If I had a million dollars, I'd build you a school.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Summer Camp: Appreciations

Last week I mentioned that a lot of my inspiration for this blog comes from my time as a camper and counselor at a summer camp back home in Massachusetts. I described the somewhat cult-like devotion that the camp has from many of the campers and staff who have spent time there. This devotion is cultivated in the many community building activities built into the structure of the camp. The one I wanted to talk about today is appreciations.

The camp runs two four week sessions over the course of the summer. At the end of each session are a variety of activities designed to bring closure to the session, including an open house for parents to come and see what their children have been working on all summer, and a sleepover where the kids get to go for a night swim and stay up late watching movies. In addition, over the course of the last week, the kids do appreciations.

During the morning and afternoon circle times, the kids go to sit one by one in a chair that has been magically transformed into the Appreciation Chair. While there, they call on volunteers from the group to appreciate them, which is to say something positive about them. The kids are coached to make their appreciations meaningful. "I appreciate you because you're nice," is a bad appreciation, while, "I appreciate you because on the first day of camp, when I didn't know anyone, you came up and asked if I wanted to join your game," is a good appreciation. This is a situation where having older, experienced campers mixed in with the younger ones helps to set the tone, and to give good examples of how it's all supposed to work.

Again, as with many of the community building aspects of the camp, it can appear a little cheesy, but as an established routine, it is incredibly powerful. It is very unusual in life for someone of any age to be openly and publicly complimented by their peers. We don't often hear about the positive ways we have affected other people. Appreciations give kids a chance to see themselves in a whole new, and entirely positive, light.

One of the pieces we have to coach the kids through, is to recognize that being complimented is an inherently uncomfortable activity. We aren't used to it, and we often don't know how to respond. The kids are reminded to say thank you after each appreciation as a sign that they have heard and accepted the compliment.

The exact format of these appreciations might not work in every environment, but the idea is a powerful one that can and should be adapted to many situations. Kids spend a lot of time telling each other how they are different (read worse) than everyone else. Wouldn't it be nice if they had a regular opportunity to tell each other the ways in which they are great?


Melissa B. said...

Sounds like you're doing the beginning of a "pre-writing" exercise here. Keep up the good work. I just finished Three Cups of Tea--what an inspiration! BTW, looking for some "creative help," if you've got a second. Please check out my post for today at http://scholastic-scribe.blogspot.com/2008/06/whats-she-googling-today-curious-cat.html --thanks!

janice said...

Well, I never went to camp - day camp or otherwise. But my Middle School students have. Many of them went to forward thinking camps like yours that build a a community of acceptance, where kids could be different, have fun, were listened to and recognized. Boy, can I see a difference. Where it took me months to find my voice and place in new situations - sliding along on one foot and peeking about like a snail - as they get older, most of my kids are able to charge right on ahead into the wherever.