In late March 2013, I took a then kindergarten SDK to his first day of Spring Break camp. By the end of the second day, he told me he didn’t want to go back. When I asked him why. He said he had no friends and no one would play with him. In that moment, as a mommy, I had a decision to make. 1) Keep my baby home and close to me... 2) Send him to camp anyway (It WAS pricey and already paid for)... or 3) Pack a lunch, accompany him to camp, and investigate. I chose 3.
I didn’t walk in to the camp as just SDK’s mom. My masters degree is in Early Childhood Education and I am well trained and experienced in conducting objective observations. I simply wanted to see and understand what SDK was experiencing during his day so I could better help him develop strategies to cope with his new environment. What I observed was young camp counselors working with young children with diverse personalities. I also observed some kids, to include my own, getting a little lost in the shuffle.
After a couple of hours of observation came Art time. I watched young SDK paint a paper mache doll. He was pleased with his doll and his painting. However, it didn’t meet the standard of another child in the group. That child proceeded to whisper to some of the other children. “Look at his doll. It’s all messy”. Some of the children ignored her. Others seemed uncomfortable. At this point, I got up from my chair and walked over to one of the little girls (who appeared to be about 2nd grade) at his paint table and said, “I love your doll. It is very beautiful.” I continued by pointing out all of the unique detailing she had carefully painted on her doll. She proudly smiled and said “Thank you!”
I moved to the next child and gave specific recognition and praise for her artwork. The kids joined in offering their own compliments. Next I moved to SDK. I pointed out all of the unique details of his art work. The child who was whispering earlier said, “But he did it wrong. His doll doesn’t have any eyes.” Before I could respond, the first little girl whose art work I praised said, “It’s art. There’s no right or wrong. It’s creative.” *BOOM!!!* I answered, “I agree”. SDK beamed with pride. The other children start complimenting each other’s artwork and just like that the tone of the table was changed.
It didn’t take much. Just being aware. I had a brief conversation with the camp counselor and I left satisfied and with a child happily participating in camp and a kind-hearted camp counselor with new sense of awareness.
After that camp experience, I wrote a song, Friendship Numbers, promoting inclusive play. We use the sing in our KinderJam classes. I also called up my friend and said, "I’m going to develop a training for facilitating Inclusive Play in camps for camp counselors." No marketing plan... I just put it in the universe. Then life happened... My attentions went elsewhere...or so I thought...until two year later when I found myself standing before Fairfax County's summer camp counselors offering a training for facilitating Inclusive Play in summer camps.
Now less than two years after my first Friendship Numbers training and less than four years after walking into Spring Break camp with my kindergartener, I am proud to release Friendship Numbers, THE BOOK...cowritten by my SuperDuperKid and me!!
Friendship Numbers is a number concept book that celebrates diversity in children and the beauty of inclusive play. Purchase your copy of Friendship Numbers at Amazon, today!