The first day of camp can be intense for parents, kids, and facilitators. On the first day of camp, more than any other day, facilitators have to be prepared to just go with the flow and slow the pace so they can effectively create a safe space for kids. Ultimately, we trust the kids will show us what they need to feel comfortable in this new environment, we just need to create a space where can express and we can listen.

Today I arrived at Learning in the Woods before welcome circle.  Kids were playing, things were quiet, and the mood was a bit uncertain as kids tried to figure out how things work in this new space.  Facilitators were extra busy, trying to meet all the needs.  FYI, all the needs on the first morning of camp seem to be expressed intensely and simultaneously from these young people who were trying to figure it all out. Luckily our facilitators are ready for this!

When there was a lull, the facilitators invited everyone to join the welcome circle. Suddenly there was a cry. C, 4 years old, had tripped and she burst into loud tears. Grace spoke to her quietly and brought her back to base camp. C got her special toy from her backpack and a friend who had attended Learning in the Woods camp earlier in the summer, offered to sit beside her. She was crying quietly and little one-lookers listened as Tanya said, “C got hurt. She is crying. She is hugging her turtle toy because it helps her feel better.” Everyone looked at C. “Would you like to tell us about how you got hurt C?” C stood up and walked over to the spot where she had tripped. The entire group jumped up to follow her. This was an empathetic response as much as it was done out of curiosity.

They listened quietly, respectfully, as C recounted what happened. Some asked questions or made comments.  Others just listened. I suspect C felt heard by the group as she stopped crying and walked back to our welcome circle looking calm and peaceful.  I suspect the group felt reassured too, as they were calm also.

And so, the morning continued. We finished circle. We explored the space. Whistles were blown a little too often when there was no emergency. “The Machine” was built with some disagreement and some cooperation.  Snacks were eaten with gusto when kids were hungry.  No one was rushed.  There was time for everything.  All feelings were welcome.

C’s fall was the first group bonding experience for these campers and it was rooted in gentleness and care. It set the tone for the rest of the morning and probably the rest of the week too. By caring for one member of the group, everyone else was reassured that they will be cared for also. There is no rush. We can all just care for each other and figure things out as we go. That message is so reassuring, isn’t it?  What a beautiful beginning.

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