The only thing that is constant is change.
Our lives are full of change: climate, style, diet, opinion, music, expertise, technology, even our historical contexts…shifting sands at every turn. Nowhere, nowadays, is more in flux than the field of education, with parents and teachers facing a multimedia barrage of conventional and unconventional wisdoms on the care and feeding of happy, intelligent children. There’s the Core Curriculum, No Child Left Behind, Every Student Succeeds, A Nation at Risk, Race to the Top, and now STEM – science, technology, engineering and math. The Three R’s might not have served us all that well, but they at least had the virtue of simplicity, of not overthinking matters.
32 years ago, before I started The Nature Place, I visited some well-established day camps and asked their inveterate directors for advice. I was told, among other things, that access to computers was going to be essential; that awards, award ceremonies and trophies – especially trophies – were crucial; that my interest in a non-competitive environment was out of step – and might even be seen as ‘sissified’. On the contrary, I needed to have a full complement of sports programs, and camp would just not be camp without ‘color wars’, a combative week of partisan aggression that was an alleged favorite with the kids. And a camp could not be financially stable without at least 500 campers, despite the potential for those numbers to make counseling the equivalent of crowd management.
I was advised to arrange rainy day contingencies with local movie theaters, to keep campers as happily dry and entertained as possible. And it would be prudent to include some academics, to reassure parents that the learning paradigm didn’t get lost in the summer shuffle. That last consideration has been steadily gaining traction lately: I understand some camps this summer will be weaving STEM concepts into their activities. We will also be weaving some stems this summer…the non-capitalized kind.
You might wonder why I bothered to consult anyone, given that I eventually chose to ignore most of what these successful camp owners and directors told me. I really wasn’t being contrary or smug…I certainly didn’t suppose that I was the only one in the parade marching out of step. I was just following my instincts, not entirely confident that they would prove out. Gulp. In retrospect, whether I was bemused by naïveté or imbued by beginner’s mind, I decided to take my own counsel. Let’s just do it and see what happens.
Since then we’ve made many changes and adjustments — every year we re-examine our structure, our programming, our logistics. But even though we ask ourselves again and again whether we’re still doing what we set out to do, our philosophy hasn’t changed. The political scene, the cultural morass, the earth itself may be changing, but what we offer our campers seems to us to be…well, natural.