July 2, 2015
We believe in starting and ending everyday with great intentionality and fun.The day begins with flag-raising. Many camps have some form of morning assembly, but we try to make ours special. In technical terms, we want the first moments of each day to “prime” our community for a good day.
The Chancellor of the University of Texas and former Admiral of the Navy William McRaven once gave a graduation speech where he advised people to begin each day making your bed. This simple act tricks your brain into believing that you are capable of success (after all, you completed your first goal of the day by making the bed) and that you will have more success. Psychologists call this “priming”.
We want to prime our community for a day of optimism and excitement. And the ridiculous energy and silliness present at flag raising helps frame what might be a dreaded event - waking up, singing the National Anthem first thing, and listening to announcements - with positivity and anticipation.
Flag raising is not so much an act of patriotism as a gathering and celebration of life. We have over 12 nations represented in our community, so once we raise the flags, we turn to other thoughts.
I attempt to model high energy. Since I am legitimately excited about every day at camp, this is not all that hard. We announce birthdays and special events. Members of our Leadership Team each have their own theme for the morning. We call them the “Panel of Wisdom”.
Greg Golf gives us “giggles with Greg”, which has included inchworming across the grass, pretending to be a hamster, and a jumping chest bump with the flag pole (do not try this at home). Spencer Duran provides “Common Spence” with useful advice. Michael Burch names things that are “totally… awesome” (which involves group participation and arm motions). The Rookie Division leader Ben Baiamonte gives us advice on how to be a “bro”. This includes enjoying “Broga” (he challenged campers to try yoga) and teaching “bretiquette”. Bretiquette is actually normal manners, but simply explained using the vocal tone of a bro. For example, we learned today that men should allow women to go first, except on stairs.
I mentioned how Robbie Messner teaches the “Robbie”, his silly dance moves. This is when this happens. Erec Hillis shares thoughts on how to “crush life”, which means many things, but includes seeing opportunities where others see problems.
We conclude each day honoring a former camp director who moved to South Carolina about 5 years ago. Roger Matthew Wiggins (Wiggy Sir) was one of the most positive people I have ever met. Everyday I saw him and asked him how he was doing, he would give the same answer, “I’m just excited!” So at each flag-raising, we designate someone (usually the birthday guys and their counselors) to “channel” Wiggy Sir and say how they are “just excited”. We have heard songs, seen skits and enjoyed jokes.
We end every day with our “nightly rituals”. Every cabin concludes the day with a conversation. In these rituals, each camper talks about the high point of his or her day as well as what they wish they had done differently or better. I will share an article on optimism later that explains how such activity can help “rewire” a person’s brain to make them more capable, functional and confident.
For the younger campers, these rituals are fairly short. Each camper talks a little bit and the counselors finish the ritual by reading to the campers. [Note: I still love to be read to and I am 50 years old.] As the campers become older, the conversations become more substantive. A cabin might address their internal dynamics or set goals. Counselors guide their campers toward discussing issues such as how to teach optimism, build confidence, improve self-esteem, effectively collaborate and communicate with peers, and more.
When a counselor wants to make a message particularly impactful, he or she might change the location of the ritual: going onto the docks or the deck of the Pirate Ship or simply sitting on the soft St. Augustine grass at the sailpoint. Staring at the stars is one of the many unique benefits of sleepaway camp, and a wonderful way to end a day. It creates a powerful a shared experience that the campers will remember. Additionally, it creates another frame for the next day at camp: if the nightly ritual is gratitudes, then campers will search for things to be grateful for. If the nightly ritual is highlights of the day, then campers will be sure to remember their favorite moments.
I have such powerful memories from my youth staring at the sky at sleepaway camp. Since we have so much less light pollution than cities, the skies look distinctly more alive. You see so many more stars that you are not sure it is the same sky. Watching the sky this way while spending time with friends is truly precious.
And a perfect way to end a day.
Want more like this? See: http://blog.campchampions.com/parents/optimism-and-success