things could not have been more ideal. With temperatures in the mid 70’s, and crystal clear sunshine, it was the kind of day that is the setting in all of our minds when we think SUMMER. All of our activity areas, from the waterfront to the tennis courts, from the shooting ranges to the art shop, were absolutely hopping with activity. The kids were already out and about making smart choices about how to spend their days. Some boys were focused on getting all of their required rank work out of the way, which allows them to start participating in our wilderness trips. Some boys were excited to head out to the range to try out their target skills. Some boys chose to spend their time down at beautiful Lake Nebagamon working on swimming, sailing, fishing, rowing skills, and canoeing. Some boys were psyched to work on their athletic skills on the fields and tennis courts. Some boys were set on heading over to our nature lore and orienteering programs for some of the more heady, yet campy stuff. And some boys, desiring to express their creative sides, chose to spend time at M.O.C.A. (Masters of the Culinary Arts, our cooking program), art, and photography. No matter which area I wandered to, there were kids there, engaged and having a great time.
Now, you may wonder why I went to the trouble of enumerating all of the boys’ choices here. (And, no, it is not because I am already looking for filler in just my third update of the summer!) It is because I truly believe one of the really unique and wonderful things about a Nebagamon boy’s experience is the degree of choice that he has about how to fill his day. Every day each camper looks at the project board after breakfast, reviews the activities happening in each of the 20 projects, and then plans out his day. No one hands him a set schedule of what he will be doing today, and he has the flexibility to plan, change and adjust his daily schedule as desired and/or needed.
I have little doubt that it is the very rare ten year old that gets to map out his activities every day when he is away from camp. But here, boys are presented with many options every morning and get to make their own choices. When was the last time that your son came to you in the morning to tell you that he had worked out his day completely; he would be canoeing and making cilantro lime chicken, and then would spend his afternoon working on a pottery project followed up with a game of basketball? Pretty rare, huh? Not here at camp!
In my mind, this is great for the boys on several levels. First, and most obviously, is the idea that the boys get to feel like they are in charge of their lives here. The boys feel a tremendous sense of pride in the fact that they are driving their own ship and, equally important, they learn to take responsibility for their own actions and choices. They are used to a life where most choices and programming is, at least to a certain extent, something that is told to them…planned for them. All they need to do is show up. (Now perhaps this is not the case in your family, and I am just using my updates as a forum to alleviate my own parental guilt for programming my children too much during the school year! Forgive me this self-indulgence….I feel much better now!)
At camp, the programming is virtually entirely programming that they choose. There is a freedom here that we simply don’t or can’t often afford to our kids when they are home. This freedom makes them feel proud, self-reliant, and instilled with a feeling that they are in charge of their lives. They learn to be more independent and to take responsibility for themselves.
A second wonderful benefit of the choice structure here at Nebagamon is that it allows them to both pursue existing interests and to explore new activities that interest them. So, if a boy has SOME interest in learning how to make a clay pot, he can head down to the art shop and try it out. There is no week or month long commitment that he has to make to that activity. He can give it a try, see if he enjoys it, and decide if, indeed, he would like to make it a significant part of his summer experience. Sometimes this will result in the child discovering a brand new passion that he would never have discovered…and sometimes it is just something to check off of his list as something that he has now tried. Think about waterskiing for a minute. Truth be told, waterskiing is a pretty tough and often intimidating activity for a boy. It takes some courage and effort to jump into the cool lake, let alone get up on those skis for the first time. The design of our program allows our campers to give it a shot. More times than not, the boys discover that the thing they were so nervous and worried about is totally manageable and conquerable. Few experiences make a boy more proud than facing and conquering something he is nervous about.
Even us camp directors have the freedom to choose here. I could sit here behind this computer screen and write and write and write, or I could choose to leave the office and head off to my favorite activity in camp…Sorry folks, that’s an easy choice. Later…….
All is well in the North Woods….