It’s late afternoon, the sun streams through the forest in grandiose beams. I stand proud atop a great boulder, four feet tall, hands on hips, and address my subjects. I tell them of the battle ahead, imminent threats from a faraway monster. Do not fear! I reassure them. I will protect our magical realm. I have gathered thousands of sparkle stones and made potions all afternoon for the journey ahead. I crouch down and jump to another big rock, an impressive leap – but this is Rockland after all and I am the queen, expert at navigating the dangerous terrain. My father calls them glacial erratics, but to me, they are my citizens. Encrusted with lichen, strips of glittering quartz running through the granite, this is my world and here I am free.
I tell people I run a camp that focuses on circus art and survival skills. It’s a quick and colorful description, but far from a thorough portrayal. Circus connects us with our bodies and survival skills, with the environment around us. How we run the camp, the culture we are attempting to both observe and shape, is one of collaboration. Working together through the inevitable challenges that come with creating and trying new things, nurtures our social development.
In truth, Storycamp Dangercamp is about freedom. From the beginning, I have wanted to build a program that offered something of the magic I experienced growing up in the woods of New Hampshire. Wherever one’s childhood occurs, magic runs through it like sap in a maple, but only some of us (and fewer still) are graced with opportunity to tap it.
It requires trust and risk-taking on the side of parents and teachers, allowing children to explore and go (gently) unwatched for periods of time. Imaginative play blossoms when given space.
The way a growing human interacts with the world is affected by the well intentioned hovering of adults. In the United States the 1980s seemed a bastion of childhood freedom – on the brink of nationwide paranoia around stranger danger, at the edge of litigation culture and before in-home computers became commonplace, this era afforded us time and space out in the world. Without the ubiquitous presence of watchful grown-ups (or at least our knowledge of them) the world was ours and we belonged to it.
This is the spirit of the camp: an opportunity for kids to know and story their environments. To be unhampered by notions of impossibility, challenged to make decisions (and mistakes) about their surroundings, develop a sense of judgement and find within themselves a personal edge. Children are inherently curious about their limits – a brilliant evolutionary feature that incites growth and endows us with a natural sense of motivation.
Can we offer this kind of freedom while doing our job as stewards of safety and surveillance? Their physical welfare is paramount, as is their freedom. How do we strike a balance?
It requires presence, participant observation, and strong boundaries. I’m grateful to have had practice as Queen of Rockland. This year we invited the children to help create consequences for unsafe, unkind behavior. Understanding expectations and boundaries may also be easier at camp because we offer opportunities for the children to take healthy risks. In this way the consequences make sense – they are in place to keep us safe. In this way, the children are given an outlet to explore boundaries within themselves.
There is a beneficial reciprocity of being with children in this way. I feel younger, I have a sense of wonder and adventure that brightens every place I see. I know this is part of who I am, but it has grown as a result of my proximity to kids and my confidence in their wisdom. This is the inspiration behind Storycamp Dangercamp; listening to kids, trusting them, being curious about their experience, letting their courage and vulnerability inspire our own. The ability to see people as children and children as people, has a profound impact; the understanding that like trees, we bare evidence of our innocent beginnings. We can find the magic, the wonder and begin to untie some of the trauma that keeps us locked in patterns. We can rediscover our childhood, which, turns out, is good for the children around us.
Looking forward to seeing you all in the summer,
Ms. Katrina Pratt, Storycamp Director