Rather than the Apples and Onions approach to the wrap-up, I’m going to switch to “Rose, Thorn, Bud”. The Rose moment is obvious, as is the Thorn. The Bud refers to that small something that you hope will grow into something beautiful, but so far is just the suggestion of a flower.
Rose: My Rose for the whole summer is hard to pick. I’m not even sure if I should go with one of those beautiful little vignettes that captures a small moment but symbolizes a lot, or if I should try to explain the overall sense of fabulousness I felt this summer. This Apple from Week Two was definitely one of the overall high points. I learned a lot this summer about how to interact with kids as people, rather than as kids. Not sure if that makes sense to people who don’t already work with kids. But there is such a magical thing that happens for me when I treat kids as peers. They act like peers. And in many cases, they know more than I do about whatever we’re doing anyway. Kids who have been to four years of WAS camps are probably better at making friction fires than I am, and they are possibly better at finding berries, and they usually know a plant or two that I don’t know, and they are almost certainly better than me at catching snakes. Since these are all things that I would like to be better at, it’s easy to approach them as the experts, and this seems to be something that they don’t get much in the rest of their lives. If I recall correctly, childhood involves dealing with a long line of ignorant and condescending adults. So when I left the kids in charge of their own experiences, extraordinary things happened. Like when a whole group of 11 kids decided that they wanted to see how silently they could walk down a trail. We spaced out so we were just out of sight from each other and foxwalked for a solid 20 minutes. (These kids were ages 10 and 11…can you imagine eleven 10-year old kids being silent in the woods for 20 minutes by their own choice!?) They were so silent that a winter wren 5 feet off the trail was still singing by the time I, at the end of the line, meandered past. In that same group, two kids saw a weasel at different times. And at the end of the week the whole group witnessed a bird alarm traveling through a blackberry thicket, culminating in the last two kids in line seeing the bobcat emerge from the end of the thicket. And they all knew what the bird alarm was without me saying anything.
John C, the director of the Summer Camp programs, says that he often has parents complain that we don’t actually “teach” their kids anything. We have all these opportunities to teach them the names of birds and animals and trees and ecology and blah blah blah but instead we just wander around in the woods with them. John consistently tells each parent to take their kids for a walk in the woods before they make a judgement about what they learned during the week. And consistently the parents come back apologetically, amazed at how much their kids tell them about the woods as they walk through it. John tells the story as an illustration of what he calls the “invisible school”. That kids don’t realize that they are learning anything, so when parents ask “What did you learn today?” they get no answers. And after spending a week with us in the “invisible school” they actually know tons of information about wild edible plants, and what to do for stinging nettle stings, and the difference between dog tracks and cat tracks, and about a billion other things. But here’s what I’m wondering after this summer: Do we actually teach them that stuff? Or do we just start, after a week, to hear them saying the stuff that they’ve known all along?
Thorn: I had really consistently good experiences with the kids, so my thorn has to be my continued sense of disconnection from the community that surrounds WAS. It is a closed system, and not much room for outskirters. Each Friday was a wrenching sense of grief at saying goodbye to the group of instructors I had come to respect and value through the week, knowing that none of them would make an effort to continue that relationship outside of work. It was easier this year, since I was prepared for it and made better plans for supporting myself with friends and family outside of work, but it is still emotionally tiring to grieve the loss of a community every Friday, and then turn around and create a new connection with that community (different instructors, same community) every Monday. It is necessary to create that connection in order to do the job all week; instructors rely on each other heavily. And it is necessary to break that connection every Friday. It’s a rough way to spend a summer.
Bud: The bud came in this last week, in which I was taking pictures in exchange for getting to attend the Art of Mentoring class. I have been working within this model for the last couple years that I’ve been working with the school, but I hadn’t ever taken the class where they actually lay out all the components of the model and explain them all. I highly highly recommend it to anyone reading this who works with kids, or has kids, or has nieces and nephews, or teaches adults, or basically lives in this world. There were many many pieces that made a lot of sense to me, but the particular one that I’ve grabbed on to is one of those “oh duh! Why didn’t I realize that!?” sort of things.
Basically, there are two ways to get new information into your brain. You can drop facts into the “In” box, and if there is a spot within your existing understanding of the world where that fact fits, it will stick. A lot of information just filters right on through. You can also create a spot for new information by triggering a “fight or flight” response in conjunction with this information. You are a lot more likely to remember something that you learned while in an adrenalated state. For the first few weeks that I’ve been working with the siblings at my new job, I’ve felt like I’m just dropping all of this really cool information into a bottomless well. There’s no resistance to it, but there’s no sense that it’s ever lodged anywhere. And it totally makes sense to me that the way to get information to stick is to present it in terms of challenges. The house is on the beach so…”I bet I can capture more female crabs than you can in the next 5 minutes!” And then there’s a reason for the sexing of crabs to matter, and where you’re mostly likely to find crabs is relevant, and does any kind of crab count, or does it have to be a particular kind…how can you tell the difference? Or, in the grocery store, “close your eyes. What color was the hair of the last person who passed us? Where they wearing a necklace? Were their ears pierced?” and now there’s a reason to pay attention to your surroundings (not to mention something to keep them engaged while doing something as lame as grocery shopping with the nanny). I’m excited about this, and I hope it turns into something amazing. I’m excited to have this new tool, which I totally should have thought of sooner.
I know there was a request for additional stories from the camps, but I’m afraid none of the details are coming to me right now. As they come to me, I’ll post them, so I guess you’ll just have to keep reading throughout the year 🙂