We just completed a great summer here at Gwynn Valley. This was all made possible by the great staff that guided your children and the fact that you as parents sent us wonderful groups of children this summer. We hope you are hearing stories from camp that will create great memories for summers to come. Camp plays an important role in children’s lives that can’t be repeated in most homes or at school. We believe that a camp experience is part of an overall whole education of the child as they grow and mature.
I recently read an interesting article in Outside Magazine called “We Don’t Need No Education”. Double negatives aside, it was an interesting read on how one set of parents living in rural Vermont are “unschooling” their children. The two boys, ages 9 and 12 (typical GV aged boys) don’t attend traditional school and don’t participate in a regular home school type education. The boy’s father dropped out of school at 16 due to “traditional education boredom” and has made a decent life for himself and his family. He did get his GED and spent several semester’s in Vermont’s State University system. They own a small farm in Vermont and spend much of their time tending their farm, living a sustainable lifestyle and the dad has just written a book: Home Grown: Adventures in Parenting Off the Beaten Path, Unschooling, and Reconnecting with the Natural World. He blogs at benhewitt.net.
He and his wife advocate that the boys experience living life on the farm as a form of traditional education. They utilize their math skills in many different ways and with dad being a writer, I’m sure he watches how they speak, read and write. When their first son reached the age of 5 they tried some home school methods observed from the Waldorf curriculum. That didn’t work with that son and “the moment we quit trying to teach our son anything was the moment he started really learning”. The article goes on to talk about some of the folks who have influenced this type of educational philosophy that the parents have embraced. Really the most interesting part of the article is the day to day life the two boys lead and how their strong connection with the natural world and relating that to some traditional education themes of the 3 R’s.
Very few of us have taken this path with our own children and the vast majority are doing fine in the traditional educational system. As a person who is fairly close to nature and the out-of-doors, it’s exciting to read about the day to day lives of these boys. There are many children who would love to live this lifestyle. It is the ideal classroom in many ways. Several years ago we took a family vacation to the Virgin Islands and stayed in a campground on the beach at St. Johns with our 4 children. We decided to charter a sailboat through friend of a friend and had a wonderful time being out on the ocean for a day dropping anchor in deserted coves, swimming and living the tropical life. The owner of the boat invited us all over later that evening and told us that he his wife and two sons had built the boat we were on that day and sailed with their sons throughout the world and visited ports all over the globe. The boys got their education on that boat and on dry land when in port, but neither attended any type of formal school until college. Now both sons are quite successful in practicing medicine and law and doing well. A happy ending, but obviously not for everyone.
This is where a good camp experience is so important in rounding out a child’s world. After sitting in a traditional classroom a good portion of the year, camp “re-wilds” your child. At camp we are learning new skills each day, challenging oneself, sometimes failing and trying again if you want, and living in a small community where you have to pull your weight and be responsible to multiple groups where you’re not the center of attention. I can say this having been an only child. (Maybe that’s one reason why I own a camp.) Camp does a world of good for children and exposes them to some of the aspects that these two boys from the article are experiencing in their rural unschooled life in Vermont. Unstructured free-play is something every child needs and our meadows and woods are the perfect environment for that to happen in. Campers become acclimatized to the outdoor world that we’ve grown farther away from while spending too much time looking at screens. They begin to see how important the WEB of LIFE is and add to that, a few trips to the farm really hones in on where our food comes from and how important it is to eat a balanced non processed food diet.
All this and more at Gwynn Valley allows children to develop under the watchful eye of those who are not parents. As parents, we are pretty cool but not as cool as those counselors at camp. These are the folks that lead us on adventures and teach us where the clay comes from that forms into a pinch pot, why we need to treat drinking water in the woods, learning a knot that may one day be useful in a whole different way than climbing, learning that Jewel Weed is a good remedy for itchy bug bites, and certainly but not finally introducing us to activities and hobbies that we can do for the rest of our lives. The Simple Joys of Childhood really fits us and our program. We are pleased to be entering our 80th year of operation and look forward to serving many children for years to come. Thank you again for sharing your children with us. We look forward to seeing you again next summer at Gwynn Valley.