Dear Treetops Families,
These days it’s important to remember what we are capable of. During this time where nothing is certain and almost everything is different, having the confidence to face the unknown, to step into the unfamiliar, is what will keep us all thriving. It means giving up some level of control, which can be really hard, and it means not knowing if you will succeed, which can be even harder. At Treetops each summer, we strive to nurture that sense of self and the inherent potential within. Camp offers a multitude of areas to stretch any preconceived notions about comfort levels and abilities. Confidence is built the first time a new camper takes his shoes off to walk barefoot to council. Confidence is strengthened when a young camper is trusted to have her very own pocket knife, having made a lanyard for it and completed knife safety. Confidence soars when a timid camper is assigned to care for a horse and by the end of the week, can hoof pick independently. We encourage campers to recognize their capabilities and not see those as limitations, but rather as a jumping off point for all that they can do that they don’t yet know.
Before Camp, I often hear from parents about the picky eating habits of their children. There is worry that their child will get enough to eat, with so many unfamiliar foods at mealtime. The truth is most campers are pretty quick to move beyond what they thought their taste buds approved of. With so many opportunities to interact with food—growing, harvesting, cooking, and eating—it doesn’t take long for a much more adventurous relationship with food to develop. Campers may overcome uncertainty during a taste walk through the garden or by discovering the satisfying taste of cheese that they made themselves. In the gardens or the dining room, in the Teaching Learning Kitchen or Camper Kitchen, at the pizza oven or the Uphill Grill, there is tremendous opportunity to discover new tastes, appreciate new vegetables, and accomplish complicated recipes.
Campers develop a sense of independence early on in the summer. After just the second day of Camp, with orientation complete, campers choose their own activities for the day, free to pursue new interests or stick to familiar activities. While there is ample freedom in the shaping of a day, counselors are acutely aware of their campers’ excitement and reservations, of their strengths and their perceived limitations. Counselors encourage campers to try unfamiliar games, discover untapped interests, and sign up for trips even if it seems a little “too hard.” I have a vision of the Junior Camp dock filled with campers, yelling words of encouragement and cheering loudly, as a young boy who had never been in water before completed his Rafters test after a number of tries. There was sheer pride on his face as his feet touched the ground at the end. At Treetops, it’s okay to not “get it” at first. There is time to try again and a supportive community within which to do so.
During a summer at Treetops, campers gain a sense of self in the context of the natural world. Within the first couple of weeks of camp, all campers will have gone on an overnight trip in the wilderness. This is a trip to strengthen bonds within the tent group, to learn basic skills of camping, but, most importantly, it gives kids a night early on in the summer, that much closer to nature. For campers who have never slept away from home before coming to camp, this pushes the known comfort levels. Budding friendships help support the experience, and s’mores definitely don’t hurt either. Throughout the summer, both on campus and off, there are opportunities to explore the natural world and begin to find familiarity in the woods, the fields, the mountains, and rivers that surround us. Campers find strength they didn’t know they had while climbing at the Crag. Campers discover a curiosity that is new to them when they begin to learn the names of the plants, and which are edible or which will help ease the sting of nettle. Campers are pushed beyond their known ability when their arms ache as they paddle against a strong wind only to learn that they made it to the campsite, despite the weather.
Below you will find some things I am doing to push my comfort levels. I hope it gives you some ideas for how your family might seek out new activities, try unfamiliar recipes, or do something that feels challenging. Keep in touch — I’d love to hear from you.
Treetops at Home
Eat good food.
This week I made cheese. This happens throughout Camp, often made with milk from our own goats or from cows down the road. Despite its popularity at Camp, cheese always seemed a little out of my league. In honor of facing unknowns, I gave it a shot. And I did it! Have you tried any new foods or recipes this summer? If you’ve never made cheese, consider giving it a try. Here are two recipes: queso blanco is simple, using ingredients you probably have in your kitchen already. Mozzarella is a little more complicated. If your cheese-confidence is shaky, like mine was, give the first one a try.
Make and do things.
In appreciation of all the campers each summer who try activities that are new and intimidating, I spent some time this week in the Senior Camp Pottery Shop. I’ve never thrown a pot on a wheel and it was challenging. In the end, I made a bowl. It didn’t look exactly like what I was envisioning, but it was a bowl! I am grateful for this time to put myself in the shoes of campers, trying Camp activities for the first time, remembering what it’s like to feel frustrated when a new skill is not coming easily and the pride when I accomplish something despite what I thought I couldn’t do.
Spend time with nature.
Drawing in my journal gives me greater confidence in nature. As I find new species, reference field guides, take notes, and carefully draw what I see, I have a greater connection to the plants and critters around me. Two of the first things I drew, many years ago, were white clover and red clover. I learned to tell them apart by looking closely and drawing the details. Now I can confidently identify each when I see them growing in the grass. Do you have clovers around you? Can you tell which kind you have? Keep an eye out for differences between clover species you find growing. Keep an extra close eye out for four leaf clovers, a search that continues throughout each and every summer. Returning campers (and my husband, John) even know the clover patches that always contain some lucky ones.
P.S.: We want to see what you’re doing this summer! Please send us photos of your gnome houses and anything else your family is up to so we can include them in our Treetops at Home gallery, including your garden tent square. We’d also love to include any stories, poems, and artwork you’ve created in our Treetops Newsletter, which we hope to send out at the end of the summer.