Monday, May 16, 2016

A Self-Directed Summer Camp

At Camp Stomping Ground in upstate New York, children are free. Unlike most weekly residential summer camps, Stomping Ground challenges the dominant idea that children need to be directed, and instead allows children to wake up each day and determine what they want to do.

Living and learning collaboratively, campers and adult staff members engage together in meaningful, enjoyable summertime experiences that are entirely camper-led. There are no required activities, no demands on what children should do and when. “Radical empathy” is a cornerstone of the Stomping Ground vision, and young people and grown-ups work together to ensure that everyone is safe and respected within an entirely self-directed model of interaction. 

As camp founders and directors, Laura Kriegel and Jack Schott, say: “We live in arguably the most exciting and important time in human history. And yet, in a world that’s never been more full of possibility, our children’s lives have become more and more programmed, and restricted. How can we prepare kids for happy lives in this world brimming with possibility if they aren’t permitted to see that it exists?” To that end, Kriegel and Schott make sure that campers decide for themselves how to spend their time, whom to be with, and where and what to explore.

About half of the campers at Stomping Ground come from a self-directed or unschooling background, while the remaining half are conventionally schooled. The founders are passionate about community-based, self-directed learning and believe that summer camp can be a powerful springboard for many families to leap into self-directed education all year. They want to fundamentally transform the ways in which the majority of children learn by helping families shift their thinking from schooling to learning. “We’re reimagining a world where kids have a chance to learn differently,” says Kriegel.

Summer is a good place to start. In summer, many families already value more freedom and play for their children, with less structure and fewer academic expectations. The key for Kriegel and Schott is to help retain this freedom and play for children come September by educating others about the intense and authentic learning that occurs when education is self-directed. 

In addition to educating parents, Kriegel and Schott are committed to cultivating a new crop of educators who understand and embrace the philosophy of self-directed learning. They make it an important part of their mission to recruit and train camp counselors in the tenets of self-directed learning, and they remain dedicated to their counselor alumni group, in the hope that former counselors become engaged in self-directed education beyond camp. According to Schott: “It’s very fresh in the counselors’ minds how awful school can be and there is so much energy in that 18 to 25 age group of what more is possible.”

Camp Stomping Ground is currently enrolling for this summer! Check out their website to learn more about the program, and to view their tuition's generous sliding scale based on ability to pay. 

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