Every moment of camp is not fun, nor is it designed to be.  Sure, we have great activities and special events.  The counselors and cabinmates become like siblings and dear friends.

But we also have some tough moments that lead to teachable experiences.  As I wrote in an earlier blog, overcoming homesickness is a powerful experience that can improve confidence and independence. 

A girls’ cabin that struggles with strong personalities helps its campers learn how to negotiate and compromise. A messy and disorganized boy’s cabin learns responsibility and improved communication. 

During our counselor orientation, we train the counselors to see challenges as opportunities.   We tell them “a camper exhibiting undesirable behavior is telling you the skills that he or she needs to learn”.  I love this way of framing behavior, as it allows us to love the camper while not loving the behavior.  Further, it turns “bad” behavior into a skills deficit rather than insolence or rebellion.

With this attitude, a heated cabin argument is a chance for the counselor to teach empathy.  A camper who struggles with a difficult defeat provides a chance to model sportsmanship.

We like to say that the truly teachable moments happen unexpectedly.  For example, a counselor that is at archery might have two campers dispute who gets to shoot next.  In that moment, the counselor has a chance to teach an important lesson that has nothing to do with arrows. Clearly, conflict resolution will ultimately be a better skill than archery (unless we think the Hunger Games will actually happen).

This weekend, we had a camper drop some trash in front of one of our kitchen staff.  She asked him to pick it up and he refused, explaining that his parents paid money to send him to camp and therefore he shouldn’t have to pick stuff up. This provided a chance to talk about responsibility (cleaning up) and respect (treating others as having value).  We see this as a nice chance for him to learn a lesson in a safe environment that will help him be more considerate next time. 

We do not see him as a “rude” boy, but as a young man that needs to understand how comments like that make someone feel.  We also want him to be an accountable adult.

About 10 years ago, we assigned our 10th graders to spend some time each wieek in the kitchen. They help serve meals to the campers and will help with dishes.  At first, they wondered why they “had” to do this, but slowly the lessons emerged. Here are my favorites:

  • I never realized how much effort went into making meals at camp – I appreciate the Fillin’ Station crew so much more now.
  • If we put on some music, we can have fun doing dishes.  I guess any task can be OK with the right attitude.
  • Most of the people I know have gone to college or plan to go to college.  Spending time in the kitchen has introduced me to people that see the world a little differently.  It has helped me realize two things.  First, I know I want to go to college so that I will have more employment choices! Second (and more importantly), everyone in the kitchen is really a lovely person.  We talk about their lives and their families. I guess everyone is worth getting to know!

Learning lessons like that AND having fun, that is a great three weeks.


Steve Sir

P.S.  The photo comes from Ms Champini.  In this picture, Emily Ma’am is a fork.  The campers have started a chant of “let the forks live” in response to our efforts to reduce the number of flatware pieces that end up in the trash accidentally. This silly chant has become a “thing” at camp and inspired this outfit.

P.P.S.  No birthdays on the 13th.  The girls had “Sing Song” for the older half of camp. Sing Song is where campers rewrite words to a song to make it about camp and then perform (with some choreography) for the other girls.  It is an example of great talent and creative play.  The boys enjoyed the Aquanaut All-Star basketball game.


Want more like this? See: http://blog.campchampions.com/disruptive-moments