Friday, January 21, 2011

Because of the Trees

  I knew it. I did it anyway but I knew it. The skill is in the interviewer after all. If I could just ask the right questions, come at it from the right angle, these kids would say exactly the perfect profound thing and people would be handing over their life savings to send a kid to camp. The world would be forever changed! That was my hope anyway. After introducing themselves and their “babies,” Anna, whose doll is named Anna, and Katie, the older of the two sisters who is fond of wearing pink prairie dresses, followed me up to the camp’s gift shop so we could grab some Prescott Pines t-shirts and get a chance to just talk. I told them my plan - how I was just going to throw the camera on them and talk just like we were talking now. Simple. No gimmicks.  I wanted this to be as natural and genuine as possible. Those promos where kids are clearly fed the right answers seem so cut and paste. Now we were ready. The camera was positioned. The girls were posed. The warm-up questions had been asked.
“So tell me your favorite thing about camp.”
“What was one thing you liked best?”
“I don’t know.”
“What kinds of things did you do at camp?”
“Swimming, games, singing, eating.”  A little better at least the response was longer than three words.
“Why do you like to go to camp?”
“It’s soooooooooooo fun.”  Dramatic pause hoping she will continue.
“Do you learn anything at camp?”
“We learn about God.”
“What about God?”
“I don’t know.”  I just need to go for it. Time to just get to what I am after.
“Do you think every kid should be able to go to camp?”
“Because it is fun!”  She is nine years old. Remember she is nine years old.
“Some kids can’t come to camp. Do you know why?”
“They’re scared.”
“Any other reason?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well some of them can’t come because they don’t have enough money. How could we get these kids to come to camp?”
“Give them money.”
“So how do we get people to give money?”
Blank stare.
“Why should they send a kid to camp?”
“Because it’s soooooo fun!”  Time for a new approach. 
  I excitedly tell Anna, the real girl, and Kate that they are directors who are making a commercial to send kids to camp. (First we needed to explain what a commercial was. The girls don’t watch tv.)   Then I told them I was sending them to a special place to come up with three ideas. This way their creativity wouldn’t be stifled.  (They wanted to know what stifled meant.)  I introduced the- da-da-da-da -Creativity Booth!  (It was the sound booth in the back of the chapel.) They girls excitedly ran up the three steps and ducked down. A few minutes later, they were running back.  
“We have an idea!”
“Yes, yes, what is it?”
“If you come to camp, you get a free t-shirt!” Oh.
“Girls, that is great for kids! But what about adults? Why would they want to send a kid to camp?” Back to the creativity booth they went and few minutes later, a new idea.
“We got it! We got it! If you send a kid to camp, they will forget about their parents!” The laughing is almost unstoppable. I am left wondering.  Again, time for a new approach. 
“Anna, this will be your first time to camp, right? Katie, you went last summer. Anna, how about you ask your sister all the questions you have about camp?”  They stand in front of the camera again. I nod my head and they begin.
“So Katie, you say you go to chapel at night and sit on benches. Are they normal benches like in a park?”
“What color are they?”
“Like normal brown? Like a tree trunk or like mud?” 
“A tree trunk.”
“Oh. What did you do with your hair?” Really. This is important.
“I wore a braid.”
“Like in two braids? Or one braid?” 
Now the mother steps in.  She wants to know if she can help prompt the girls behind the camera. She shares all that Katie shared with her upon coming home from camp and knows what I am trying to get at. So she begins.
“Katie, when did you go to chapel?”
“At night”
“What was above you?”
“The sky.”
“Was there anything in the sky?”
“Anything in the darkness?”
“No? No twinkling things?”
“Mom! We couldn’t see the stars!”
“Why not?
“Because there were trees!”
“Oh trees. Lots of trees?”  Maybe we should just feed them the answers.
If she wanted her daughter to say “Camp is a place where you can experience the wonders of the outdoors and the mystery and greatness of the natural world” it was not going to happen. She is nine. I knew it.  I know better. I even train our staff here for our Outdoor Education program on the levels of cognitive thinking and the kinds of questions we can ask as teachers.  In the end, I put Mom on camera and she talked about the impact of camp on her daughter. When it comes down to it, at this nine year old point in their lives, they come to camp because it is fun. Soooo fun.  And that’s enough. It’s later in life when the impact really comes forth.  When the realities of life are longer than a one word answer, when the questions are deeper than color, it is in these moments that having sent a kid to camp will be empowering. I know it.  

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