North Star Camp for Boys

Monday, June 29, 2015

Go Outside and Play!

This Sunday night we did something different. I have been learning a great deal about the importance of free play in the development of children and the tremendous decline in opportunities for our boys to experience self-directed, free play (see here, here or here). With that in mind, for the first time we had an Unorganized Free Period. The prompt was simple: Go Outside and Play.
The boys looked shocked. This is not something kids are used to hearing these days. In a world where their schedules are getting tighter and the stress levels are getting higher, this child-directed free play was an exciting, out of the box experience. There were two rules - 1) Everybody had to be outside, and 2) The counselors are to supervise for safety, not to play or organize.
The result was fantastic. We had everything from pickup games of basketball, tennis and floor hockey, to improv games, gaga, and medieval imagination games. Some boys were fishing off the dock and catching frogs, while others were playing gaga and newcombe. Campers of all ages were taking the lead and organizing activities. And the kids loved it.

The second part of our evening were Cabin Campfires. For 70 years, North Star has played a valuable role in the development of its campers. Our campers learn about themselves, become more comfortable in their own skin, discover meaningful relationships, along with countless other life lessons. One thing I recently realized is that most of our campers don't realize this until years later. So one of my goals for this summer was to help our boys better process their experience as it happens.
Much like our opening night candlelight ceremonies, these "cabin meetings" are an opportunity for open, honest communication and sharing. So every cabin took to their campsite, built a campfire, and began this fireside chat. The format was as follows:
1) Accomplishments - everyone should take a moment to recognize the things they have accomplished in this past week.
2) Compliments - a chance for cabinmates to praise the positive things they have seen in each other.
3) Personal Growth - a time for each person to consider a way in which they have grown or a lesson that they have learned in the past week
4) Discussion - an opportunity for the group to discuss issues, problems or challenges and work together to find solutions.
5) Reflection - a few dedicated minutes of time to ones self to think about how to better friend, cabinmate and camper in the coming week.
6) Goal Setting - to conclude with a tangible plan for the week ahead with both individual and group goals.
7) S'mores - how else could you end a campfire?

With both the Unorganized Free and the Cabin Campfires, we were upfront with the boys about why were doing what we were doing. Not only did they understand it, they appreciated it. We heard from many of our campers how nice it was to be able to have time like this, where they could just be kids in the woods. They felt empowered by the opportunity to set their own agenda, to be responsible for both their own fun and their own learning.
Going forward, this is going to be our Sunday night routine. We'll continue to adjust and adapt as we learn more, but it was immediately clear how valuable this was to our boys.