The Benefits of Free Choice

July 17th, 2017

By Andy Masten

Last summer we introduced a new tradition to the Camp Riverlea experience by introducing “Free Choice” activities a couple times a week. During Juice Break children are given the option to sign up for up to four activities to take part in during free swim. Some activities are traditional camp activities such as kayaking and river walking, and some are new ideas such as an Insect Scavenger Hunt and Yoga on the lawn. Campers get the opportunity to try new things or explore old favorites, but more importantly children get the opportunity to choose.

Camper’s days are usually laid out before them. Five activities, lunch, rest hour, and free swim. For some campers these days are followed by swim practice and baseball and scouts troops. In the midst of all that structure its very easy for us as counselors to get sucked into a routine and assume that kids are happy with the status quo. With Free Choice we can also provide children with a much-needed change of pace. Activities such as Story Time in the Grove can create a calm and relaxing atmosphere and create a quite refuge in the midst of a day of running around and exploring the natural world around us.Through Free Choice, we are trying to give the children some agency back into their own schedules and forcing ourselves to constantly evaluate what works and what we can do better.

Last session I had the opportunity to lead a game of Sharks and Minnows in kayaks on the pond. Since I am usually a General Counselor with the Hobbits and Baggins I don’t normally get the opportunity to work with the older kids, so leading this activity gave me the opportunity to work with new people and try new activities that I have not gotten the chance to do before. This summer marks my 6th year as a counselor at Riverlea and my 14th year in total. After spending almost a decade and a half at camp it is really refreshing to be able to still experience new things and build on old camp traditions.

At its core, Camp Riverlea is a safe place for children to continue to develop and grow in a structured space and environment. Free Choice helps us continue that development and keep camp fresh, both for campers and for staff.

A camp tradition for Durham area children

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