Yesterday was our final Cruiser Day of the first session. As usual, our staff did an amazing job of planning creative days for the boys. The Swampers toga’d Greek Gods Day, the Loggers beasted Cryptid Day (Bigfoot, Yeti, the Loch Ness monster and other fantastic beasts), the Axemen explored a remote beach on the other side of the lake, and the Lumberjacks sleuthed Clue Day. The boys were treated to fun and innovative days.
As you also probably know, the afternoons on Cruiser Day are highlighted by trips to the Dairy Queen in Lake Nebagamon. I will get into this in a later update, but to me, there is just something so beautiful and perfect about a trip into the local ice cream shop for a cool treat on a warm summer’s day. It just IS summer.
Now for years, the evenings on Cruiser Days have been dedicated to movie nights. I still vividly remember the movie nights at camp from my youth. They were a BIG deal. Back then, with no internet, no DVDs, and not even any video tapes, camp had to rent reel to reel films before the season and, often times, aired the same films several times during the summer. I most definitely still remember being consistently terrified as I sat through Omega Man and Marathon Man several times, and I remember being titillated during The Eiger Sanction when nude scenes of Brenda Venus would pop up onto the screen…though a dutifully appointed camp administrator was positioned at the front of the projector with an index card to slide over the bulb during the exposure! (I have taken a much more restrictive approach to the movie selections during my tenure here. Ms. Venus has not made an appearance, but the kids have been treated to an unclothed Nemo several times!)
But…things have changed. Over the past few years, we have noticed how disinterested the kids are in the movies we show. We are not sure the exact reason for this, but I suspect it is partially due to the fact that movies are so much more accessible to kids these days that the excitement has waned. Our Axeman Village director spoke to this concept in his Sunday Service last weekend: the theory of diminishing returns. Furthermore, modern campers have realized how much more fun it is to be hanging out with their friends outside than sitting in a dark room watching a movie on a rudimentary sound and projection system. Since we made the movies optional several years ago, we have noticed that the attendance numbers have dramatically fallen off, with some films only attracting a handful of kids. (Yes, this has been a bit manipulative on my part as I would rather they eschew the movie in favor of other forms of more campy entertainment. Repeated showings of Finding Nemo, despite his unclothed appearance, have helped!)
As an alternative to the movie, boys are offered a couple of structured games, but they can choose to just hang out. (Last night the offering was kickball and Gaga ball. I think ten kids total showed up for these!) The only rule is that they have to be outside; no hanging out in the cabin or anywhere else indoors. This option includes no organized games, no zany Cruiser Day themes, nothing structured at all. Just time to hang out wherever they would like, and with whomever they would like.
Now, 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!!!
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 make up a game with your own rules, 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. 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 10 foot courts. I got to see a relaxed and almost silly game of ultimate Frisbee on the Lower Diamond. But I was most moved when I arrived at The Hill (this is the “hang out area” nearest to where our youngest boys live). There were at least a dozen different card games going on, the four square courts were packed, and ping pong balls were flying everywhere.
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 discussing the mysterious sign-up that popped up around camp for kids to enroll in Wanegan Prime. (The Wanegan is our camp store. And the totally fake and camper-invented Wanegan Prime offers two-day delivery on items that they can get at the camp store immediately….two days quicker! Still, sign-up for Wanegan Prime was surprisingly high!) There was even a group discussing the petition that has been circulating to purchase a metronome to help improve the camp co-director’s singing skills! The conversations were all animated, comfortable, and respectful (except for the one disparaging my crooning acumen).
The other amazing thing about these discussions was the diversity of ages participating. Our older boys had descended upon The Hill for a trip down memory lane to their homes from their younger years…and some four-square. (Somehow it has become “uncool” to play four-square in the older villages…and yet they still head to The Hill to play whenever we let them!!! Being cool is such a dicey thing for a 15-year-old to navigate.) I just cannot tell you how gratifying it is to come upon a scene of kids of all ages, geographies, and interests hanging out together so comfortably. It is proof that our efforts to create a true camp community have succeeded. We are indeed a Camp Family.
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 we also know that there is more to childhood than this…and this is something that we modern parents often neglect. (And to be sure, I am as guilty as the next of feeling the need to keep my kids constantly engaged in something “productive”.)
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 and unplanned. We had time to jump on our bikes and bum around town, or the preserve, or the park, or the ravines. It was during that time that we explored the sciences (what happens when I throw this stick in the stream?), our own physical limits (if I swing hard enough from this branch, can I make it to that next limb?), 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 accomplish the opposite. We cheat them out of that discovery time, time with nothing to do and nowhere to go, when they can carte blanche practice the skills of social interaction, negotiation, compromise, leadership, cooperation, conflict resolution, emotional regulation, flex their imagination/creativity muscles, and learn about their own limits and capabilities.
I am grateful that, here at camp, we deliberately build this “nothing” time into every week, and, in fact, every day.
Because there is LOTS that gets done when you are doing nothing.
END SOAPBOX TIME.
All is well in the North Woods…