Right where we should be

Greetings from Hilltop. It’s a great day at Camp. We’re just over halfway through the session, and these campers are right where they should be.

I often espouse the benefits of four-week camp in these blog posts. This midway point gives me the chance to point out something specific about how we make the most of each session here. When I’m talking about four-week camp, I often explain that a more extended camp gives time for ups and downs. That’s certainly true. What I say less often is that there’s a bit of a formula to our program which nudges our community of young people through those ups and downs.

It’s most easily thought of by breaking up the four weeks. In the first week, we establish normal. We get everyone comfortable. We need to teach new campers a lot in that first week, but even returners need that first week to get into the swing of a new summer. So, we get into the routine as quickly as we possibly can after the campers arrive, and we try not to deviate from it too much.

By the second week, we’re ready for a little deviation, so the second week has lots of special events. We had our Fourth of July parade (Second Session, by the way, has a special activity that serves a similar function to the Fourth), and on Friday, we had Gypsy Day.

Gypsy Day is an old camp tradition, begun in Ruth Brown’s era when the water system failed. Miss Ruth sent everyone out of camp on a scavenger hunt for the day. The campers had an adventure, and the water system could be repaired.  Today, we prepare a little bit more. The Head of Girls and Music Director surprise the senior girls by waking up them early with songs. The senior girls form a chain, and continue the singing and waking up of camp, moving through Girls’ Side and Boys’ Side and eventually ending up on the sports field, where we play some group games like In and Out the Windows and Duck, Duck, Goose. We then come back to Girls’ Side for flags and a special breakfast of eggs, sugared cereal (the only time of the session), and muffins baked by the CTs with fortunes inside. At breakfast, each camper receives a clue that starts them on an all-day scavenger hunt. In the afternoon, we rest a bit and then gather in a special spot in camp to recognize a few campers, chosen by the staff, who have done a particularly good job of living Four Winds’ values. It’s a big day.

We have one more special event in week two yet to come, the Gypsy Sisters/Swamp Chomp lunches, our only gender-separated meal of the session. The senior girls have been making secret gifts and notes for younger girls, their gypsy sisters, since the beginning of camp. Those sisters will be revealed at a lunch at the garden on Monday. Meanwhile, the boys will eat a special meal on the sports field, prepped by the Top Gallant boys and smoked by yours truly. We’ll have lawn games and a great time.

All these curveballs we throw the kids generate tons of an old Waldorf School theme – Wish, Wonder, and Surprise. When people talk about camp being magic, they mean lots of things, but this is undoubtedly one of them. For today’s kids, digital natives, to experience that wish, wonder, and surprise in a completely unplugged way is perhaps an even bigger gift than it was decades ago.

So, when I say that these campers are right where they should be, that’s what I mean. They’ve figured out how to be in this place, and they’re ready for a few curveballs. We’re giving them a few, and they’re knocking them out of the park.

The third and fourth week have their places in the formula as well. I’m sure I’ll talk about those later in the session, but I’ll briefly talk about them here. This coming week the senior campers will leave on their six-day trip. It’s a huge adventure, perfect for their developmental stage. Some of them are a bit nervous now at the challenge in front of them, perhaps the physical part of it, perhaps the social part of it. They’ll set out on their adventures in one of the most beautiful places in the world and come back full of inside jokes and pride at their accomplishments. For the juniors and intermediates left back in camp, they’ll get a smaller group, a change of pace, and special activities that we reserve for this week.

The final week is, in my opinion, the best. With the end of camp close, everyone begins to value it just a little bit more. That, combined with lots of opportunity for celebration and reflection, creates a perfect capstone to this experience.

But enough looking ahead for now. As I wrote at the beginning, these campers are right where they should be at this point in the experience. Camp is best when everyone is focused on the here and now, and I can’t wait to spend the rest of this Sunday with the kids. Until next week, be sure to follow our daily updates on Twitter. Thank you for sharing your children with us.