The Camp Model

“The Camp Model” has been around for years and is the cornerstone of many camps and afterschool programs, hence the name. It grew out of the recreation movement of the last century. It was a way for organizations and cities to provide leisure services for workers and families during the industrial revolution and beyond.

The camp model is one current method to deliver afterschool programing. Ingredients of the camp model are a series of activities that are pre-planned and center around a theme. The theme is usually related to a holiday, or the creation of a teacher. This method is implemented by having large groups of children sit together and work on the same project at the same time. The children make the same or similar item, and the result is a non-personal craft often made out of construction paper, a tube, or a child’s handprint.

How can school-age professionals move away from our comfort zone and the camp model?

Popular speaker and entrepreneur Seth Godin when speaking about getting what you want said, “If people are not loving what you are doing, stop it, and don’t push it”. Through practice and observation it is obvious to me that overall the children do not love the camp model, but teachers keep pushing it year after year with the same results.

The results are boredom, lack of independence and initiative. A feeling of assumed helplessness grows, then permeates, all interactions the children have during the day. The children, when placed together at one table or in one space are usually competing for materials, enough room, and the teacher’s attention. This competition mindset bleeds over into all aspects of the children’s social interaction.

Why do teachers in school age love the camp model? Is it because this is all we know or is it because we have not been exposed to any other method. “Success comes from improving and inventing not from pushing what is not working” Seth Godin.

What can we do to create environments that encourage exploration and creativity? I have five ideas that I have used to create a better experience for the children and the teachers in a school age program.

Mixed Age Groups – The camp model encourages the separation of age groups to better facilitate large scale projects that can be done all at the same time. A more progressive model will grow the program as a community. The community in our school is made up of children with different ages and stages of development. The beauty of a school community is that all of the children have unique skills to share with each other regardless of their age. To facilitate the growth of the community we must allow the children to be together and quiet our fears of what might happen.

Teacher Support – The camp model appoints the teacher as a leader, who tells the other participants what to do and when to do it. This top down model leaves little room for negotiation and creative thinking. Our role as a teacher in a school community is to be one of the members. We are co-learners with the children. In this role we fully and actively participate, and come to our learning community with the mindset of growing, listening and helping. We need to be available and present for the children as they create their own work and learn how to navigate social situations. We offer help in the form of conversation and coaching and help the children grow in the community.

Concept of Community - The camp model is a forced community of same aged people who are placed together to make a craft or play a game. A real community as defined by Webster is, an interacting population of various kinds of individuals in a common location”. To build a concept of community we must act like a community and not dictate to the community members how to use their time. Instead we encourage the children to find their passion and to work on that passion while the adults in the community observe, encourage, and scaffold. Our programs are in a school and are part of the school community. Our responsibility is to be a giving member of that community and help create school success by adopting practices that encourage learning and the application of knowledge.

 Agreements Not Rules – To enforce the camp model a list of rules must be posted and followed to keep order within the community. In a democratic child directed community we have agreements instead of rules. Agreements are the social construct that the community members have agreed to, as the way our community should function. The agreements are proposed, discussed, and then voted on for ratification. The teacher role is to remind the community members what we have agreed upon and to encourage their continued participation in the community. In simple terms we do not tell the children what not to do, we remind them what “WE” are doing.

 Family Partnerships – The camp model teaches social skills through a set of posted rules everyone must follow or the community will fall apart. Our responsibility as a teacher is to teach social skills. These skills are taught through discussion with children and their parents. We have a partnership with the families in our program. We grow our partnership with families as teachers talk to every parent every day. Many days this is a short conversation because folks are busy. By adding up these conversations each day we get to know our families better, and grow a relationship that is comfortable when the time for longer discussions arise. By establishing a relationship with the family members a teacher can speak to the parents in a comfortable honest way like you would a friend. This creates greater understanding and growth for the program and the children who attend.

What creative acts happen at your school?