The Best Thing We Do
Overnight is the best thing we do. It’s a place where large swaths of time, a beautiful setting, inspiring project prompts and a well trained staff all conspire to create an experience of lasting impact. Campers are challenged with the most complex projects. They go on the deepest dives intellectually and emotionally. It’s our program that lets kids learn the most about who they are and what they are capable of as individuals and on a team.
What Makes Overnight Camp so special?
Everyone is Known
32 campers, broken into two camps (Middles and Uppers) of roughly 16 kids create an environment where every camper is seen, heard and known. No one can be anonymous here. At the end of every session we take pride in being able to tell every parent personal and connective stories about their child’s experience at camp.
A nearly 5 to 1 on-the-floor staffing ratio keeps camp physically and emotionally safe. If you include our directors, junior collaborators and kitchen staff, the camper-to-collaborator ratio on campus often teeters on 2 to 1.
At the beginning of every week we co-construct community guidelines that help create the kind of camp we’d all like to go to. Some guidelines appear again and again. Things like “Tools are like big dogs; approach carefully and with respect” keep us physically safe. A whole category known as “Be Excellent” often citing favorites like “The Platinum Rule” and “Don’t Yuck My Yum” help create emotional safety. For us emotional safety goes way beyond “no bullying” policies. The ability to be vulnerable is an essential piece of any meaningful creative output, personal growth, or teamwork. The kind of camp we run simply doesn't work if kids don’t feel empowered to be themselves and express themselves.
Talented, Caring and Vetted Staff
Maybe it’s the power tools. Maybe it’s the philosophy we have towards kids. Maybe it’s because we pay 300% of the national average for our camp counselors to make sure we attract the best of the best. Whatever their reason, we attract incredible people every year. Ranging from professional carpenters and artists, to veteran teachers aiming to hone their craft in a project based learning environment. You can read more about this year’s staff and previous years’ staff on our Who We Are page [link]
Every staff member passes a criminal background check run by the State of California and the FBI and must provide us with several references ranging from professional to personal. See “Safety is Essential” for more information.
Time for Actual Problem Solving
At Project Ember our schedule is both focused and spacious. Focused because at our camp we ultimately only have one main activity; Work on a team to build something amazing from scratch. As you can see on our schedule [link], our days are mostly time to design/build/problem solve punctuated by meals, games and rest. This clarity of focus also provides a certain spaciousness. There is no “next activity” that rushes us along or implores the staff the “move the project along.” The kids have the time they need to make mistakes, try out ideas and really get deep into the problem space of the project on hand. That said, the end of the week deadline for our parent demonstration is ever present, providing just the right amount of external motivation to make persistent progress.
Big, Complex Projects and Room to Make Mistakes
Plenty of Time allows us to push camp further in two directions. One direction is that of complexity. With a little over 40 project hours to work with each week, we feel empowered to push the kids to take on projects at the edges of their abilities. In previous years this has involved making a life-sized version the board game Battleship or taking on the challenge of launching an unmanned cart over 15 feet while still making a smooth and controlled landing.
The other direction is that of learning from our mistakes. At overnight camp we have the time we need to let the kids take lead. We have time to let them wander down dead ends and try things we as adults might think impossible. And the results are always fantastic. Sometimes the project stalls and it creates a natural moment to talk about how to learn from mistakes, analyze data, and what it means to take a step back to move a project forward. And other times the campers pull off something we would have never predicted showing us “professionals” just how much we know.
Unplugged and Free to Be Themselves
This is a time in life when kids are discovering who they are, what they value, the kind of friend and teammate they want to be and more. It is a critical juncture were opportunities to try on new hats can deepen convictions or shake up past assumptions. Camp is one of those opportunities and we take that seriously. Camp creates a space where sincerity is cherished, hard work is celebrated, and kindness is expected. It’s a place where kids are invited and supported to find and share their best selves.