I remember a conversation I had with my mother during my university years. I was lamenting all the many directions I wanted my life to go and she told me, “Honey, you can’t do everything. You need to pick something and stick to it.”
But I was barely out of highschool and wasn’t interested in listening to my mother… and it’s probably one of the few instances when I’m glad I DIDN’T (at least not right away). I proceeded to take a whole bunch of university courses in a variety of interesting things that had nothing to do with each other: my music courses, but also environmental geography, English, even computer programming. I kept up with dance, even though it was never something I could be capable of doing professionally. I just dabbled in stuff.
Perhaps obviously, as I got older and my career evolved, I eventually let some things drop. I don’t take dance classes regularly anymore but I do still perform in local musical theatre (sometimes I even do the choreography). Those skills I picked up through my dabbling though seem to pop up in interesting ways – that computer programming course is what has allowed me to create our own dynamic camp schedules. While my mom was right – I couldn’t do everything (at least not forever), keeping my range of experiences open early on has had a lasting impact on the things I’ve been able to do, and it’s contributed HUGELY to the development of camp.
When I’m hiring my staff, I find myself looking for the same range of experiences – not that I need my staff to have the same interests and credentials that I do, but that they have DONE THINGS to amass a range of skills. Camp staff who have no skills to pass on to their campers have very little to offer our programming. They also don’t model the importance of life-long learning.
The more experience I have with the education system, the more I recognize how we seem to be churning out kids who haven’t had much exposure to variety. I hear about campers who don’t have time to attend March Break camp because they have too much homework. (Why are kids who are still camper age being given so much work for their holiday?) By grade 9, kids are forced to choose only ONE arts course – either music, drama, or visual arts (which, if you are a kid like I was, is akin to being forced to cut off one of your arms). Even if parents are willing and able to enroll their children in extracurricular sports, chances are they’ll only have the time and the resources to participate (ie specialize) in just one. What are the chances they’ll happen to pick “the” sport on the first try?
Kids should not be brought up to be one-trick ponies (or worse, kids who only pursue academic courses). Kids should have the freedom to explore a range of experiences, to try out a wide variety of things – whether they’re “useful” or not. Not just to make them more well-rounded, but also to develop hobbies and interests that will provide stress relief and enjoyment later in life. When it DOES come time for them to grow up and stop doing everything, they’ll have the prior knowledge to make an informed decision about what it is they’d really like to do.
That’s one of the things I love about camp – we let kids dabble. Just look at the huge list of activities they get to try out.