Why we made a summer camp where kids can choose, well, everything
What was the best part of your day today? Got your answer? Was it during a time when you were doing something that was planned for you by your boss, a teacher, your parents, your spouse? It was most likely something you did of your own free will, because you are quite likely the person who knows you best. A quick internet search on the question, "What was the best part of your day today?" will turn up many different answers, but all of them involve a person describing a voluntary action he engaged in or a moment in which he was freed from an activity that wasn't preferable(i.e., relaxing after work). Virtually everyone relishes the freedom in their lives. Why, then, do those in charge immediately assume that they must use their power to plan other people's lives?
Albert Einstein once said, “Everybody is a genius. But, if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life believing that it is stupid.” This poor, hypothetical fish. It’ll truly get down on itself if it thinks that climbing trees is the end-all be-all. Happily for fish, they are typically left to their own devices. Unhappily for our children, they most certainly are not.
From the time a child is very young, society makes several things very clear to them. They are shown in certain terms that there are certain pursuits that are worthwhile vocations – the Sciences, Math, English, History – while other pursuits are more frivolous hobbies – the arts, games, friendships, and so on.
But aren't these messages incredibly problematic? Finding happiness in life often means finding a particular niche at the crossroads of one’s abilities and interests. No one knows better than the individual what its abilities and interests are – so why does society believe that it should force children to pursue certain things they may have no ability or interest in?
At the Stomping Ground, we believe allowing children to choose how they spend their time is paramount to creating a healthy culture. When children are allowed to choose how they spend their time and whom they spend it with, the sense of peace that washes over them is palpable. Since safety is our first concern, we are obviously restricted by the number of staff we have, but as long as an activity does not infringe on the well-being of anyone or go against the likely wishes of the child’s parents, we find a way to make it happen. We try to provide activities that will suit a child’s interest, but in the event they want to do something else, they are welcome to do so.
It's like Alfie Kohn said, "Kids getting better at making decisions by making decisions, not by following directions." At the Stomping Ground, kids get to make those decisions - and the results are almost always magical.