- Author: Marianne Bird
Sometimes a lesson really hits home.
This happened for me recently at a family camp I direct over the Memorial Day holiday. A group of my childhood camp friends and I have organized the gathering for five years. It began as a place for old camp buddies to gather with each other and their kin, but the demographics have changed over time to include new families with younger children.
I was especially excited for the Sunday evening program: A pajama party that included Bingo. We had done a similar program three years earlier—“Boxer Bingo” we called it, where winners selected their prize from a variety of colorful homemade boxer shorts strung across the lodge. It was a hit! And this year's prizes were even better: 26 flannel pillowcases, each made from a variety of patterned, fanciful fabrics. I even wanted to play to win!
The Bingo game progressed with as much order as could be expected with 100 people, half of them children, in the tiny lodge. It was noisy and difficult to hear as we got to the last pillowcase. Three people yelled, “Bingo!” and were cleared as winners. Graciously, the two adults who won allowed the nine year-old boy to take the final prize.
Then, something I didn't expect happened: there were tears. At least three children, all between the ages of four and six, had melt-downs as they left the lodge without a pillowcase. Encouraged by his mom, the boy who won the final prize generously gave it to a younger girl crying at their table. The parents of the children tried to explain that not everyone could take a prize home, but to no avail. The youngsters just didn't understand. I felt horrible.
My background is in youth development, and at every 4-H volunteer orientation I talk about 4-H policy concerning competition and our youngest 4-H members. I know competition is not developmentally appropriate for young children. Yet never has this truth been so apparent as that Sunday evening when a group of tired children couldn't grasp why they didn't have a prize. It wasn't that they were just disappointed; they didn't have the ability to grasp how Bingo was played or why they didn't receive a pillowcase.
Another successful County Fair has just ended. Even in this competitive learning environment of show rings and ribbons, neither the sheep nor the swine judges were eager to place the youngsters in Pee-Wee Showmanship this year. (Pee Wee Showmanship is not sanctioned under 4-H policy and 4-H Primary members under the age of 9 are not permitted to participate.) I'm sure the judges' intuition told them that singling out “winners” served no purpose. Indeed, if 4-H is about helping children grow and flourish, what is value of having youth participate in something they cannot comprehend? Lessons learned—especially hard lessons—need to be within the scope of understanding.
I never envisioned that this year's Bingo game would end differently (and more painfully) than Boxer Bingo, but I understand that the different outcome had everything to do with the audience. Lesson learned. And when I speak about age-appropriate programming at Volunteer Orientation, you can bet it will be with new conviction.