June 17, 2013
Camp is all about community living. Many of our campers are only children. Many (most?) of the rest have private bedrooms. Sharing a sleeping space is not something they do often.
And suddenly, we have 8-12 campers and 2-3 counselors sharing a room the size of a large living room.
On first glance, it seems like an almost impossible arrangement, but this is an area where surprises abound.
But before I share the surprises, I will tell you a few things that will NOT surprise you.
The cabins are always clean or neat. In fact, they rarely are either, except for during inspection. That is about the only hour that the typical cabin does not look like a war zone. Campers do not strive for neatness and order as much as most adults. Nope, a healthy helping of chaos is much appreciated.
Stuff can get lost and even broken. When you combine lots of stuff with lots of feet and questionable organizational skills, you will have some losses.
But the surprises makes all of this worthwhile.
To start, sharing becomes a skill that is well-honed. Sharing makes cabinmates happy. Even reluctant sharers eventually realize that sharing is a must when living so close together.
Territorial bubbles shrink substantially. When this happens, something special occurs. The campers become more selfless. They value the group and not just themselves.
Since they interact with each other all day, every day; they are force to be themselves. In other words, they do not have the luxury of pretending to be someone else – it is too exhausting to wear a mask for 16 hours a day. Instead, each camper can be his or her authentic self and be loved. That is a rare gift outside of the immediate family.
Every moment is not paradise. Campers learn conflict resolution. They learn to be flexible since the cabin does not always want to play the same game they want to play.
One of the best techniques to build cabin unity and communication is to create their own cabin rules. This happens on the first day and the campers in the cabin make the list themselves. Counselors can ask questions (e.g., “what do you think about gossiping?”), but the rules all come from the campers. The rules are theirs and they feel ownership, so they are more likely to follow them.
I have shared a copy of the rules from Boys Cabin 9. [Note: Each of the Letterman cabins (#5-9) is a clan named after an animal. The Lettermen Division Leader (George Sir) has created a legend that each cabin (excuse me, each clan) has a role in.] I think my favorite rule is “be manly men”. I have absolutely no idea what this means, but I can picture them voting to include it on the list despite the obvious ambiguity. The rest of the rules are a pretty good blueprint for a solid cabin.
Yep, I think Thomas Jefferson would be proud of the Wolf Clan!