RAC Newsletter Summer 2009

RAC Newsletter - Summer 2009

By Michael Brandwein

This essay is a follow-up to Michael's
luncheon keynote for Religiously Affiliated
Camps at the 2009 American Camp Association
National Conference in Orlando, Florida.

Religiously affiliated camps have been
principal leaders in making the camp experience
more than just fun and friends and lasting
memories. The most important current change
in the camp industry is the increased attention
being paid to how we can best use camp
as a tool for the development of better
people. This is something that religiously
affiliated camps have been focusing on
for a long time.

One way to maximize the
power of the camp experience is to ask
this question whenever we develop and lead
a program: "How we are making this
different because it is at camp?"

an example. If we gather a group of young
people outside under a tree for a discussion
about a religious topic, does that make
it "camp" because we're
doing it outside between periods of swimming
and arts and crafts? No. We should ask, "How
is this different than just taking a Sunday
school class outside?"

Let's suppose we want the group
to do some religious study and that the
subject is a story from the Bible involving
a deep conflict between people. The lesson
content might include what our faith teaches
us about the Golden Rule, or about respect,
or dealing with disagreement. We could
review the facts of the story and ask the
campers questions to stimulate discussion.
This is what might typically occur in a
classroom. Now let's be a little
bolder and a lot more effective . . . .

For example, look at the list of four
items in the sidebar The
Power of Camp
and select "number
one" about experiential learning.
Ask the campers to take a few minutes and
walk around the immediate area to collect
three small objects from nature that are
very different from each other. Before
they begin, ask them to think and talk
with you about whether it would be OK if
you tore off a live leaf from a tree and
brought it back as one of the objects. "No
problem, right? I mean, what difference
would one little leaf make?" And
to get campers to develop further their
criteria for what would be a good choice
of an object, ask if a dead stick on the
ground would be OK. Follow up by asking: "Now
what if there were a hundred of us, and
we all completely cleared an area of dead
branches and sticks for our object collection?
What impact might that have? Do sticks
serve any purpose if they are just dead
and on the ground?"

After they return
to the group, spread out the collected
objects and study them. And, as the group
leader, ask questions. Lots of questions.
For example: How are the objects the same?
How are they different? Why are they different?
What's the purpose of the differences
in the shapes, for example, of two different
leaves? How did they get different? What
if they were identical? Even when two objects
are from the same type, like for example
two pebbles or two small sticks, are they
the same even though they may be very similar?

Instruct campers to get a partner and
have them pick out two similar objects
from the collection and take two minutes
to count how many differences they can
find between these objects. Ask, "Can
you find more than ten? Twenty?"

some point, of course, you will make a
transition to talk about the differences
between people. Begin with physical differences.
Assign two volunteers to put their heads
together side by side, and ask campers
to identify how many differences they can
find in the way these two people appear.
Ask the same questions that were asked
about the nature objects. And, you can
have three photographs available of three
faces of people from different races or
cultures or parts of the world. As a group
study those, too.

Now move beyond physical
differences and discuss with campers the "inside" differences
that are present in people. Unlike natural
objects, people have emotions and beliefs
and values. To promote discussion among
the group, ask questions: Why do people
have different emotions, beliefs, and values?
What's the purpose of these differences?
What do we do about the fact that they
are there? How do the things we've
been speaking about relate to this story
from the Bible we use in our faith?

you might decide to use the suggested activity
above in your camp program, what's
really important here is not this particular
activity but the process you used to develop
it. You looked at the list of distinctive
differences that make camp powerful. You
picked experiential learning and asked, "How
can we use our setting at camp to help
campers discover and increasingly value
the importance and majesty and purposes
of our differences?"

Please look
once more at the "power list" in
the Power of Camp sidebar. It reminds us
that one of the key differences in camp
is the absence of grades and how this can
affect learning. Thinking about this helps
us be better prepared for some of the campers
who will bring an object up to us and treat
us, because they have been so often conditioned
to do so, as the authority figure who will
pass judgment on their performance. With
hesitation and a lack of confidence, some
campers will ask, "Is this a good
one?" Instead of replying, "Sure!" or "Whatever
you decide . . . " you could smile
warmly and say, "That's a great
question. Tell me again please what we're
supposed to look for. (They respond.) Right.
So what do you think about what you've
got in your hand? Does it match what you're
looking for? (We listen.) Great. Then that's
how you decide what's ‘good.' Way
to go. Now get two more, please . . . ."

the camp power list helps to improve activities
and deepen their effect. What if you wanted
to teach problem-solving and cooperation
skills by giving them more opportunities
for responsibility and decision making?
What if instead of having them do individual
searches, you sent them out in groups of
three, asking them to find as many objects
as they'd like and then decide which
two are the most different from each other,
bringing only these two back to the whole
group? To make their selections, they would
have to talk with each other and perhaps
resolve some disagreements. This allows
us during the discussion to ask how they
resolved these conflicts. What are good
ways to do deal with differences of opinion?
What works? What doesn't? How do
we compare what we did in our groups to
how the conflict in our Bible story was

Many of the above ideas could
be used, of course, at a place other than
camp, and indeed they are in the classrooms
and youth groups of our finest teachers
and youth leaders. In fact, many of these
teachers and leaders learned how to do
things like this because they've
been to camp and have thought about how
to bring the strengths of the camp environment
to more traditional learning experiences.

When you think more about what makes camp
a unique tool for developing people, you
can identify more opportunities to get
the most out of camp so that campers can
get the most out of their faith.

The Power of

What really makes something "camp" is
when we are using what makes camp different
from other experiences. We should first
have a deep understanding of what gives
camp a unique power to change people.
These include:

  1. Using the most effective
    methods to help people learn and
    grow (particularly experiential
    learning instead of lecture);
  2. Removing typical pressures from
    school (particularly grades) to
    put greater emphasis on developing
    and celebrating effort and persistence
    to provide a more positive atmosphere
    for learning success;
  3. Providing
    more opportunities for responsibility,
    independent problem-solving, and
    collaborating with others, so we
    can prepare campers for life in
    a world that increasingly demands
    these life skills; and
  4. Combating
    isolation by offering positive
    and accepting communities where
    there are strong and consistent
    efforts to reduce put-downs and
    other demeaning behavior and to
    teach the importance of including
    others and valuing differences.

Power of Camp Handout for Staff & Parents," Chapter
18, Training Terrific Staff Volume
Two, Michael Brandwein 2008.)

Brandwein is an internationally known expert
on education, youth development, and camp
who has presented on six continents and
in every one of the fifty states. He is
the number one bestselling author in the
camp field and his books include Training
Terrific Staff (Volumes One and Two) and
Learning Leadership: How to Develop Outstanding
Teen Leadership Training Programs at Camp,
which are available, along with additional
free training resources, at michaelbrandwein.com.