Summer camp 2016 was fantastic! This was our first year doing 4 weeks of camp as well as our first camp fully partnering with University Primary School and it was a huge success! We were lucky enough to witness play experiences that constantly blow my mind. Kids truly are amazing and will surprise you every single time with what they come up with completely on their own.
We saw so many amazing things this summer: water play, muddy water play, potions from nature, nature art, zip lines, costumes, cardboard houses, sword fighting, obstacle courses, pulling each other on carts, fort making, art projects, bug collecting and lots of nature exploration. So many amazing play occurrences that it won’t fit in one post. So here are the 4 favorite play scenarios I witnessed to give you a peek into what happens when kids are in charge of their play with KOOP!
One of the most fascinating play themes to me during this camp was how frequently adult “work” scenarios were created by kids.The most memorable scene which spread over many days of camp and involved a revolving number of kids who came and went at their leisure, was a game where the kids played in the mud using PVC pipes. The kids all worked on the same project- a sewage treatment plant- and they discussed their names (which stayed the same as their real names) and their ages. As they discussed how old they were, they decided that if a kid was older in real life they should also be older in the game. So the kids were all around 30, although some decided to be teenagers (30 is so old, right?!). This was also special because it came and went over all 4 weeks with some of our 4 week campers continuing it and new kids joining each week. They decided on the point of the game, which, from what I could tell, was to create an even stream for water to flow. They added more and more water on dry days and enjoyed the bounty of mud after rain. The “point” of the game isn’t even important. They didn’t sit down and have a meeting to decide what would happen. It happened organically, with one child starting to work on it and others seeing what was happening and joining the mission or discussing what they were doing when asked by their peers. Truly child- led play, right?
2. We offered whittling to all the children and I trained them on knife safety before they started whittling sticks and later blocks, too. Some kids really enjoyed it. Some kids, even after being trained with the knife felt uncomfortable with it or simply chose to play elsewhere- perfectly ok. It’s their choice! I loved the opportunity to see their self-regulation in action: if they didn't feel safe taking part in an activity, they removed themselves. Some kids came back several times- almost building up courage to be able to saw or whittle. An amazing thing to witness within adventure play was how the kids decided to do whittling a different way- with child scissors and chalk. They shaved the sidewalk chalk down to powder and then either painted with it or created potions. This wasn’t something we suggested. They saw the materials available to them, had an inspiration and then went after their vision, learning new skills in the process. To say I was impressed would be an understatement!
3. We’ve all seen tire swings. They are requested every single camp we do with tires and ropes.This camp was different than what we’ve seen in lots of other settings. One child was too small to get up into the tree. We advise the kids that if they’re not able to get into the tree by their own doing, then it’s not time for them to be in the tree yet. We believe that developmentally, they need to be able to get up into trees on their own in order to be able get down independently. Once they are high off the ground they are also able to manage the risk associated with the height and possible related fear." We had one camper who had an idea. They asked for a tire to be tied to the tree- right up against it- and held in place with multiple ropes. We did as they requested and soon enough, there was a way for shorter campers to get into the tree without having to climb quite as hard. It was so innovative! We were incredibly proud. It’s amazing to see children think of things that wouldn’t come to the mind of an adult.
4. The building projects! This was our 2nd time bringing hammers and nails to a camp. However, this was the first time we did it this particular way. We brought drills, saws, hammers and nails along with an abundance of scrap wood. The goal was to give all the kids the tools, the training, and then step back and see what becomes of it. We saw kids who only wanted to hammer nails or saw something. Others wanted to build project, after project, after project. We saw some kids uninterested and many who wanted to try a couple things and then leave. Of course, they get to choose everything. We saw coat racks, tables, bookshelves, benches and much more. Their ideas were big and even if it didn’t work out exactly as planned, they were flexible and found solutions to bring their vision to life. I’m also proud to say that we had NO INJURIES during the whole 4 weeks of camp! It’s a testament to just how responsible kids can be when we trust them with more. They recognize the importance of responsibility and are willing to accept short training sessions on safety in order to get the “all clear” to build what they choose.
It's incredibly hard to choose only 4 moments to share in depth here. Even on the days where we felt tired from working so hard, it was such an enormous privilege to be doing this (play)work. Children are incredible little beings- Thank you for sharing yours with us and believing in what we’re doing with KOOP.