I believe in the “teachable moment.”

A good summer camp (or school), creates an environment in which a child learns by doing.  We sometimes refer to learning-by-doing as experiential learning, and a week away at camp provides ample opportunities for this kind of education.  Rock climbing can teach us about our limits, our tolerance for risk, and our trust in others.  Horseback riding can teach us about our balance, managing risk, and empathy for other living creatures.  In my experience, the greatest lessons learned at camp involve the things children learn about one another.

Growing up at YMCA Camp Thompson, I was exposed to people who looked different from me, ate different foods than I did, and prayed in different houses of worship than I did.  I was raised in a rural community where diversity meant that some folks were Chevy people and others were Ford.  Were it not for summer camp, I may not have seen meaningful diversity until college.  Summer camp broadened my horizons and changed the way I saw my place in the world.  In the 1970s and 80s, diversity at Camp Thompson was restricted to race and religion, and that was a lot for me to absorb.  My how things have changed.

At the South Mountain YMCA, we have children from 6-10 different countries and staff from all over the world.   Children attending Camp Conrad Weiser come with a variety of medical diagnoses, abilities, and behavioral challenges.  Though we are a YMCA Camp, we welcome children with a stunning variety of faiths and religious traditions – and we welcome those children who have no religious background at all.  Our campers come from families that could buy our 600 mountaintop acres, and they also come from families that may not be able to afford a loaf of bread.  That is why I work for the YMCA – we do our best to provide programs that are available for all.

As a parent, I see this intentional work toward inclusion as a positive trend.  I want my daughters to benefit from the rich mosaic of human experience a program like ours has to offer.  Rather than worrying about our family’s values being diluted in multitude of belief systems we welcome into our camping programs, I hope that my children see their values defined against the backdrop of all that diversity.  I want my girls to see there is more than one way to succeed in this world – more than one way to live.

Inclusion may be the ultimate teachable moment in our summer camp this summer, but like all teachable moments it must be intentionally facilitated for it to succeed.  I am no longer a cock-eyed optimist, give-peace-a-chance, neo-hippy type.  I know that inclusion does not come without bumps in the road.  In my camping programs, we don’t travel down this road without a good map.  Bringing a diverse group of campers together is facilitated – it is guided by staff trained to accomplish that goal and balance the many needs of our participants.  It is good work – work to be proud of – but it is never easy. 

I hope you and your family have the chance to travel this interesting road.

We’ll see you at Camp!

Nathan

Be sure to visit Nathan’s camp, The South Mountain YMCA Camps, at www.smymca.org.

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