As often as possible, I like to walk down into camp each morning instead of driving my car because of the many things I can notice along the way. This morning’s find was an old stick with a cluster of tiny mushrooms from the marasmius genus. We have had so much rain of late that many varieties of fungi are popping up around camp. Nature class is on the hunt.
Yesterday, I was so profoundly struck by this article in the New York Times. I had been ruminating on how we can build fortitude in our children. For those of you who follow my blogs, you are very aware that one of our primary missions at Keystone is to instill confidence and resilience in our girls. I was able to use a very simple lesson learned by one of our staff to let her see how important a little thing in life can be.
As I neared the office in my walk, one of our counselors came up to me to share that she has now successfully unclogged 3 toilets since arriving at camp. Not only was she proud of herself for this accomplishment, but she also shared that she found satisfaction in being successful at the chore. Toilets are an important item at a girls’ camp! Clogged toilets are a daily event that must be managed, and we have the expectation that our cabin counselors are our first responders. Needless to say, some of our staff arrived having never had to unclog a toilet, much less one for which they themselves are not responsible for clogging. This counselor faced her very first clogged toilet at Keystone, and it was a real challenge for her to face. Now with 3 behind her, she is quite confident.
We talked for a while about the significance of her success. She did something she had never done before. She stared down a task that was fairly unpleasant, bordering on gross, and she achieved success. Not only that, but she achieved affirmation of her own value. She felt competent and capable. Success at the little things feeds our success at the big things.
Let’s step back and look at this more globally as it pertains to life lessons. The success in unclogging a toilet can be a metaphor for so much more in life. How do our children develop a sense of their own value to themselves and others? How do they develop confidence in themselves? What are the life experiences that help our children discover their unique selves?
As I have mentioned before, I am extremely concerned about the impact of social media and today’s all-access television on all of us. Too often, our children spend hours passively receiving entertainment. They are not responsible for finding physical or mental activities to challenge themselves. If one screen doesn’t fill the void, there are thousands of others from which to choose. You really never have to put down your phone as it can provide you with constant entertainment.
I was lucky enough to have only 3 television channels in my childhood. When there was nothing to watch, a sewing project, crafts or playing outside filled my time. I was able to occupy my time and very often generate a product that instilled a sense of pride in myself. I also had many chores to do that helped my family and my family’s business. I knew I was needed, and I knew my family depended on me to fill an important role.
Camp is now one of the rare times children are unplugged for a significant amount of time. Camp is the place to learn about your value in the larger community. Camp challenges girls to stare down a challenge and reach a successful outcome. Camp requires the girls to fill specific chore roles. The individual role benefits the entire cabin in their inspection score…and might even end with a trip to Dolly’s Ice Cream Bar! Camp allows the girls to find new ways to occupy themselves. They discover interests that might stay with them throughout their lives. (I am very proud that one of my girls used our shared interest in slime molds as her intellectual curiosity essay for college entrance this year!) When I think of all that goes on in our Arts & Crafts shop, I know so many projects can easily be used as hobbies during the rest of the year. Some schools have shooting teams for our budding target sports stars. Hiking, camping, rock climbing, kayaking, and the list goes on and on. So many skills to learn and so many opportunities to be outside, to be with friends and to share talents.
Our girls are valuable, talented, generous and engaging. Our girls can be fulfilled by their activities and their relationships. This sense of self cannot be built through a screen. We have to live in these physical and mental activities and through our relationships to become aware of who we are and what we want for ourselves as we grow into adults. We are living as fully as possible at camp.
Pull the plug as often as you can. Be aware of what your daughter is doing online. No phones allowed in the car or at meals. Be completely present when you are together and require the same of your girl. Always remind her of her strengths, her talents and her value, and most importantly, how much she is loved and how important she is to your life and to her own.