Last summer we did something new at camp, or rather out of camp. In the past when we planned our day hikes in Harriman State Park we always put two groups of similar age together, i.e. groups B and C would go on a hike together, groups H and I, etc. It made sense and always worked out quite fine. At The Nature Place we love hiking!
Before last summer began, at one of our pre-summer planning sessions, we looked at our hiking program with ‘out of the box’ eyes. Or as we like to say at camp: we “opened our minds and said, ‘Ah’.” We saw new possibilities if we paired a younger group with an older one for some of the day hikes. It was fantastic! Everyone – campers, counselors, hike leaders – all agreed! Let’s do it some more.
On these hikes older campers helped younger ones. Little ones were able to show their older partners things that perhaps only younger or lower-to-the-ground eyes could see. The younger campers were smiling, happy, proud and looked up to their older hiking companions. I know that some of them felt, “Wow! This big kid is talking to me, and is even eating lunch with me on the mountain top!”. Older campers were not bashful as they started conversations/connections with the younger ones on the bus even before we arrived at the trail head. There were quiet hiking times, with really young campers sometimes walking down the trail, hand in hand, with older campers. Together we did ‘still-hunting’, took rest and water breaks, and told jokes and shared riddles.
The connections, the different ways of getting to know each other in the outdoors, helped out by the joyful surroundings of nature and the presence of kind and caring staff, were special to behold.
Days later back at camp when the two groups passed each other between activities, you can be sure there were many high fives, smiles of recognition, and shouts of “Hello!”
This summer every group at camp will go on a day hike with a younger or older group. Sometimes it’s not a big, new camp activity, or a flashy addition to our playground that makes an impact on the experience of campers at camp. Rather, it can be thoughtful insight and a subtle programming change that help make a summer experience even more powerful.