A few months ago I was putting the finishing touches on my upcoming book, Artificial Maturity. I put out a request for readers to share stories of practical ways we can prepare students for adulthood. I wanted to include real-life examples from people around the world.
The response was absolutely overwhelming! I’m so thankful for everyone who took time to share ideas. There were so many more than could be included in one chapter of a book. But I wanted everyone to hear these great ideas. So here’s the plan: over the course of next year, I’ll share a story that someone submitted. I hope you find them as challenging and helpful as I did!
Here’s this week’s story:
I run a summer day camp that is mostly geared towards kids in Kindergarten through fifth grade. We have about 30 campers. However, as the childen have grown too old for our program, we find many do not want to leave. Nearly all of them are not equipped to spend a summer at home unsupervised. So we take on the 6th graders through 12th graders as our leadership team. The requirements are that the child must have been in our summer camp program as a camper, and that it must be their idea to return (no parents forcing them into it).
The leadership team meets once per week leading up to camp starting some time around spring break. They have input into everything from the kinds of fieldtrips we do, to the kinds of games we play, even how we will arrange our lunch and daily schedules. Also during the lessons, we planned on teaching leadership, but realized, what they really needed at this point was people skills. So this year we just talked about skills with people and ran over scenarios they might encounter in and out of camp.
When camp started, the younger campers were divided into six mixed-age teams. Our student leadership team took turns leading each team everyday. Ideally a team would look like this: One High School leader paired with one Junior High leader paired with five kids one each from each grade level 1st grade through 5th. The team leaders would be responsible for activities within lessons, (like helping the kids make a skit on self-discipline) lining their kids up for snack time or fieldtrips, and leading the morning exercise times. Each High School and Junior High school leader would lead the group for one day and then be paired with a different peer and switch to the next group to lead a new group of kids the following day (avoiding cliques).
One of the areas we really found to be incredibly beneficial was in the area of what we call “contribute.” This is basically a chore time. We highly emphasized how it takes everyone’s contribution to make a camp (or home) run. We needed every person large and small to keep things going smoothly. Each group “contributed” to the camp by doing a chore for a week and then rotating on to the next chore with their group. We called it contribute time because we found the word chore sort of had a stigma attached and the children were much more enthusiastic about contributing than doing chores. The contributions were cleaning one of the two rest rooms, cleaning our kitchen area, washing windows and straightening the welcome area, and serving younger daycare children by cleaning playgrounds or making serving and cleaning up snack. We were able to witness how closely work and self esteem are related.
We have issues with many of our high school students not being able to find work right now, and we successfully created a work experience out of a need to mentor the younger students. We also had the high school students lead a reflection time in the afternoon. Here they would sit at a table with their campers. Each camper, student leader and adult would write a thank you note to someone in their life during this time. When they were done, we had a system inplace for them to also write nice things about each other and display them in our room. This activity took about 15 minutes out of our day but changed our culture!!!!
Throughout the day, the student leaders had clipboards for positive notes about their group. They compiled a list of everything good they saw (Jenni lined up without being told twice, Jessica said something nice to Bobby, ect.) They were instructed to leave out negative items or behavior issues. At the end of the day the adults would collect these and determine which group won the “camp cup” for that day. It was a great activity in both cooperationa and competition, but was moslty designed to teach a method of looking for the positive.
What we learned:
First, it takes more time and effort, not less to include many age groups, but it is worth the effort. The student leaders were not there to alleviate work for the adults. More supervision had to be done and in a stealth like way when you have 16 year olds talking to 5 year olds. Frankly, I expected to have issues with kindergarten parents. Through proper edification and equipping of these teens we were able to show overprotective parents how beneficial multi-age relationships are. On the contrary, we had not one parent complain about or question the presence of the older students. In fact, many of our teens have become regular babysitters since the school year started. We provided a position for our younger kids to aspire to. Many of them are looking forward to staying on as mentors when they get a little older.
Next, we learned that most of our leadership training could be done in the first and last hour or two of the day. I am not a fan of overscheduling children. I feel they need free time to express play as they see fit. We were able to do two hours in the morning and one in the afternoon and spend the rest of the day playing in multilevel age groups learning to interact naturally with people older and younger than us. We worked on our culture.
Last, because we are connected to a church and spiritually have so many ages and levels working at once together, we found some messages like the need for self discipline, action, enthusiasm and simplification transcend age. We can make people well by teaching these things, hereby increasing the chances that at some point they will do good. Even the parents needed these messages. This was our first year running camp this way. We are making notes, scrapping the bad, adding some good, and looking forward to next year. We have some student leaders committed to return and some who will be just old enough to begin leading. We look forward to their input as we have a lot to learn from them.
Darah W, Sarasota, FL
Thanks so much, Darah, for sharing your story of generations working together to achieve goals. I often say that “students support what they help create,” and it certainly seems that your students are helping create an incredible culture.
Where have you seen students exceed expectations when given a challenge?
For more information about leading this generation well,
read Generation iY: Our Last Chance to Save Their Future.