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I was tasked to help one of the leaders at camp this week, supervising the older kids, between 9- and 13-years old. She’s a lovely woman, with experience as a social worker, a school teacher, and a Sunday school teacher. She loves kids and has an understanding of the reasons why kids, especially those with a history of trauma, sometimes act out.

She does not, however have much understanding of how to run a group of active pre-teens at camp. She began her program yesterday by reading them some picture books. She followed that up by having them decorate paper bags with their names and whatever other pictures they wanted to draw, stickers they wanted to stick, or beads they wanted to glue. Then she had them go find things in nature that they thought were “really neat”, at the same time warning them not to go actually into the forest in any way.

The more tolerant of the kids dutifully decorated their bags and filled them with the neatest things they could find – pinecones, leaves, dandelions, and so forth – all the while looking like they would rather be doing anything else. The more rebellious ones (mine included) refused to do more than scrawl their names on their bags and then announce (with some justification) that there wasn’t anything “neat” to find in “a stupid field”.

The leader took great offence to all this, telling them in no uncertain terms that she didn’t like their attitude and that they should show some appreciation that someone had gone through all the work of planning activities for them. She opined that they would have more fun if they just participated. Dandelions, she told them, were very interesting, as was comparing the shapes of leaves, and even looking for different colours of rocks.

We were inches away from mutiny by the time the hour and half session had finished.

I knew that the kids weren’t going to stand for a whole week of kindergarten sessions every afternoon, so I went to the staff and asked if I could have them use the archery range the next day. They were happy to do that, but only once everything was arranged did I go back to the leader and tell her what they planned.

She was skeptical. Would archery really interest kids so young? How could shooting a few arrows keep them occupied for a whole hour and a half? Wasn’t archery dangerous? What if someone got hurt? She would be horrified if someone got hurt. Besides, she really didn’t think the kids would even like it.

I assured here that the camp ran archery for kids that young all the time, that there were would be a trained staff member there to run the whole thing, that nobody had yet been hurt at the camp in all its years of archery, and that the staff were all qualified in First Aid in the unlikely event that anything happened.

She seemed to sense that she was losing the safety argument, but she kept to her guns with the argument that kids so young were more interested in crafts and reading than in doing things like archery. So, I pulled out my ace in the hole. What if, I suggested, we ask the kids themselves at dinner. If they liked the idea of archery, we’d do it. If not, we’d do whatever she had planned the next day.

So, after dinner, she stood at the head of the dining hall and explained to the kids that she had a craft planned for the next day’s session where they would use things they found in nature to make miniature landscapes in boxes. Or, she said dismissively, they could do archery instead, if they really wanted.

The response was deafening. “Archery!” the kids screamed. Some of the jumped up on their chairs. One laid down on his back and began waving all four limbs in the air. Then they started to chant – “Arch-er-y! Arch-er-y! Arch-er-y!” I’m not exaggerating even in the slightest.

The poor leader looked crestfallen, as if everything she thought she knew about children had just been suddenly overturned. I felt sincerely sorry for her, I really did. But I’m happy to say that this afternoon I’ll be shooting bows and arrows with a bunch of excited preteens rather than dragging them through a craft none of them wanted to do.

I’ve already arranged to have them run the obstacle course tomorrow.