- Author: Marianne Bird
Many of you know that camp was, and still is, a passion for me. Not only was it where I learned to love the wilderness, I also discovered a lot about myself during those summers in the mountains. It was at camp that I decided that I wanted to work with kids, and lessons from those early experiences still resonate. Here's an example.
It must have been my second or third summer on staff (I was probably 20). I was excited about seeing my campers and the upcoming session. In my head I had planned a terrific week with tons of activities I knew they'd love: a hike up the Buttes, baking cookies in a reflector oven over the campfire, sunrise canoeing on the lake. I had dutifully recorded my plan on my Session at a Glance, every moment of the week scheduled. But when I shared my session plan with the camp director, Alicia, her comment surprised me.
“You know,” she said, “you shouldn't completely fill out your session plan before your kids get here.” Wait…wasn't that what I was asked to do? Plan the program? Make the magic happen?
“Really, you should give space and opportunity for their ideas,” Alicia continued. “Find out what they want to do with their week.”
I heard her comments, but didn't fully understand. Or maybe it wasn't that I didn't understand, but that I wanted to believe that I knew what would be best for a great week at camp. Planning ahead took all the guess-work out of daily schedules. Plus, how would campers know what would be the most fun if they weren't familiar with some new activities I wanted to try?
Listening to young people and making space for their ideas is one of many teachings that I've come to appreciate more with time. It seems self-evident that kids should have choice and input into their activities, especially in out-of-school time. My camp director knew a deeper truth that I didn't appreciate back then: that listening to young people and embracing their ideas nurtures feelings of importance and a sense of empowerment. Such opportunities are rare for kids.
There are many reasons the ideas of youth aren't heard. Sometime we're too busy or it's inconvenient. Sometime we feel the responsibility to get the plan done. It's easier to do it ourselves, or we think we know best. And sometimes kids are so use to adults running the show, they're hesitant to share what they're thinking.
4-H can and should be a place where young people are heard, where their ideas are valued, and where they have a sense of control in their club and projects. The environment we create should help kids find their voice, and we do that by listening.
It's still hard for me to step back and allow youth to step up when I think I have the answers. It's something I continually work on.
I think Alicia would be pleased to know that.