You Can Do Whatever You Want!
At Camp Hawkeye we spend as much time in the off-season as possible meeting and spending time with parents and kids. We do this in lots of different ways; home visits, organic encounters at community events, and camp fairs. It is great! No really, we love it! Jess and I relish getting out of the office and being with the families and kids that make the Hawkeye community so amazing!
Each of these opportunities for interaction carries with it a separate set of social parameters. It is always very interesting.
When we participate in events open to other camps or similar youth focused organizations I always listen closely to how the programs present themselves. Even when we get a chance to listen to parents talk about other camps or programs I pay close attention. In these instances it is very easy to discern what both the parent s value as well as the organization’s core philosophies.
One such opportunity had us next to a camp with more than a few basic similarities to Camp Hawkeye. This camp is also located in New Hampshire, it has a coed program, the campers live in cabins, the sessions are similar in length, and the kids spend a lot of time out of doors.
I know this camp pretty well. I learn about the camps in New Hampshire because of my role on the Board of Directors for the New Hampshire Camp Directors’ Association but also because I am curious. I love to learn about other approaches to youth development; other designs for camp programs and philosophies.
The similarities ended when I heard this “You can do whatever you want!”
I thought to myself “WHAT?!” I was sure I had misheard the statement. But it was followed up with another statement reinforcing the first; “You choose what you want to do all day.”
That’s not part of our approach or program at Hawkeye.
I’ve got two boys myself but more than that I’ve worked with kids for twenty years and that sentence is not in my vocabulary. I can’t imagine my toddler getting that type of mandate. We’d have Paw Patrol videos for four hours straight, chocolate cake dipped in ketchup at every meal, nary a tooth brushed at night, and a strict no diaper policy. I can’t fathom what he’d do at ten years of age…
My vocabulary for working with kids is something that I have developed through hard work, commitment, and much experience. It is the vocabulary that we teach to our staff at Camp Hawkeye.
One of the tenets of our philosophy is giving each camper choices within the structure of our program and expectations. Giving our campers choices in this way builds trust, teaches maturity and decision-making, and encourages buy-in. Just as Jess and I do as parents we endeavor to give campers choices with which we encourage positive participation and ownership. Campers develop ownership of their experience at camp generally and ownership of their participation on a daily basis. The choices we provide are ones with which our leadership is happy and choices that build toward organizational objectives.
Another core belief that informs our program design is that kids are smart. Despite being smart the horizon of kids’ decision making is close and therefore our campers are encouraged to take on new challenges, try new activities, and take new social risks. At Hawkeye we consider trying something new a social risk.
Our experience is that despite a child’s intelligence that they will gravitate toward activity choices in which they already possess competency. In simpler terms – kids will do things they are already good at. A good basketball player will spend a large portion of the day on the court. In and of itself that is not a bad thing but when you are trying to teach more fundamental skills and develop core character competencies this does not move the ball forward, as it were.
So we have designed our core program to include group assigned activities AND choice activities daily. This blend allows campers to grow and learn in activities they may have never done before or simply that they are not good at. We actively encourage campers and staff to do things they don’t consider themselves good at. We say:
“Spend time doing things that are hard for you.”
The group assigned activities do a variety of things including:
- They encourage the development of a shared social identity in the cabin
- They allow the group to experience competencies of member campers that they wouldn’t be party to otherwise having chosen another activity
- They encourage humility and resiliency at the same time by allowing everyone to take turns at activities they are not good at while simultaneously reinforcing that it is ok not to be good at something and to still try/do it
From a parents perspective that’s what I want for my sons. Go and learn something new. Maybe you want this too?
Our kids’ brains are so pliable and they can grow and retain so much good stuff…if we give it to them. By managing campers’ schedule to include a variety of individual and group activities that promote and require a variety of skills and approaches we can very directly encourage growth for each camper. Spend time challenged by new skills, games, and activities, and also have time to demonstrate competency in front of peers to develop and reinforce self-esteem.
Guided Choice is a core part of our program and an important decision that we have made to deliver a central aspect of the learning and character competencies for which we aim.
So I just want to be clear about our program and what we offer at Camp Hawkeye; we don’t have chocolate dipped in ketchup and we make sure all campers brush their teeth.