Laura and I just got home from our third visit to Vanderkamp, our home for the summer. We spent the weekend planning staff training, playing with James (the director)’s kids, and most of all questioning James and everything he has built. The program at Vanderkamp is different than any in the country and focuses on providing a nutrient rich, safe environment, where the campers are free to make as many decisions as possible. Campers are never rushed, points of tension are removed, and kids choose how to spend their time as well as who to spend it with. It is a model we have never seen, we love, and often can’t believe is possible. So our natural response is to question every aspect of it.
Can kids just hang out if they want to? Why do you offer outrageous activities? What do you mean kids could choose to play gaga all day if they want to? What if kids are having fun but the activity period is over do we have to make them stop? Why do kids have to go to meals if its all about choice? Why are kids supervised at all times, does that restrict campers freedom? And a million more.
James loves the questioning. He calmly talks us through the “why” of each aspect of camp or we as a group figure out a better way things could be structured. It is an amazing way to spend hours examining camp and finding a better way, but speaks more to James’s willingness to constantly improve than anything we bring to the table.
We love working for James because he encourages this kind of questioning and is happy to examine why things are done the way they are. He is open to be convinced of a better way or to examine a process and decide the current process is best the way it is. Searching for great teachings rather than a great teacher.
At Vanderkamp we are learning about a radically different camp model, but more than that we are hoping to leave with renewed sense of self reflection and willingness to accept new ideas.