The camp has just about everything you would expect of your ideal childhood summer escape - canoeing and fishing on "the pond", an archery range and climbing towers, playgrounds and pools. I have spent the last five weeks working in the "art barn", planning lessons and helping kids create their very own quintessential camp crafts. I continue to learn from the kids each and every day - I could fill countless posts of all the incredible things this camp has given me and the lessons these children have taught me. It is the camp dynamic of carefree fun and wonder that offers something so unique to enriching and educating the campers that it brings to light some problems I may not otherwise realize exist when working with children.
I have started to notice a habit among fellow counselors, and within myself, regarding the inevitable struggle of camp counselors everywhere: what to do when a child asks you to do something you just plain and simple don't want to do.
Its different for everyone. For me its tetherball. I love playing most sports and camp games, but for whatever reason I just simply do not enjoy this game in the slightest. But the kids love it, and at least twice a day I find a group of eight-year-olds asking me to play them on the sandy courts. I often found myself either sucking it up and just playing, or explaining my declination with an "I'm terrible at it, you wouldn't want to play me!"
I did not realize this was problematic until I started to observe it happening from other counselors in the art barn. I understand that art is not going to be every counselors favorite, and that is totally fine, and by no means do I expect everyone to be able to help campers in artistic challenges in the way I have been trained to. However, it started to bother me when I heard the very same "I'm terrible at it"s over and over again from counselors as they waved off the campers asking for their help.
"Oh no, I'm no good at art. Here, have Trina do it for you!"
Not only do I have to stop whatever I am doing to help your camper, (just because you think you can't handle a project designed for third graders?) but it also subtly tells children that they shouldn't bother with things they aren't good at. If you don't want to do something because you don't like it, by all means, don't. But don't mask your declination with the excuse of inadequacy. You may think its not a big deal, but for campers who look up to their counselors, this may be their first lesson in embracing confidence. Especially in art, children tend to regard immediate talent and skill as the only important factors, and if at first they don't succeed, they give up. I can only imagine how many enjoyable activities I would have kept up with if I didn't eventually come to believe that "being good" was somehow more important than just enjoying myself.
Being "bad at something" is never a reason not to do it, especially with children. You are better off encouraging children to find a different friend to play with, or helping them realize they are perfectly capable of doing the task themselves. Or you could just be completely honest and say "No I am not going to play you in tetherball because it is 9:20 AM. I am still hungover and also I just f*cking hate tetherball." (Ok maybe honesty isn't the best policy here).
However you handle it, remember that even the most seemingly simple of words can have lasting impacts on kids.
And if you ARE bad at something, but you love it, just do it, especially at camp where the environment is designed to welcome carefree fun. Sports, singing, climbing - the list of camp activities I suck at (but absolutely love) is endless. Most prominently I am an AWFUL dancer. But you can bet your ass that when I hear Party in the U.S.A. blasting from the camp speakers there is no stopping me. I have heard so many counselors tell me that they used to love to draw or paint or even just color in coloring books - but that they rarely do it anymore. I have a feeling that they never really stopped loving the art making process, but somewhere along their journey in life they decided they just were not good enough, and gave up. I think if we can adjust the way we regard our own abilities in front of children, we will be able to prolong the day that they throw out their crayons and paint-sets.
As I move out of the art barn and in to working with a group for the rest of the summer, I will try to keep this in mind when a child challenges me in tetherball or asks me to swim with them (my second least favorite camp activity). A sweet smile and a simple "no thanks, not right now" can suffice in the place of "I'm no good anyways", and I can continue in my lazy ways without telling a child that you must be good at something in order to enjoy it.