As you might have seen in a previous article, we focus on the “Four R’s:” showing Respect, taking reasonable Risks, Reaching out to others, and taking Responsibility. I would love to explain how this shows up at camp. Today’s “R” is Responsibility.
To begin, we want our campers to be responsible for their possessions and their cabins. With this in mind, we have cabin inspections to ensure the campers are making their beds, keeping their cabin clean, and washing themselves. While we cannot promise they will continue to do so at home, we can assure you they will have the basic skills (even if reluctantly applied).
The campers must also keep their eating areas clean by clearing their tables and sweeping the area. Cabins make this a team activity and some counselors are very creative about it. For example, the youngest boys (“the Real Men”) get the opportunity to pour ice water over their counselor if they complete the task in a specific time. [Note: one of the greatest rewards possible is to embarrass a counselor. Pouring cold water on a much-loved counselor is a surprising motivator.] We have a “Clean Table” competition that awards a weekly winner for both the boys and girls. The winning cabin gets a special meal served to them with tablecloths and table service! Clearly we are not too proud to provide a little extra incentive/bribery!
Responsibility at camp, however, goes beyond just material items. We stress taking responsibility for actions as well. Cabins create their own rules. We stress fairness and sportsmanship in our activities. In these ways, we are not unusual compared to other camps. We try to take personal responsibility a step further. For a young camper, this can mean pointing out the importance of helping cabin-mates and avoiding hurtful language.
As the campers get older, our message becomes more nuanced. We want them to understand that they can greatly affect other’s opinions of them. For example, if a camper is struggling with a cabinmate, we might ask her what she can do to improve the relationship. The initial response is usually something like the following: “It’s not my fault . . . she is the one that is being mean/won’t listen.” In this case, we will challenge the camper to re-think the situation. We will suggest that she cannot expect the other girl to change spontaneously, but she CAN change her own approach. With this in mind, we might ask her what she might be able to do to improve the situation. Of course, we will be having the same conversation with the other camper as well. While this does not resolve all issues, we think it an important lesson toward campers taking responsibility for their relationships.
Working with the campers this way reminds each of us that we need to be personally accountable and responsible in all we do. As such, it is a welcome (if not somewhat daunting) reminder.