Families in the Triangle have no shortage of options when it comes to choosing a camp for their child. Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, and the surrounding areas are overflowing with camps that offer fun, friendship, and memories that will last a lifetime.
For almost 30 years, Schoolhouse of Wonder has created kind, curious, and confident kids through nature-based, outdoor adventures. Schoolhouse is a safe place where children from all walks of life are challenged and nurtured to become their best self.
So what makes Schoolhouse different from dozens of other camps that encourage children to unplug and explore nature?
We believe open-hearted children become open-minded adults.
Our difference begins with respect for self, for others, and all the living things around us. Our core values guide how we interact with children, grown ups, and each other. We model open and respectful communication and listen deeply – to each camper’s story about a disagreement, each family’s concern, each teacher’s question, and each staff member’s suggestion. We listen deeply because everyone deserves to be witnessed, heard, and respected.
We encourage all staff, families, and children to share the names and pronouns they want others to use. We commit to using the names and pronouns requested by staff, families, and children. We acknowledge that people make mistakes, but expect that everyone at our camps does their best to respect everyone’s chosen name and personal pronouns.
Schoolhouse doesn’t employ a traditional approach to engaging campers or managing behavior. Our fundamental commitment to respect means there’s no place for time outs, public shaming, humiliation, and other forms of punishment.
Instead, we first connect on an emotional level through a combination of listening, relating, and teaching that we call a “reroute.” Our staff stays positive, proactive, and curious about what each child is trying to communicate with their behavior. What’s the root cause? Are they feeling hungry, angry, lonely, tired, or bored? Is there conflict between campers?
Behavior is, after all, a form of communication, and behavioral challenges are just that: challenges that allow for learning and growth. When children (and adults) feel heard and respected, it is much easier to redirect and refocus them toward acceptable behaviors.
Perceived Risk and Safety
Schoolhouse camps include activities that some folks consider risky. Throwing a tomahawk, whittling with a pocketknife, jumping off a rock into the river, or running through the woods aren’t routine activities for most kids these days.
We believe that supervised risk-taking is an essential part of growing up. Campers’ sense of risk and opportunities to navigate challenges can be valuable experiences when offered in a safe environment with skilled mentors.
Safety is our top priority at all times — from free play to archery and everything in between. We don’t sit on the sidelines and supervise. Our experienced staff stay actively engaged with campers, splashing in the river, hiding in the leaves, and playing the games. Our goal is to proactively identify and resolve safety and behavior management issues, not merely react to situations after they occur.
Mentors and Storytellers
We view our work with kids through the lens of mentoring. Not dictating answers or solutions but helping people find them on their own. Guiding and informing. Listening. Empathizing. Through our leadership training programs, we strive to help teens become more kind, curious, and confident young leaders, whether at camp, school, or life in general. Our adult staff mentor Junior Counselors, Counselors in Training, campers, and even each other. We are committed to becoming our best selves and helping others do the same.
Schoolhouse camps and field trips are renowned for the stories we tell groups – folk tales, legends, and many others. What’s less well known, but no less important, are the narratives we weave with kids every day. After playing games, we “process” them as a group—what went well? what did you like? what can we do better next time? Even if an activity went poorly and ended with low spirits, there are gems to be mined and shared.
Campers and staff alike start our days with stories of what we’re thankful for and finish with stories from our time together. Even campers’ family members join in for our family closing circle on Friday. When bad things happen or kids feel sad, we take the time to help them tell the story of what happened. Whether told one time or a dozen and counting, this process of storytelling and self-reflection offers kids opportunities to better integrate their experiences and continue on their journey toward discovering their best selves.
We’re inspired by our staff’s years of experiences working with kids, by Coyote Mentoring and Nature Awareness Schools, by child-development and neuroscience books such as The Whole Brain Child, by the environmental and outdoor education movements, and by our own lessons learned while spending time in nature.
Here are some resources we’ve found inspiring since Schoolhouse began and more recently:
- The Whole Brain Child and No-Drama Discipline by Dan Siegel and Tina Bryson
- The Art of Mentoring by Jon Brown
- Sharing Nature with Children by Joseph Cornell
- Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature by Jon Young, Ellen Haas, and Evan McGown
If you’ve read something great, drop us a line. We love recommended reading lists!