Yesterday was a picture-perfect camp morning. Weather wise, things could not have been more ideal. With temperatures in the low 80s, a smooth lake for our waterskiers, 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 target ranges to the art shop, were absolutely hopping with activity. The kids were 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 in CNOC (Camp Nebagamon Outdoor Center), 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 in beautiful Lake Nebagamon working on swimming, sailing, fishing, rowing, and waterskiing skills. 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 the second week 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 that day, 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 homemade chocolate cupcakes in the morning, and then would spend his afternoon working on a Jackson Pollack style painting 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 be somewhat 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 helps them become self-reliant, which increases their self-confidence, and creates a pride in their corresponding accomplishments because they “chose their destiny.” (It’s kind of like those Choose Your Own Adventure books I used to read when I was a kid…but in REAL LIFE!!!) Because of this non-structure within the structure of camp, they learn to be more independent and to take responsibility for themselves and their actions.
A second wonderful benefit of the choice structure here at Nebagamon is that it allows them to both pursue existing interests more deeply 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. If it turns out that it isn’t his cup of tea, then he can move on to a new project an hour later. More times than not, the boys discover that the activity they were so nervous and worried about is totally manageable and conquerable and way WAY fun! This experience of choosing to take on a challenge, working hard at it, and having success (which can be defined in the broadest of ways) is important to a child developing “grit” or what some academics have labeled a “growth mindset.” The brilliant folks that invented our structure here knew this intuitively and made it as easy as possible to try new things, pursue passions, and make chocolate cupcakes!
In the afternoon we got a bit of rain. Some of our activities had to be moved inside but, our staff handled the curveball beautifully.
Last night, we tried a new all camp activity that was akin to Hide and Seek, in which the boys had to find their counselors that had hidden in various spots around camp. Each staff member possessed a clue to a puzzle and the boys that found all the counselors could most easily solve the puzzle. What started out as somewhat of a competition, turned into a teamwork event as kids started pooling their clues together to solve the puzzle. Furthermore, without any prompting, a large chunk of our camp Big Brothers decided this was a great time to reconnect with their Little Brothers for the Grand Counselor Hunt. It was really nice to watch them all running around camp together…still connected. That’s the Nebagaway: working together and helping each other out. What a fun night. I mean, Hide and Seek is a classic and always fun kid game. Now imagine playing Hide and Seek in the greatest backyard in the world! It was a really great event…even in the rain. Yeah, that’s right. At camp, we play games in the rain. Which oftentimes is more fun than playing in the sun. That is, as long as you don’t mind getting a little muddy. And what boy at camp doesn’t love to get muddy!!!???
All is well in the North Woods….