Covid-19 has had a profound effect on our kids. Months of social isolation, frightening words and images constantly flashing across the television screen, and a complete change in the way we lead our lives has caused an upheaval in the way that children interact with each other. Noone knows this better than Alex Dorson, director of Camp Wiggi in Franklin, Massachusetts.
Each week, a new group of campers ranging in age from 3 – 15 years old attends Camp Wiggi. While some campers attend for only one week, others are members of Camp Wiggi through the entire 12 week summer program.
When approximately 250 kids entered the popular YMCA camp this summer, they were different from years past. Tentative and shy, and not quite sure how to reenter the world of social interaction. This was the perfect time to reinstill a simple concept – kindness.
In previous years, the excitement and freedom of attending a summer camp after months of being in a structured school environment had led to unkind behaviors between campers. Directors sought to find a solution, and quickly realized the positive impact that the Choose To Be Nice program could have.
In the summer of 2020, Camp Wiggi became a Choose To Be Nice Camp!
At the beginning of each week of summer camp, campers make the Choose To Be Nice promise, and new campers have the opportunity to sign the Choose To Be Nice banner, which hangs prominently at Camp Wiggi.
Adapting the Choose To Be Nice curriculum from a classroom tool to a summer camp was a surprisingly easy task – it simply became a station within the traditional camp activity groups. Kindness was interspersed between the swimming, crafting and games each day, in its own 45 minute block. During their time in the Choose To Be Nice station, campers explored the themes throughout the curriculum. Each week held a different theme. They read books and created their own projects based on the ideas, doing things such as creating kindness rocks to spread throughout the camp, making posters with the Choose To Be Nice promise on them, and writing letters to their future selves.
Camp staff chose Choose To Be Nice Ambassadors throughout the week of camp.
Sometimes they chose a camper who truly exemplified the traits of kindness being taught that week. And sometimes, the opposite was true. Sometimes, the camper chosen to be an ambassador of kindness was someone who could use a bit of extra help in showing their own kindness, and needed the boost of being chosen. Whatever the reason they were chosen, the Choose To Be Nice Ambassadors held a special job – they were the keepers of the Kindness Tokens. These Kindness Tokens were to be given out to campers throughout the day, when they were seen demonstrating kindness during other activity stations. At the end of the week, campers could “cash in” their tokens for special activities for their group – exciting events like extra time on the slip and slide, or perhaps the chance to throw a pie in the face of their camp counselors!
The behavior of the campers has taken a drastic turn since the implementation of Choose To Be Nice stations.
“I can’t sum up the change I have seen in our culture,” explains Dorson. “It is incredible. Kids entered camp this year and couldn’t understand the basics of kindness. Now, they are coming into a camp where kindness is the basis. We aren’t trying to change their behavior once they are here, they are coming into a camp where kindness just already is.”