It Was Never About the “Could Nots” and “Can’t Haves”

Today marks a temporary end to an experience that has taught me more than coaching ever has. After being in the coaching world for six years, abruptly going back to my summer camp roots seemed like a far stretch. In fact on my first day of work there I sat in the office nearly in tears because I missed what I knew so much. Then slowly but surely everything started to have its reasons. I started to learn again. It started becoming a challenge again. There were things that I had no control over and no knowledge on how to deal with it but I learned, we all did.

The first day I was determined to establish a routine; that’s the first thing they tell you in a lot of kids courses, kids like routines. Kids with challenges like routine. So…here is my beef with routine. Routine is boring. Routine, no offence teachers, is too much like school and at summer camp we cannot be like school. Routine is not realistic. Traffic happens as do MVA’s and sicknesses that throw our lives around. I quickly learned that for some of these kids, life itself was more sporadic and spontaneous than anything I thought I knew. So why on earth would they thrive in an environment not similar to what they’ve only ever known? For a great portion of their day we encouraged them to act in the way they were designed to. This doesn’t mean we thrived on absolutely no schedule or set activities for the day-it just meant that when we promised something, we kept our word and when we said, “you’ll find out later”, we meant it. My routine on the first day did not work. Kids ate faster than I humanly thought was possible and it lessened the eating time by twenty minutes. Kids can get into a lot of stuff in twenty minutes. This was the day I sat in the office and contemplated what I was doing, I liked structure, strictness and a competitive edge and drive my athletes had. I thought to myself, “this is going to be a long summer”. Routine died that day at camp. The secret was having a routine in my head and not telling anybody.

Fast forward to today; I’d like to mention there were no tears shed today because it wasn’t sad to say goodbye. It was celebratory. It was a, “You can do it. You can conquer the world.” The kids who walked in here on the first day were not the same kids that walked out and for the better. We did that. So how did we do that?

First off, I had the most amazing leaders. These young adults grew up with these kids, tutor them and know them, their lives, their quarks, inside and out. Most important, they know how they grow up because they grew up the same way. They were the biggest asset. They saw kids for who they are, not just what papers and people may say about them. They could see the good in them but also knew when to be to-the-point about things that were wrong.  My contribution was the creativity and perhaps the fact that I came in from a different angle. The leaders led them to be good people today and I led them to be good people for tomorrow. Both of them are important. The way we dealt with discipline was not a trip to the supervisors office or in time-out chairs. There is ALWAYS a reason for a reaction, good or bad. So we came at it from a different perspective: let’s be over-the-moon ecstatic for exceptional behaviour and celebrate it. Every time. Every day. Each week. All summer. When there was a problem behaviour we didn’t baby, we didn’t soothe. There were no big speeches about right and wrong, good or bad, I’m calling your parents, sit here and think. There was, “And how are you going to make this better?”. “I don’t know” was accepted because honestly, if you don’t know that what you did was wrong how would you know what to do about it? However “I don’t know” didn’t mean you could walk away. “I don’t know” meant we added “yet” to the end of the sentence and we expected thinking to happen until they came up with the answer.  At some point it was mentioned, “you’re not a bad person, you’re a very good person who just did a really stupid thing.” Did that make sense to them? “I don’t know…yet”.

We did empathy focus. If someone got hurt by someone, either by mistake or on purpose, the “hurter” had to sit with the “hurt” until they felt better. Turns out this was the strangest thing I have witnessed (yes, beats pooping on the floor) because I realized we all needed lessons in empathy. The more the kid was hurt, the longer their buddy had to sit there…ironically saying “Stop being hurt so I can play”  for a bit was the go-to soothing phrase. Eventually though, two things happened: People stopped making drama about their tiny injuries or “He said, she said” because it was awkward having to sit together and figure it out in silence. The perpetrators stopped being perpetrators because it was awkward trying to figure out what to say in order to get them to feel better faster. This worked for both physical and verbal confrontations. I am not saying we expected kids to administer First Aid but we expected kids to acknowledge that we can hurt people both on purpose and by accident however both warrant an apology, empathetic actions and the ability to move forward.

The final piece was what I have decided to call, unstructured structure. What most people don’t know is that while we did majority of projects based on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) focus, we administered it as Problem-Based Learning (oooh…fancy). I also combined it with the way I completed High School as, Self-Directed Learning. This meant that I explained what it was doing (the problem it was solving), what the final product looks like, and a few things I had noticed when I was making it. Other than that, there was no step-by-step, there were no written instructions, there was just a model example and plenty of helping hands. I’d say, “This is what it needs to be able to do, how you do it is up to you. Because of that, it doesn’t need to look like this but following it as a model will help. However, you must do it. No options.” They needed to compile their materials, figure out how much they needed of what, figure out what needed to be done first (because let’s face it, we only had 4 pairs of scissors to go around). I’ll say it again, I had amazing leaders because we made amazing messes. The only challenge to this was that I had two age groups that had vastly different needs but both needed to be stimulating and Pinterest can only go so far. Being creative has its perks. STEM turned into STEAM as we added the art component…HAH. Because apparently when you’re trying to make things simpler you add on an extra focus (that’s Orn logic for you right there). And that’s how “Make Herman Float” was born.

That’s all we did. My title for this post is perhaps confusing for those who haven’t figured out our strategy for how we tackled the summer. Yes, you can say we had amazing things like STEAM, Taekwondo, camp pets, bouncy castles, Olympic day, Pie-Your-Fave-Leader, property wide capture the flag, frog releasing ceremonies but those were just things that happened-the greatness of the summer was not because of those things. It was never about giving them things they didn’t have, it was never about making them be someone they couldn’t be, it was always about meeting them where they were at and then expecting them to be greater. It was about challenging them to be good people because we recognized their goodness daily, it was about allowing them to make their choices but expecting commitment to the result. To do this we had to do those things but it was not because of those things that they left the building as different citizens. Most importantly, it was allowing ourselves and them to develop a bond and a relationship. Some kids needed a leader they could rely on whenever and while some people would say that it shouldn’t happen because it’s not good for their development in a world that is constantly changing…how can you expect spontaneous, sporadic kids to develop their own learning foundations when they don’t have an actual foundation with someone they have chosen to trust? Everybody needs someone they’ve chosen. If we can be that someone, we will be that someone until we can no longer be someone for them. Yes, summer is over, but I truthfully believe that with the attention to character that the leaders have given and the love that we have entrusted and instilled in each kid, there is a foundation if not with all of us, at least some of us. Each kid had a leader that meant something to them. There is the memory of it and I think we all know the power of memories.

In the future I would consider a “Pie-Your-Fave-Kid” activity, but the grocery store would be sold out of Cool Whip 🙂

The crystals we are drawn to are more

times than not

the crystals that we need

for healing.

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