Always Exploring

“It’s fun to have fun, but you have to know how,” said The Cat In the Hat. It seems to me that Dr. Seuss, who obviously understood children, nevertheless, like most adults, was blind to the ability of kids to extract pleasure out of any place or situation that they find themselves in. I used to go out of my mind with boredom and impatience in the waiting rooms of our pediatrician, while my children invented games with whatever was at hand to amuse themselves and pass the time more calmly. At SVS they do this all day long. They gather sticks and build forts and earth shelters. They ride their ripsticks in a hundred different ways. They make amazing little miniature designs with pebbles or leaves. They explore the world around them in infinite ways and have a blast doing it. So it seems to me that kids should be left to use their time without much help from us adults, or from The Cat in the Hat; they are doing great on their own, thank you very much!

So why, one might ask, do the staff members responsible for the annual five day camping trip at Nickerson State Park on Cape Cod go to the trouble to plan any activities at all? As one of the planners, I used to think that we were doing this to enhance the experience of camping in nature, and to explore the unusual environment of Provincetown, so different from the one they are accustomed to at home. To be sure, this is so. But there is more, much more, that occurs on these trips which we, the staff, have nothing to do with and which took me many years to finally see.

It’s all about the special connections that people make in isolated situations like ship voyages, outward bound adventures, or the like. It seems to me that even with persons who see each other daily, having a different place to be together for a time changes the usual social dynamics between them, and makes it possible for new and wonderful things to happen. They interact with people with whom they usually don’t in school and really get to know them. They talk for hours. They make up games. They shop in Provincetown and show each other what they have bought. They joke and sing and eat together. In short, they deepen their feelings of community, venturing out of their comfort zone, forming relationships with new people, and deepening the ones with their friends. On every trip they tell me that they stayed up all night talking. “But you have been together all year at school,” I say; “What is left to talk about?” And they tell me that it is different on the trip – but they don’t offer an explanation.

So, while camping is fun, it seems to me that the real reason for going to Nickerson is very personal indeed.

Actually, the same things happen at the sleepover at school for young students. Boys and girls across the age spectrum play and talk together in a way that they don’t do usually. They have a great time laughing together and making up games during or just after dinner, and that is what makes the overnight such a special experience for them and makes all the extra work worthwhile for me.

The views expressed on this page are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Sudbury Valley School.