The best camps in the country are finding ways to let campers have self directed play. This can seem overwhelming and difficult in an increasingly structured camp environment, but here are 3 simple ways to give campers more freedom to play at camp.
Is an acronym developed by Micheal Brandwien for Figure Out The Activity Yourself. Brilliantly simple, the idea is to give campers a bunch of loose parts and let them figure out a game or fun activity. Jason Smith at Camp Kitaki likes to start the activity explaining that he forgot the rules but still has all these pieces if only the kids could figure it out.
2) Natural Play Areas
Some of the best camps we saw had designated areas for campers to play. These natural, or unstructured, play areas are a great way to give kids freedom but with in the confines of a safe environment. The key like with FOTAY isn’t in how nice the materials are but just having loose parts and letting kids lead the exploration. Two of the best examples we saw were at Vanderkamp and Camp Kitaki. In both places staff were trained to participate in the play and supervise, but let the campers lead and make decisions.
3) Let Your Staff Play
One of the problems with bringing self directed play to camp is that young staff members grew up in a world deprived of free time or neighborhoods to play in. Haelynne at Camp Collins struggled with this idea and developed a brilliant solution. She took her leadership staff to a near by park and spent 2 hours just letting them play, with no supplies or toys. At first they thought she was crazy, but after a few minutes the magic started to take shape. At the end of 2 hours they had created a whole new world and could have played for ever. Giving staff the permission to play, and helping them empathize with campers struggling to “just play” allowed them to develop the tools they individually needed to be successful.