Camp is a place where children come together to build friendships, develop their passions and have enriching experiences that they will hold onto for the rest of their lives. As practitioners we should embrace the opportunity of making children of all identities, abilities and backgrounds feel supported, represented and included in any activity. It is vitally important to disrupt the systems of oppression, advocate for your campers and foster an empathetic environment.
An easy way to make all genders feel included is to share names and pronouns at the top of your sessions. Have students all introduce themselves in a fun way (Name and Motion is always a hit!) but make sure they include their pronouns. Try to keep this practice throughout your sessions as gender is fluid and some campers' gender may change during your time together. This assures none of your campers will be misgendered and no one accidentally uses their deadname (their birth name that is no longer used as part of their gender transition or identity).
Keep in mind that families may not be accepting of their child’s identity and will request you use pronouns that make your camper feel uncomfortable. In this scenario it is best to touch base with the camper once their parent isn’t around so you may learn their gender identity and proper pronouns. It is also important to know what pronoun or name your camper prefers to be called when their family is around, we don’t want to out our campers or put them in an uncomfortable position! Remember gender expression (ie, how people dress) is NOT the same as gender identity (personal sense of gender). Refraining from making assumptions about a person’s identity is the first step to making a more inclusive session!
Creating greater cultural responsiveness and inclusion not only helps children of different backgrounds and abilities succeed, but it encourages acceptance and helps prepare children to thrive in a diverse world. While it is important for children to see themselves represented in curriculums, there is a thin line between inclusivity and stereotyping. The assumption that a child of a particular race, gender, disability or background must be connected to a specific culture is an oppressive mindset.
Consider devoting a day early into your sessions that celebrates your campers’ cultures! Culture should not be restricted to one's racial or ethnic background. Not every individual may feel connected to their race or ethnicity to share that culture. Have campers share an item that they are proud of that represents a part of their cultural identity. It is a great way to learn more about each other and embrace differing experiences. This activity can also help in your curriculum building as you can integrate aspects of your campers’ cultures throughout your sessions.
While it’s easy to think comprehensive programming will suit the needs of every child, the truth is there is no “one size fits all” model for curriculum. You may find this summer that you have an increased number of campers that require higher support. Keep in mind that during the pandemic a lot of children did not have the privilege to be evaluated; therefore you may have some campers that are a part of the neurodiverse community and require more assistance.
Take time to understand how learners build their knowledge. Not everyone feels comfortable with verbal participation. Children can be kinesthetic, visual, logical, linguistic or artistic learners. Offer varied tasks depending on a child’s background knowledge and processing skills. Create a more inclusive definition of participation that involves active listening, written response, artistic response or creating smaller discussion groups. While you are facilitating your activities it is also great to set SMART goals. Specific, Measurable, Agreed-upon, Time-bound. This helps to provide a structure that is clear for participants to follow and helps to manage disruptive behaviors.
The most important part of this approach is willingness to try something different to elicit different results. Take time to reflect on your past and current practices, constantly asking yourself “Am I operating from a place of empathy and being socioculturally conscious?'' If the answer is no, well that’s a great place to start!