Every day, the kids at camp come in and fight over one toy: the Legos. Whether it’s the girls, the boys, the kids that like art, or the kids that don’t, there is a constant brawl over who is gonna get what pieces from the scarcity of Legos available. The lack of resources has been a conversation for a while, but seeing it manifest in this scenario had me thinking about what it means to be in the nonprofit sector. I realized that things don’t just magically appear. It’s all about connections and a willingness to have people who put money from their paycheck aside to donate to something bigger than themselves. So that’s what I did. I spent $65 of my $600 paycheck on a Lego and K’Nex building set. I am not sharing this to solicit praise or a pat on the back. This is a segway to a more important discussion.
Once the campers saw the building sets, they were surprised. They had no idea that a new set had so many pieces and guidebooks to make more elaborate things since they had been relying soley on their imaginations thus far. In less than an hour of playing with the set, four kids no older than eight years old showed me their new creation: a train. These four children have been the most destructive and distracting kids in the camp since it started weeks ago and here they were rolling around a Lego train smiling and laughing. For the first time, I saw something magical in their eyes: pride.
The Legos set the precipice for a very important discussion about children and education in general. From the first day of the camp, there was an acknowledgement from almost everyone on the camp staff that there needed to me be more toys for the kids. The most common statement that prevented anyone from acting on this acknowledgment is “they’re just going to break them and lose the pieces”. I held this opinion too after seeing the wasteland of broken toys that had accumulated over the years in the camp. However, over time, I saw how trusting the kids produced a better outcome than just assuming they will continue to act the same no matter what. In working-class communities, there is a heavy focus on obedience. Children are taught to behave and if they don’t, they are punished and the level of trust in that child decreases. Although the ability to follow instructions is important, what is more important and often overlooked is trust and self-efficacy. When a child misbehaves, you have the choice to reprimand them in a way that takes their power away or that gives them the power to make the right decision in the future. Empowering children requires trust.
I didn’t know how the kids would treat the Legos, but I sat them down beforehand and had a conversation about respecting the toys and the other campers in order to create a communal environment where more nice things can come into the camp. I gave some children the responsibility of making sure everything went into the right box when playtime was over so they could feel important and trusted with the upkeep of the new Legos. Trust is necessary for empowered. Empowerment is necessary for self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is necessary for success in every facet of a person’s life. Seeing the toy train was enough to make the staff want to compile a list of other fun toys that the campers would like and be able to use for years to come. Next week is the Final Production and I cannot wait to see all the hard work of camp come together.