First Session is off to a great start

Greetings from Hilltop. After nearly ten months of preparation, the campers are finally here. It’s so wonderful to have them. Camp is off to a great start. There are swinging arms on every trail, lines at the pickleball courts, and laughter and song around every corner.

Travel Day was hectic, as always. It’s quite a thing to get 200 campers, CTs, and Helping Hands here all at once. The fact that we’re on an island makes everything more complicated. It requires those flying in to wake up earlier. It means that if one of our Uhauls with the campers’ luggage is 15 minutes late, that luggage might not be 15 minutes late, but 3-4 hours late due to a missed ferry (that didn’t happen on Friday, thank goodness). If our water taxi company surprises us by needing a particular boat to load first, we might need to reshuffle our plans in the Skyline Marina parking lot (this did happen on Friday). But if I ever get frustrated with such things, I’m reminded of the specialness of being on an island. As the poem says, if once you’ve slept on an island, you’ll never be quite the same. And so, for all the logistical challenges of arrival day, it’s worth it to be in this exceptional place. Plus, I love a good puzzle.

Yesterday was Rotation Day. On the first full day of camp, we have many things to take care of. Every camper needs to see the nurse, have a chance to exchange uniforms, get a good tour of camp, take the swim test, and learn how everything works here, from getting mail to scraping plates, and every cabin and tent needs a cabin photo. Perhaps most importantly, every camper gets a chance to have a say in their activity schedule.

This is an under-discussed part of camp. At Four Winds, we often marvel at the increased independence in young people after a month here. We cite independence, and parents cite it back to us, as one of the key benefits of camp. What’s talked about less is autonomy, but without autonomy, there can be no independence. Without the opportunity to make decisions for oneself and let the chips fall where they may (autonomy), a person can’t reach a state where they’re able to operate without assistance (independence).

So, at camp, we let campers practice autonomy, and exercising their voice in choosing their activity schedules is one of the key ways. Parents will remember that they filled out an activity preference form in the spring, usually with some amount of parental involvement. But that form is only used to fill out half of a camper’s schedule. The other half we worked on yesterday. After breakfast, campers learned about what’s offered in each activity area and then filled out a form indicating their preferences for each period that wasn’t scheduled using that pre-summer form. Though it can be a bold move, campers can even cross out one of the classes we’ve pre-scheduled for them and indicate new preferences, essentially refusing a guarantee of one class for a chance at another.

Then, the activity area heads go to the office and look at all 170 forms and attempt to give each camper a schedule that matches their preferences as closely as possible, keeping in mind the logistical and safety constraints of each class (autonomy, of course, doesn’t mean that you get everything you want, it just means that you get to make your own choices). All that gets done at breakfast this morning, each camper got their schedule. They’ll try each class once, today and tomorrow, and if they’d like to try to swap any out, they’ll have that opportunity on Tuesday during rest hour. We usually make a handful of changes after that, but mostly, the schedule we settle on after that “magic switch” opportunity during Tuesday’s rest hour will be the one we stick with for the rest of the month.

Of course, sometimes the decisions the campers make can make the adults who care for them put their palms to their forehead. They might cross out a sailing class, forgoing the opportunity to learn or improve their skills as a sailor on Westound, one the best places in the world to learn to sail, for an activity that they could do in lots of places. They might not organize their classes around the classes themselves at all but instead around which friends they want to spend more time with. All of this can understandably frustrate the adults in their lives. Nevertheless, we protect the campers’ ability to make those choices because independence is one of the biggest benefits of camp, and there is no independence without autonomy. Young people making decisions that adults think are wrong, provided no one’s safety is put at risk, is a small price to pay.

Today, they got to experience the fruit of those choices by having their first day of classes, which made camp feel properly begun. We played Biffer Medic last night, an elaborate game of tag in which campers try to match clues to staff members (Mine was “I was roasted by a guy who lost the US presidential race.” The roaster in question was Bob Dole. I got to explain to several campers who Bob Dole was.) while avoiding Biffers (counselors armed with a sock full of flour) and completing crazy tasks assigned by Medics (counselors dressed in crazy costumes) to get unfrozen when they did get biffed. Tonight, we’ll have Cabin Adventure, in which every cabin will have its own unique activity, devised by their counselors. The first few days of camp are critical for establishing the tone of the session, and each cabin getting time together is a massive part of that.

Thank you for sharing your children with us. We recognize what an act of trust that is and seek to earn that trust every day. Be sure to follow our daily updates on our Instagram Stories, and to come back here next Sunday after another week of adventures.