Winter is already here. No snow in these parts, but there is lovely outdoor weather, plenty of sunshine, and winter camp. Recreational centers are promoting their programs during the school break, and I personally think camp is a great experience for homeschooled and unschooled children to tap into.
Z had her first camp experience this past summer and it started out a bit emotional. In the last year she had grown accustomed to me dropping her off for one-hour class sessions. Having Moulay along for the ride, it was no fun for him to sit and watch his big sister karate chop or cartwheel without being able to join in. So, it was easier to drop her off, then take him to the park or to pick up groceries.
But summer camp was different. My unschooled girl would be staying for three hours on her own. She went in confidently but at the end of Day 1, I saw the look that moms know well—the look of your child holding in tears that can be fought no longer.
That longer than usual ride home was painful. Z bawled and sobbed the entire way home. At six and a half, she straddled two age groups, and I encouraged her to stay with the older kids. Being a STEM-based program that would expose her to various engineering disciplines in an interactive, hands-on way, there weren’t many female students (though the staff was primarily female). This didn’t bother me or Z one bit. I myself studied engineering. But Z walked into the older group’s classroom as the only girl and the boys told her that it would be too challenging and difficult for her. My little girl had her first encounter of sexism and it crushed her.
The younger group was welcoming to Z. She had girls to play and learn with, but this wasn’t the solution. We sifted through the sobs and tears to get to the root of what hurt her— the feeling of being unwanted and unwelcomed. Her dad and I sat with her and let her know that returning was her choice. If she wanted to stay with the younger kids, we’d enroll her for a week, since she had already made friends. But, if she was up for the challenge of working with older students who were primarily male, we would enroll her for the entire month and let her counselors know they needed to make that space welcoming for her too.
Z decided to stay and complete engineering camp. Most days were pleasant. Failed experiments or projects left her frustrated, but she persisted and would spend snack breaks with male and female students from both groups. She rejoiced at every new girl who joined the camp and became an unofficial ambassador, welcoming other girls and discouraging the gender rivalries that she couldn’t comprehend. She advocated for mixed teams instead of pitting boys against girls, and we were so proud to see her find her place and voice in the new setting.
After getting into the groove of camp, it started to feel like an ideal education experience (minus the sexism, of course). Z could still start her day leisurely without an alarm clock, rushed meals, or honking school buses. She spent just a few mid-morning hours a day, totally immersed in one subject with a mixed group of peers and teachers who were totally passionate about their field of interest. No homework, no grades; just learning, engagement, and fun. Z is back at engineering camp for the winter, but if she could hop from one camp to another at will, all year-round, it would be my ideal model of a school.