greetings readers! i wanted to fill you in on what we’ve been up to recently. for our family, august has been a “sink or swim” kinda month, a “swift kick in the pants” kinda month, a “can’t hold on much longer” kinda month. but, alas…these feelings of panic and desperation are beginning to subside (like all feelings do – they morph and change – emotional states ebb and flow, like the rising and falling of the tides). and i can roll with this.
the title of this blog post is a (not anymore) inside joke between brett and i. you see….last week, we sent our lovely isabel to summer camp. i “discovered” this particular camp over the past winter, during an internet search of: camps for kids who love animals.
i went to summer camp from age 7 to age 12. my annual week of camp participation became and remain many of my most treasured childhood memories. so, i knew that at some point, when my children were young, i wanted to save money and commit to sending them to camp. first up….is isabel.
isabel loves animals, which is why i picked: the country school farm, for her first sleepaway camp experience. i didn’t know anyone who had been to this camp. it was a gut feeling that i trusted as i searched the camp website for information and testimonials about this camp and the experience that it would provide for children. and my instinct, my intuition was correct. this is a very special camp.
the camp is located in holmes county, ohio – a 5+ hour drive from our home in central indiana. the camp is situated amongst the rolling green hills and pleasant, tidy homestead farms of the world’s largest old-order amish settlement.
the barker family founded the country school farm in 1976. the barkers live and work the farm year-round. they welcome groups of 25-36 children for week-long sessions of summer camp from may-august.
in the early 1970s, the barkers were inspired by the works and philosophy of dr. maria montessori – specifically, the concept of erdkinder: earth children (german). montessori recommends a farm experience for the emerging adolescent as an important way of fostering mental, physical, emotional and civic growth through the transition from childhood to adulthood.
hence, the birth of the country school farm. the activities of the camp were created to meet the practical needs of the farm. the authenticity of the farm experience….the children living and working on a “real” farm fosters trust and a sense of personal and collective responsibility. the campers exercise initiative in choosing the farm chores that they are willing and able to do. the children utilize a hands-on approach to solve problems and execute tasks within small groups and with the assistance of the barkers. the absence of competition promotes a sense of cooperation, family life and community – an open classroom with the consistency and security of family farm life. richard barker said, “throughout the week, we encourage the children to claim the farm as their own.”
the other intriguing aspect of the country farm school is its deliberate location within a large amish community. the barkers themselves, are not amish; and the camp experience is secular. yet, the barkers do appreciate and draw strength and purpose from living among these gentle peoples and their modified 19th century technologies.
the barkers believe that living and working within the amish community positively contributes to the camp/farm experience in 2 distinct ways. first….amish life is people scaled – meaning that everyone contributes in his or her own way, and that tasks are accomplished by the efforts of the people (children included). second….the amish way of life is based on the productivity of the land – so that the children’s camp activities are meaningful. the campers harvest food from the garden to add to the evening meal. they take care of the animals and livestock so they too will provide food and sustenance to the campers and the community. within this extraordinary setting, the children easily relate to and understand the concepts of: effort and reward, responsibility and value, and the direct experience of learning how to begin to take care of themselves and others.
our isabel was very very reluctant to attend this camp. she thought it sounded like a lot of chores. she was sad and mad throughout the drive to camp. i am sure she was reassured that this would be a good experience when we met up with other camp kids and families at the local hotel the night before camp check-in…..but, she maintained her stoic and unhappy attitude about the whole thing towards brett and i. so, we dropped her off last monday morning….and wished her the very best. brett and i drove off. we were not sure if she would allow herself to have a good experience. throughout the week, we wondered: does she love it? does she like it? has she made friends? we hoped with all our hearts that she was having a good time.
friday afternoon came quickly. it was time to pick her up. we wanted so badly to see her smile. we hoped that she would have a lightness in her heart, a spring in her step. you know, she tends to be cynical. she slouches. she has very high standards. she complains a lot. so, we had no idea what to expect.
and then, we saw her. she looked healthy. she smiled. we got in the car. i prompted the conversation. she said she thought the camp was….ok. she made friends with a few girls. she loved taking care of the bunnies, ferrets, hens and chicks…..and she didn’t say a whole lot more. she chooses to be very private and does not reveal much of her feelings or thoughts. i am used to this with her.
but, here’s the cool part: we (me, brett and isabel) stopped for dinner on the drive home. i said, “brett, isabel looks taller – significantly taller…..could that be possible? she couldn’t have grown an inch or two in just 5 days. but, that’s what it looks like.” he agreed with me. she is noticeably taller. then, it hit us. the lightbulb turned on….illumination.
she is holding her head higher. she is not slouching. she looks more dignified, poised, confident. she is standing taller not because she grew in size….but because she grew in stature.
thank you barkers. thank you country school farm. you helped one girl blossom.