Getting Noticed at Camp

Getting Noticed at Camp

This summer, I was “Noticed” by a fellow staff member for having a cheery attitude at camp. They handed me a blue rubber bracelet stamped with the words “I AM NOTICED.”

“Hey, I just wanted to give you this because I Noticed your good attitude, and I wanted you to know that it matters.”

“Thanks,” I said, still slightly confused, but grateful.

It had been a long week–the summer heat zapped everyone’s energy, and I had was working hard to keep a smile on my face. So I was tickled to be the recipient of an unexpected act of kindness and noticed for trying.

Although the bracelet didn’t match my style, it stayed on my desk all summer.

When I cleaned off my desk in early September, I wondered what being “Noticed” was all about.

What is I AM Noticed?
Summer  staff taking part  in "I AM Noticed" training
Summer staff taking part in “I AM Noticed” training

This summer, Jaime Lyon and Amy Johnson of I AM Noticed spent some very intentional time with our summer staff. Their goal was to foster positive camp culture at Wildwood.

“It was certainly time well spent,” explains Amy.  

I AM Noticed aims to create a sustainable positive culture for students, staff, and families. To do this, Amy and Jaime trained Wildwood summer staff to Notice positive traits and behaviors in themselves, their peers, and our campers.

The pair ground their work on the I AM Noticed Cycle, a cycle of practices that promote positivity. “When we trained counselors at Wildwood,” Jaime explains, “we engaged in art, Noticing, and great conversation that staff were able to then share with Wildwood campers.”

Jaime provides an “I AM” art experience that includes creativity and positivity. Amy then teaches a character education curriculum. Finally, the art and character education components come together to help camp staff Notice goodness in others and foster a positive camp culture.  

Why Does Noticing Matter at Camp?

“There is so much goodness to notice at Camp Wildwood!”

“The camp experience is so unique and magical and I AM Noticed helps add even more love and impact,” explains Jaime,”One of the most powerful things about getting Noticed at camp is that people can really focus on what is important. There are fewer distractions and the simplicity of knowing they matter comes to life.” 

What’s more, Noticing helps Wildwood deliver its third key learning experience to our campers–building community.

Summer staff  in  "I AM Noticed"  training
Summer staff in “I AM Noticed” training

So What Does Noticing a Camper Look Like?

Noticing a camper (or anyone) is simple. To Notice someone means that counselors are on the lookout for positive traits and behaviors, and when they Notice those bright spots, they verbalize it to campers.

For example, a counselor might say, “I Noticed you were so brave for trying zucchini at dinner, even though you’d never had it.” Campers light up when they’re Noticed. (Having been Noticed myself, it feels pretty great.)

“When camp staff are present and open at camp and noticing goodness,” explains Amy, “they help encourage campers’ confidence and resilience

Campers then take this experience and can bravely Notice the goodness around them.”

“Camp is the perfect setting for us to practice the I AM Noticed Cycle,” says Jaime. At Wildwood, Noticing can be “as simple as choosing to have a want-to attitude, using positive I AMs, Noticing the goodness in ourselves and others, receiving goodness when it comes are way, or choosing to accept the privilege and responsibility that we impact the world around us.”

Why Does It Matter?

I AM Noticed training matters beyond camp.

At its core, the I AM Noticed program encourages us all to be more confident and resilient humans. The program teaches vital communication and relationship building skills. Through training, “people of all ages learn practices that can be used throughout their lives to be more grateful for the good times, and more capable in the hard times.”

Wildwood camp counselor displaying her Noticed artwork.

“There is nothing like working with adults who choose to serve kids through the camp experience. Getting to work with the Wildwood team was no exception! Amazing people serving amazing kids!” -Amy Johnson and Jaime Lyon

The Big Yellow Bus

The Big Yellow Bus

Six times this summer I woke up early to meet the big yellow bus in local grocery store parking lot to load up campers for their journey to Wildwood.

Parents and their campers turn in their final paperwork with camp staff, load duffel bags and pillows into the rear door, give each other big hugs before they spend a week away from each other.

I love seeing the excitement of kids and parents, the slight smell of diesel, the squeak as the bus comes to a stop–it all reminds me of my week at Wildwood as a sixth grader. The excitement of going somewhere far away, on my own.

Campers getting ready to board the big yellow bus. Parents getting ready to help their camper board the bus.
Parents helping their camper prepare to board the Wildwood bus.

Why the big yellow bus matters

For many families, the big yellow bus makes camp possible.

Wildwood is located about one hour south of many of our Kansas City neighborhoods. Caregivers may not have the time off work or a vehicle they trust for that length of trip. So providing transportation to and from camp is one important way Wildwood reduces barriers to summer learning and adventure for Kansas City kids.

Wildwood has always provided summer camp bus transportation during some weeks for specific partners like Boys and Girls Club or Rosedale Development Association. But in 2018 we took the leap to add transportation for every week of camp from four centrally located spots. This opened camp up to kids from all over the metro who needed a ride to enjoy all the learning and growing Wildwood promises.

How the big yellow bus changes things

Here’s the other great change the bus makes: kids make new friends before they even enter the camp gate! The bus ride to camp is an extension of our program, and kids arrive at camp already knowing their seat mates, nearby campers, and the counselors who ride the bus with them. On the bus they learn camp songs and get up-to-date on traditions and camp culture from more experienced campers.

In other words, more buses = more campers from more neighborhoods = more awesome Wildwood experiences.

The Bottom Line

It costs about $2,000 per week to provide bus transportation to and from Wildwood.

This change required funding, graciously provided by our donors including the Hall Family Foundation in 2018 and the Oppenstein Brothers Foundation at Commerce Bank in 2019, 2020 and 2021.

The bus and the resulting Wildwood friendships are all made possible because our donors understand the benefits of Wildwood for all of Kansas City’s kids. They understand how our neighborhoods come together to create a diverse camp community, open to everyone.

Trauma-Informed Care Matters at Camp–Here’s Why

Trauma-Informed Care Matters at Camp–Here’s Why

On a hot July day at camp this summer, I got to witness trauma-informed care in action. An eight-year-old camper sat on a bench outside the dining hall. He stared at his knees, head in his hands.

Seeing the sad camper, Robyn, Wildwood’s Executive Director, sat next to him.

“Hey, Mason. You look upset. Are you doing okay?”

Another camper ran up to the bench.

“No,” explained the camper, “Mason’s upset because there weren’t any apples left in the snack bowl today.”

“I didn’t get one yesterday either,” Mason chimed in.

“I can fix that!”

Mason didn’t think it would happen–there were only oranges in the snack bowl in the dining hall. But the walk-in refrigerator had plenty of apples.

When Robyn brought back an apple for Mason, his face lit up. He smiled wide and hugged her.

“Thank you!” Mason exclaimed.

“You’re welcome, buddy.”

Campers make make friends quickly at Wildwood.

Although the complaint was small, it mattered to Mason.

Robyn, like all Wildwood staff, took the time to notice a struggling camper; to listen to what Mason had to say; to accept Mason and his feelings about not getting an apple. She didn’t try to talk him out of it, or dismiss his concern as “trivial.”

This is trauma-informed care in action at camp.

So what is trauma-informed care?

Trauma-informed care means that caretakers understand that everyone has different experiences, including traumatic experiences, and caretakers create an environment where people feel safe, heard, and empowered to make choices.

At Wildwood, trauma-informed care looks like knowing each campers’ name, starting each camp session with team and friend-building activities, counselors asking campers how they’re doing, and finding out what’s upsetting campers when they have troublesome behavior.

“We really focus on pro-active techniques,” explains Laura, Wildwood’s Camp Director. “Everything comes from relationships, so we try to build relationships from the first moment kids step on the bus.

“Trauma informed behavior management only works from a place of trust.”

When campers exhibit a behavior that seems unusual or unsafe, staff members first get down to the camper’s level and help the camper calm down or de-escalate.

Once the camper is calm, staff help get campers talking, and find out what is upsetting them–listening without judgment.

Next, staff and the camper talk about the behavior. Staff and campers work together to figure out why a behavior is not safe and how they can have safe behaviors in the future.

In other words, trauma-informed care at camp means listening to campers and including them in the behavior management process.

“Kids want to be listened to and want to share their feelings–even if they say they don’t,” explains Laura.

Does trauma-informed care make a real difference at camp?

Resoundingly, yes. “Trauma-informed care has made a difference at camp,” says Laura. “My first summer at Wildwood in 2014, I had worked for a lot of camps. I had been trained to understand that misbehavior affects a lot of other kids, so the goal was always to just end the behavior.”

But Wildwood was unique. “Wildwood serves a wide range of kids in the KC-area, including 20% who are in foster care and 80% experiencing financial hardships, so Wildwood campers’ needs were different from other camps I’d worked for.

“Simply telling campers to stop a behavior didn’t work. Sometimes campers got more defiant; they often “gave up” and failed to try. Trauma-informed care created middle steps to understand the behavior that came from a place of trust.”

Using trauma-informed care helps campers build new relationships with peers and adults.

The trauma-informed strategy provides a new way for staff to see and respond to camper behavior. It allows camp staff to see the whole camper, rather than just their behavior, and work with the camper to learn how to succeed in camp relationships and activities.

Trauma-informed care has also made a difference in the numbers. Before training from KVC in 2017, Laura recalled that “some weeks we would have 10 to 15 kids who needed written behavior contracts.” But after the training, the need for behavior contracts dropped to “1 to 2 per camp session.”

Why does it matter?

The kids with the most challenging behaviors and high levels of childhood trauma need camp the most.

Research shows that developing healthy relationships with caring adults and time spent outdoors have the ability to heal the impact of childhood trauma.

Trauma-informed care matters to kids–even, and maybe especially, at Wildwood.

We want every Wildwood camper to feel safe, happy, and empowered. All camps benefit from this approach, and for kids who have experienced childhood trauma, it’s the lifeline that allows them to experience camp–and see new opportunities for their own lives.

Trauma-informed care helps campers feel safe, happy, and empowered.

What In the World Is Bio-Inspired Design?

What In the World Is Bio-Inspired Design?

Last month, right as our first campers were arriving, we finished the build on the new Eagle’s Nest Makerspace. Our Makerspace master (and elementary school teacher), Kyle, spent the month of May and early June planning a fun, bio-inspired curriculum that meets next generation science standards for engineering.

But when I tell people that “Wildwood has this new, super-awesome, Makerspace that focuses on bio-inspired designs,” I get blank stares. What in the world is bio-inspired design?

Simply put, bio-inspired design looks to living things (the bio in bio-inspired) to provide inspiration for engineering problems. Think about how airplanes are shaped like birds, how a 747 has “wings” and “tails.”

So, instead of a Makerspace where campers learn to use laser cutters and iMovie, Wildwood campers learn to solve engineering problems using inspiration from nature.

Here’s my favorite bio-inspired Makerspace project this summer:

First, campers brainstorm living things that fly: hummingbirds, butterflies, bats, dragonflies, owls, helicopters that fall from trees.

Next, campers work in groups and sketch out wings for their water rocket.

water rocket sketch
I really enjoyed this sketch. Campers not only designed wings for their rocket, but they thought about materials before they began.

Once the group decides on a design,they build wings for their rocket. This year, campers have been using recycled materials from Scraps KC.

makerspace build
You can see Wildwood’s Makerspace Manager, Kyle, in the background. During this stage, he provides assistance as needed, but otherwise lets campers do the work.

Campers showing off their bio-inspired water rocket design
Campers showing off their bio-inspired water rocket design. Their inspiration, I learned, was butterfly wings.

Finally, after brainstorming wings in nature, sketching and deciding on a design, and building wings for their water rockets, campers test out their finished products.

The bottles are filled with water and sealed with a cork. Campers build pressure in the bottle using a bicycle pump until–LIFTOFF!

If you listen to the video, you can hear a camper jokingly say that their water rocket is “trash.”

But we disagree. Even if the water rocket flies poorly, campers learn through first-hand experience what kind of wings work and, just as importantly, don’t work.

They learn about engineering. While they’re having fun, they’re learning how to define engineering problems and come up with solutions, how different designs change outcomes, how to take inspiration from nature, how to learn from experiences that don’t go as planned.