November 5, 2013
Visiting Vanderkamp was an experience unlike any other. A camp that proves anything is possible. We walked away from James Davis, the director’s, house, where we had dinner tonight, feeling completely refreshed and energized by new and endless possibilities. Vanderkamp functions on the beliefs and philosophies that James brought to camp. Arriving at camp a few years ago, James was very up front with the board about the unconventional ideas that he planned on implementing, and that he wanted complete programatic control. Camp now is a place where kids can direct and create their own fun. He got rid of “pre-programed fun” and gave the reigns to the kids to come up with what kids want and need for them ultimately giving them an incredible degree of confidence in themselves. Staff offer activities through out the day that campers can come and take part in. They are often really out of this world creative like becoming swamp people and staking claim in the uncharted land across the lake, or having spaghetti mania, where campers played with pounds of spaghetti in a series of relay race challenges. Kids are free to stay in the arts and crafts or boating activities all day if they wish giving them the autonomy to decide what is fun and how to spend their time. Kids ultimately choose to hang out with the people that inspire them and form connections and relationships that prove beneficial to their development all on their own. One of the places where the magic happens is in their Natural Play area, a fenced in area at camp where you can find fort building materials, hoses and mud pits, and paint, creating endless possibilities for kids to interact, form alliances and learn. You might also see the Questing Gnome wandering around camp, a counselor in costume that you can approach for a quest an adventure that could send you on more endless fun and discovery. The fun of camp is equally paired with an understanding to give to the great community, which is evident in their farm. Not your typical farm. James theory is that they have loads of land at camp and so farming an acre would be of great use to camps kitchen as well as food pantries in the community. So they have created an acre farm that produces crops that they spit between their own kitchen and food cupboards.
The magic of Vanderkamp lies in treating children like humans and empowering them to make decisions and trusting that as humans we are inheritly motivated to learn, seek growth, and love each other. This foundation of love leads to one of the most magical places on earth.