While the first half of my summer was an exercise in self-exploration and my own learning quest, it was during the second half that I was able to explore the teaching aspect of Thoreau’s writing. Thoreau himself was a teacher, working at the Sanborn School and Concord Academy, both in Concord Massachusetts. Thoreau much preferred the company of children to the company of adults, and had a teach philosophy based upon holistic learning and forming community based relationships with his students.
I had been tasked with the job of instructing the Leaders in Training of Camp Takodah. Over the course of four weeks, it was my role to teach twelve seventeen year old girls methods of dealing with campers between the ages of eight and fifteen. Most of my campers had been going to camp for five plus years, so the routine was nothing new to them. The new challenge they encountered was how to take a place that had always been for them ad learn to create that kind of camp magic for children younger than themselves. Here was where they were given the opportunity to examine what made camp so special for them in an effort to recreate it.
My co-leader and I began their time at camp by asking a simple question: What was the moment that camp clicked for you? The answers ranged from the appearance on first coming to camp, to making best friends. The thing that all these memories had in common was the fact that none of this experiences could have happened outside of camp. There is something about the environment of camp that allows for the cultivation of the kind of intense relationships and emotional experiences that cannot be had in most other locales. This comes from the hands-on, daily interaction with the environment and one another that does not come from outside sources, but rather an internal self perpetuating community. This community building is at the heart of what the leader in training must come to understand.
The LIT curriculum teaches three main goals of a summer at camp. 1. That each camper will make a best friend. 2. That each camper will learn a skill or do some activity which they could not do outside of camp. 3. That each camper will come to love camp as much as the staff do. Thoreau writes in Walden, “I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor” (65). The goals of camp serve to improve the children who attend through their own efforts in a new place apart from parental guidance. It is a challenge to both the leaders and the campers to delve into this kind of emotionally intense learning experience for a limited amount of time each summer. But that is why campers continue coming back and return for years on staff. The community fosters learning as Thoreau’s transcendental theories of education insisted that learning could best occur.