Every night before we break off into our villages and get ready for bed we end the night with a simple ritual.
We invite everyone at camp to form a circle, cross their right arms over their left, and touch the finger of the people next to them. Next, we will say, “It’s good to be together.” three times and twist out of the circle. Sometimes we scream, sometimes we whisper, sometimes we mix it up, but every night before bed we take a moment to remind ourselves how lucky we are to be together.
Rituals matter. They help us place a memory in time, focus attention on our values, and establish our culture.
Self-Direction, Trust, Relationships
At Stomping Ground, one of our core values is self-direction. We’ve worked hard to develop programming, put in place logistics, and create a culture where campers and staff are in control of how they spend their time. Campers can ultimately choose how they spend each moment of their day, and when the mood strikes them, they can almost always hang out in Downtown Stomping Ground, where they can get up to their own thing. We want to be sure that campers are not only spending time how they choose, but that they do not feel negatively judged for doing so.
“At camp we are constantly trying to find the balance between providing kids with our feedback and reaction to their decisions without stepping on toes or controlling them. We understand that we, as a staff, have had more time on the planet and therefore may have run into similar situations as the ones campers might be struggling with. We want to listen and provide our concern where it is appropriate. This is the unconditional love and support piece. In practice it looks like active listening - taking an appropriately long amount of time to step into the campers shoes and see their struggle from where they stand.”
Because of this we spend a lot of energy and time working with our staff on the why and how of relationship building. Kate explains more of that here.
The Dreamcatcher Community
At the beginning of each week, we present our giant dreamcatcher, which represents the camp community. We spray bleach, paint, glitter, etc on the dreamcatcher and explain that camp will have ups and downs. That if we support each other, like the knots in the dreamcatcher, this can be the best week of our lives. Finally, at the end of the week we cut up the dreamcatcher and give each person at camp a bracelet from the dreamcatcher string. We encourage them to take a piece of camp with them into the rest of the world.
We believe that living in self-directed communities practicing radical empathy helps each of us be our best selves. That being fully present in our community helps each of us grow. We’ve found that when we trust kids and staff and are transparent about not only what we believe, but why we believe it, they respond with excitement, joy, and understanding. We practice these rituals to help reinforce that the people we are with and the relationships we build are at the core of what we do. That all the shaving cream wars, mud puddles, late nights, and giggling rely on each of us building each other up not tearing each other down.