Part 2 of 7 – My experience at Camp Quest Ohio

Day 2, Sunday 19JUN2011

The normal wake up time is 0730hrs, but since the surroundings were unfamiliar and I move slowly in the morning, I had my alarm programmed for 0630hrs. Despite that, I was awake 15 minutes before the alarm, probably because my internal clock was still on Pacific time.

Since I stratified my backpack, it was pretty easy to grab what I needed in relative darkness without disturbing anyone else. I made my way to the showers and the first thing I noticed was that they were in really good condition, although a bit rustic in design. My only real complaint was that the water was lukewarm, which would have been great if we were having a typical Ohio summer. The weather was pretty unusual this year. Average morning temperatures were probably around the low 70’s with overcast skies every morning.

Although the first (and every other shower for that matter) went fine for me, I cannot say the same for a fellow counselor who was also up as early as I was. One of his eight year old campers evidently thought it would be fun to grab his clothes and redistribute them in various places around the shower area. What can I say? I thought it was pretty amusing, but then again, I was not the target of that little prank.

I got back to my cabin, packed up my stuff and hung out in my bunk until it was time for everyone else to get up. Lights went on at 0730hrs and everyone got up and started getting ready. At 0800hrs we got all of the campers up to the grassy field behind the dining hall where we were all instructed by Shawn, the Quartermaster, to line up in a big semi-circle for the morning gathering. The first order of business was for each cabin to do its cheer. After that, Shawn lead us all in the “Wii Fit Yoga” move of the day in order to “WAKE US UP!” (yes, he yelled it just like that). Today’s move was the “standing tree”. Next we all filed into the dining hall for breakfast. As per the usual drill, vegetarians went first and then August dismissed everyone by table for the regular breakfast.

After breakfast we went back to our cabins to do the daily cabin cleanup. Since it was the first day and all, we made a token effort to clean things up. In reality the boys spent most of the time hanging around or sleeping, which was perfectly fine with me. As long as the cabin did not become a health hazard, I really cared more about them having a good time than I did about strict adherence to the rules.

At 1000hrs we went up to do the educational programs in the pavilion area. The educational programs were divided up into two half-hour age appropriate sessions. My kids were in the older group so I am not sure what the younger kids did. The first session was run by my co-counselor Craig, and was on the topic of flying. Craig had his Parasailing rig as well as some remote control helicopters. He explained the theory behind each one and took questions from the kids. He ended the session with a demonstration of his remote control helicopter, which was a lot of fun to watch. The second session by Caroline was on the topic of world religions. Caroline described several world religions and the basis of their belief systems. It was an interesting session and the kids asked a lot of good questions.

At the end of the educational program all of the cabins assembled under the pavilion and were divided up into teams that were to stick together for the rest of the week. I was teamed up with Lisa. We were given three boys and three girls from the younger age groups. Shawn then lead all of the teams in some ice-breaker activities.

The first activity was for everyone to share their name and then form a circle. One person was given a ball and had to say someone’s name and then toss the ball to them. The purpose was to help everyone memorize everyone else’s name. The next activity was to grab a random team member’s hand with your left hand and do the same with your right hand. The result was a pretty convoluted knot and the goal was to “untie” this knot without letting go of anyone’s hand. I was pretty skeptical at first, but eventually we managed to do it successfully. This was a really fun activity. From there, we moved on to an activity that involved stacking cups into a pyramid using only a rubber band with strings tied to it. Each team member grabbed one string and the team manipulated the rubber band around the cups and stacked them into a pyramid. It took a few attempts, but we managed to accomplish the goal. By now the kids were really having a great time.

The final activity combined several teams into one big circle. One kid was chosen and two counselors took them back to the “isolation area” where they could not see what was going on in the main circle. Back at the main circle one person was chosen as the leader. Everyone was instructed to do what the leader did as smoothly as possible. If the leader snapped their fingers in succession, everyone else did so as well. If the leader transitioned to clapping their hands, everyone did the same thing, etc. The object of the game was for the isolated person to come back and discover who the leader was by carefully observing everyone in the circle. Done correctly, everyone changed what they were doing about the same time as the leader, so it was hard for the isolated person to discover who the leader was.

After the final team activity it was time for lunch. At the end of lunch, a new segment profiling famous freethinkers was added. Around the walls of the cafeteria there were laminated pages that had a picture and a brief bio of a famous freethinker. Today’s freethinkers, chosen from the pages around the cafeteria, were Adam Savage, of the TV show Mythbusters, and Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook. After the freethinker profiles, our cleaning reports were handed out. Our cabin got a 46 out of 100. This would be our best score all week.

Swimming was up next. We went back to our cabin and those who wanted to swim got ready, the rest just hung out in the cabin area until it was time to go to the pool. Those who chose not to swim played board games or just talked with their friends under the pavilion. After swimming, everyone went back to their cabins for downtime. At first, downtime did not seem to make much sense to me, but as soon as I saw my cabin almost instantly roll into their bunks and fall asleep, I realized that it was an integral part of the camp experience. I should also mention that my kids were in the 13/14/15 age band and required a lot of sleep.

Downtime lasted about an hour, after which everyone rolled out and went back up to the pavilion area for afternoon activities. The activities were broken up into two one-hour blocks with educational type activities in the first hour and sports type activities in the second hour. However, since it was raining (it would rain in one form or another every day) the first hour’s activities were rolled into the second. The activities were run in a ”three ring circus” style with kids choosing which area interested them the most. Today’s activities consisted of the science program with Stan, a Biology teacher from Minnesota, life discussions with Dr. Katie Hladkey, reading in the cafeteria, and Socrates cafe with Amanda Metskas. Rather than stick to any one activity, I roamed through all of the activities to get a feel for what was going on.

Stan ran his science program competition style throughout the week. Each day the kids who participated in his program use what they learned in a mini competition to earn points for that day. At the end of the week the points were added up and the winner is recognized at the final breakfast. Today’s activity, air cars, had each kid building a balloon powered car to see how far it could move across the pavilion floor. The cars started out as a basic kit and Stan added cardboard and tape supplies for things like the wheels. Stan purposely limited the quantity of materials in order to encourage the kids to be resourceful and solve the problems by thinking about them, rather than with massive quantities of duct tape.

I wandered over to Dr. Hladkey’s discussion circle next. What I heard were kids who were grappling with some fairly deep and complicated topics, searching for an understanding that I think eludes even most adults. It was pretty amazing to watch the discussions unfold. More than once I found myself wishing I had had something like this when I was a kid.

I decided to check out Socrates cafe next. On the way there, I made a stop through the dining hall to check out the reading activity. There were boxes of books and a bunch of kids were quietly reading. Most of the books were of a skeptical nature, but there were also history and fiction, including religious books like the Bible.

Just outside of the dining hall Amanda Metskas was holding Socrates Cafe. Of all four activities, Socrates Cafe seemed to be the biggest draw, not just today but every day of the week. In fact, it seemed to draw more and more participants as the week went on, including counselors and staff. The essential nature of Socrates Cafe is to contemplate abstract concepts in a collaborative fashion. Amanda starts the session by suggesting a few abstract topics like “what is beauty”, “what is right”, “what is wrong”, etc and then solicits more topics from the participants. Participants then vote on those topics to decide what they will discuss that day. From there, participants raise their hands and Amanda adds them to a list that determines the order in which people can contribute their thoughts. This prevents people from interrupting each other. It was fun to see something controversial come up and then hands started going up like crazy to get on the list and respond. About the only drawback to that approach is that the conversation may have moved on a bit by the time someone got a chance to respond, although in practice this did not seem to be much of an issue.

Dinner was next and then we went back to our cabins to work on our challenge skit. Each cabin was given a question to portray in a skit at the end of the week. Our question was “What relationships and families would seem normal in a majority atheist world?”. We spent an hour and a half on this and did not make much progress, although everyone had a lot of fun coming up with strange family scenarios. Craig, my co-counselor, said that this was to be expected and that it would come together as the week progressed.

To end the evening, the entire camp went up to the pavilion for Karaoke night. All sorts of songs were played, including a lot of the usual pop and Top 40. All the kids seemed to have a lot of fun with this. I just hung back and watched, except when it came to the Monty Python’s “Lumberjack” song. I could not resist going up with a whole group to sing that one. After the music was done, a small snack was served and then all of the kids were shuffled off to bed.

Once the kids were in bed, a few counselors stayed back in the cabin areas to supervise, and the rest of the staff and counselors joined the circle in the pavilion for the evening staff meeting. Everyone got a chance to identify a “rose” and a “thorn” for the day (something good and something bad). After the meeting some staff went to bed, others just hung out and socialized.

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