I remember coming back from camp the summer before I went into 7th grade, I was devastated as I always was, and wanted to go back to camp so much that it was all I could think of. During my first days of school, I was sitting in my English class daydreaming about camp and trying to dissect what it was that made it so special in the hopes of recreating the experience at school. I thought about my friends, being outside, and overall, I thought of my counselors and older friends. My teacher was the first person I saw as I came back from my daydream. I looked at her and thought maybe I could build a relationship with her as I had with my counselors. I started to think about what it was about my relationship with my counselors that felt special and I realized that a big part of it was that they weren’t trying to teach me anything, they were simply being, and by being they showed me things that I wanted to learn. I went back home and spoke to my sister about it. She pointed out that the main difference was that my teacher must have been at least in her early 30s while my counselors at camp were probably around 20. In my mind, this didn’t make much sense as a teenager tired of hearing people tell me “you are too young to do this”, I hated the thought that age had anything to do with anything.
The Experience Gap Between Ages
It wasn’t until recently that I realized that age had everything to do with it. I realized that children can repeat word for word what older cousins talk about much better than they can remember what teachers tell them over and over again. Older cousins and counselors have something in common: they are close in age to children and they aren’t actively trying to teach something that isn’t coming from their own experience. Sure, counselors teach activities, but they are not perceived to be experts in the field. They teach from experience, and most of the time this teaching is insignificant compared to the learning campers do from them when it comes to matters of real life. By being around people who are slightly older, children learn things that feel relevant to their own life. As a 7th grader, learning about what life was going to be like when I was 30 felt too removed- there were many steps missing. I wanted to learn what it was going to be like to be an 8th grader and what things I needed to know to succeed. I wanted to learn what high school was going to be like, and the best source for this knowledge was the people currently going through it. My counselors, my older cousins, and the older kids at camp felt almost aggressively interesting.
Camper and Counselor Relationships at Waukeela
At Waukeela, one of our most powerful tools for teaching compassion, empathy, and most importantly, connection, is fostering relationships between children of different ages. Campers and counselors connect on a very deep level, and campers and other campers connect even more. It is not uncommon to see groups of campers who are all different ages form friendships around shared interests. These groups will hang out during cookouts and during special days. As you walk around camp, you can see kids of all ages playing together, this play is so important and is something that any alumn will tell you made them into the person they are today.
We have seen how these relationships benefit both the younger and the older child. The younger child experiences the sort of steps that were lacking in my relationship with my teacher and is able to learn relevant knowledge; the older child learns about teaching and experiences the lifelong skill of nourishing another person. These experiences are so crucial for children’s development that they happen naturally and without much adult interference. However, we want to make sure we make room in our schedule to foster these. Since the start of G-time in which campers are split up into age-mixed groups, we have seen even more of these inter-age relationships. We know how important these interactions can be for campers, and we hope to keep embracing them as we move forward.