I have been on a number of field trips, but this past week marked my first chaperoning experience. Four field trips in as many days was certainly challenging for me. We enjoyed the Lincoln Park Zoo on Thursday, the Museum of Science and Industry on Friday, Flick Outdoor Pool on Monday and the Chicago Sky Fitness Festival on Tuesday. It was a great week, but definitely not without a few learning experiences for coaches and campers.
During lunch at the zoo, a young camper approaches me. She has brought a bit of spending money and wants to visit a souvenir store. A fellow coach and I decide that we should break the group up so that girls who want to go to the store have the opportunity to do so. I am in charge of the girls who are not going to the store, and we set off to see zebras, camels and alpacas. I did not realize, however, that a girl who wanted to go to the store had been accidentally left with my group. At the end of the day, our groups combine at the entrance.
There are a lot of tired faces in the group, but this camper is looking particularly frustrated. I approach her and ask what’s going on. “You didn’t let me go to the store!” she says, holding back tears. She is a girl who I have really connected with, so I can tell that she is struggling with the new anger she is feeling towards me. “Everyone has new things and I didn’t get to buy anything!” Another coach recognizes that this camper needs some assistance and takes over. I want to help, but I realize that this girl is feeling a lot of frustration because of my mistake, so I remove myself for the time being and let the other coach talk with her.
On the bus ride home, many girls are showing off their purchases. The girl who was left out is putting on a brave face, but she is visibly upset that she was excluded. At the end of the day, I approach the camper and apologize for my mistake. “We messed that up today,” I tell her. “You did a good job on the bus ride even though you were upset, and we really appreciate your positive attitude.” I also have to explain that there will be no more runs to the gift store because of how it made excluded campers feel. Not only has she missed her opportunity to buy something at the zoo, but she also won’t get a chance to buy anything at the museum the following day. “I don’t know what to tell you,” I admit. “It is unfair, but it was our mistake and we don’t want you or other campers to feel that way again.” The next day she comes to camp with a great attitude, and this week she is maintaining a positive work ethic. I truly appreciate my camper’s patience with me – it is good to remember that while the girls can challenge us some days, we “adults” are also very capable at making mistakes. As educators and mentors, we cannot expect our camper’s respect until we model the ability to admit that we were wrong.
I can’t believe we’re already in week three! Our second week was fantastic, with many highlights. Throughout my time here, I keep comparing Sports and Leadership Summer Camp to the camps I attended as a young girl. Girls in the Game sets such a high standard. Every single girl spends hours a day learning to compete in all kinds of sports. Ultimate Frisbee Day was a challenge for me – thank goodness for Coach Vanessa, our Non-Traditional Sports Specialist. “I’m not so good at this myself,” I tell her early in the morning. “All right,” she says matter-of-factly. “We’re practicing. Now.” I’m a bit taken aback, but I am reminded that our girls have to try new things every day, so I owe it to them to try (and potentially struggle with) a new game. It’s only a few minutes after 8:00 am, but Coach Vanessa has me out on the field working on my throw. After just a few minutes of practice, the disc starts floating closer to my intended target. Instead of lofting up into the wind, it flies low, level and relatively straight. Before I know it, many of our counselors have joined in and we’re passing the disc all over the park. We look like a fierce organized Frisbee team in our matching camp shirts. As they start to arrive, the girls begin to include themselves as well, completely willing to jump right in and give it a try. Some girls grab discs of their own and start passing circles with their teammates. We still have fifteen minutes before any programming is scheduled to begin, but instead of sitting and waiting, the girls are up and running around. I step back to get a drink and realize just how much fun it is to compete, regardless of the sport. Even making the smallest of improvements was rewarding and made me want to keep working. I could have stayed out there all day, passing with coaches and campers alike.
Check back soon for updates and pictures from our many field trips!
It’s my first week at camp and I’ve already discovered that my absolute favorite aspect of camp is the relationships I get to develop with the girls. In my first week, I noticed immediately that coaches and campers engage in a reciprocal relationship of learning. While I may be instructing these girls about the specifics of kickball, they often teach me something as well. An experience I had on my very first day summarizes this relationship well.
As we wait for lunches to be delivered, a co-coach approaches me and asks if I can help with a camper who is having a tough day. Removed from the rest of the group, this girl has the look of someone who doesn’t want to be at camp. A friend is sitting next to her, but the girl is making a considerable effort to ignore any advice being offered. I approach the girl and sit in the grass next to her. “What’s going on?” I ask. The camper explained that she was in the wrong group. “I should be in team three!” she said, obvious frustration on her face. “I’m waaay older than these girls,” she exclaims, gesturing to her teammates. It’s my first moment as a coach where I have to solve a problem with a girl one-on-one, and I struggle to think of a way to assure this girl that she can still have fun at camp as a team 2 member. “Well,” I said, “this is my first year at camp and I heard from all the returning counselors that teams one and two are the best teams.” The girl ignores me, clearly not satisfied with my answer. “I think you’re just saying that to make her feel better,” her friend says, looking me in the eye. This eight-year-old has me all figured out. I flounder for a moment before trying again. “You’re right. What I should have said is that there are a lot of advantages being on team two. For example, because you are the oldest, you can serve as a role model for the girls in your group who are new to camp. You can help them in drills that you have done before, and if they have questions, you can answer them,” I suggest. She seems a bit more content, but her face is still hesitant. “You also get lunch first,” I quip. She looks at me. “And you get to get in the pool first,” I remind her. This seems to have secured her trust. “I like the pool,” she says.
In the afternoon, I write about my first day. “I learned that the girls respond to thoughtful problem solving,” I scribble. “Pointing out the benefits was considerably more effective than making generalizations. The girls are smart, so they appreciate when you’re straight with them. I am going to keep this in mind every time I engage with a camper.”
I continue to be pleasantly surprised by how much the girls have to teach me. We’re just beginning our second week, so I imagine learning opportunities will continue to come my way! This week we are hosting numerous guest coaches and going on field trips to the Lincoln Park Zoo and the Museum of Science and Industry’s “Body Worlds” exhibit! It’s shaping up to be another great week at camp!