Westminster Woods

Overnight 2017 is Finally Here!

Somehow, it’s already August 7th, and we find ourselves tucked back in the Redwood Grove at Westminster Woods for our season ending overnight camp. We’ve moved all over the Bay, rocked out at an Alien Rock Concert, traveled through the many worlds of Monsters Under the Bed the Ride, laughed ourselves silly during the Mirth-Quake, and so much more. Our full adventures have been documented on our Instagram page, but we’ve just been too busy building to keep up with the blog. We’re planning to publish a 2017 summer photo journal, so come back soon to see all our hard work this year. 

Jenny's been waiting all summer to play Noodle Ninja with the kids. 

Jenny's been waiting all summer to play Noodle Ninja with the kids. 

So here we are at Overnight Camp! We’ve more than doubled in size since last year with a total of 29 campers and 8 Collaborators. We’re also running a Middles and Uppers camp simultaneously for the first time, so we’ve got makers from age 10 years all the way up to seniors in high school. Kids are working with their age group on their projects, but much of the day’s games, meals, and down time are spent as one big camp. With so many friends, siblings, former Junior Collaborators, and alumni in the mix, we’ve all rapidly become a little village and it feels like everyone has known each other much longer than one day. 

Day One was all about getting to know each other. We believe vulnerability is at the core of creativity, and with the spaciousness of a whole week together, we can afford to spend the day giggling, asking each other questions, and taking in this beautiful land. We’ll be more ready to take the risk of sharing a new, partly formed, crazy idea when the time comes. 

First up, we played Giants, Wizards and Elves, and we gotta say - we have a new favorite game. Think Rock, Paper, Scissors, played as a whole team and mixed a little bit with tag. After sharing our names, the tool we felt the most like that day, and our preferred gender pronouns, we split into our Uppers and Middles camps to dive a little deeper. In both groups, everyone shared a story about an epic failure as well as something that seemed doomed and magically worked out. Eggshells in pancakes. Smashed life-size models of BB8. Previous projects from camp that somehow came together. A play that only found its ending during the car ride to the tech rehearsal. What would you have shared?

Next up, we enjoyed an usually early dinner (5:00!). It’s a bit of an adjustment for us all, but the silver lining is that we get a nice, long evening session before the sun sets. Before heading off for an evening hike, we discussed our group agreements. We’ve got a few philosophies we like to share with the kids, but group agreements are always created collaboratively. In our Uppers camp, we handed them the reigns to facilitate their own group agreement process. In Middles, this week will largely focus on the challenge of bigger projects with more complex components. The Uppers are working on gaining independence from collaborator facilitation/input. 

Jackie, Reuben, Makai, Yildiz and Henry enjoy the crest view.

Jackie, Reuben, Makai, Yildiz and Henry enjoy the crest view.

Finally, we enjoyed a short hike along with the first meeting of our small groups. All the campers will meet nightly to check in and reflect on the day. For our first meeting, we played two truths and a lie, as well as coming up with some questions we wanted our group members to answer about themselves. We called it a night at the end of the hike - tomorrow's a big day!

night hike

Day 3: Battleship

Day 3: Battleship

Since sometime mid-day yesterday, everyone's been buzzing about what the big project reveal will yield. "Can't you tell us tonight before bed so we can think about it all night long?", we heard several times. We do quite like to create a little suspense and anticipation around the project reveal...

Day 2: Benches

morning mist

Not a bad view to wake up to every morning, now is it?  We're ready to get off and running for day two, as we've got a lot ground to cover.  Today will serve as Tool Training 101 for all our first time Project Ember campers, with some more advanced challenges for our veterans who've gone through ample trainings in their time. 

Anna shows her enthusiasm for our 7:30 wake-up...

...but it's nothing a case of the tiny hands can't fix.

Christopher lays out the basics of drill use.

Christopher lays out the basics of drill use.

First up for our first-time campers is Drills 101.  Along with the miter saw and the lumber itself, there are few things more essential to our build site than the drills.  Though the basic principle is familiar to most, we dive into the various hazards and how to prevent injury and errors as well as some tips for frustration-free use.  For example, if you don't secure the wood, it can suddenly spin and hurt you or your teammate.  We also emphasize the importance of picking the right screw for the job so that we never have weak joints from screws that were too short or sharp pointy bits ("Mr. Dangerous") from screws that were too long.  This is especially important in an environment where so many people are interacting with a project simultaneously.  Christopher also demonstrated how important it is to tie back your hair and clothes when using a drill.

Phoenix uses the weight of his body to drive the screw.

Sonia and Marvon secure their boards with a steady knee.


Meanwhile, the alumni each demonstrate proper use of the miter saw as a review before moving into their own drill training, though this time the roles are reversed.  We've challenged them to plan their own mini-lesson and teach the collaborators how it's done.  To scaffold their lessons, we let them know how we think about teaching a tool at Project Ember.

  1.  What is its utility?
  2.  What are the objective and subjective hazards of the tool and its operator?
  3.  Provide a strategy for minimizing each hazard. 

Hannah, Reid, Addison and Zeke brainstorm the important components of a drill lesson.

Alex explains why Victory Drilling (pumping the trigger when not drilling) is dangerous and to be avoided. 

Next up for Jonah, Marvon, Sonia and Phoenix is Miter Saw 101.  The miter saw is among the most powerful tools in regular use at Project Ember, but with a solid understanding of the hazards involved, it is also an incredibly safe tool.  Christopher emphasizes the ready call - the way we begin anything with significant risk at camp.  All campers within range verify with a thumbs up that not only are they ready with their safety gear on, but that they approve of the way the operator has set up the cut. They all use the tool methodically and skillfully. 

Hannah, Zeke, Reid and Addison play with placement for their tic-tac-toe jig.

Next up for the alumni is a lesson on jigs.  If we're working on a project that requires us to do the same thing over and over, a jig allows us to do so with accuracy and speed.  Most jigs are custom and therefore take both time to plan and build, which can pay off big time depending on the project.  Today our challenge is to come up with a jig that would allow us to produce 100 identical tic-tac-toe boards made out of 2x3.  Jigs can take many forms, and our two alumni groups come up with different strategies.  Often times, a solution can be putting blocks into the negative space of the design so that the pieces needing to be assembled fit around it like puzzle pieces.   Meanwhile, Josh covers a number of important building principles with Marvon, Jonah, Sonia and Phoenix through a mini-build project.  They make a triangular gusset, with help from a builder's best friend - the clamp.  If there's one thing to know about building robust structures, the triangle is probably it. 

That almost feels like a full day's worth of work, but that was just the first hour of the day!  On Mondays, we start with a mini-project to get a little more building under our belts before diving into the week's main project.  A oldie, but a goodie, we announce the mini-project - benches to sit around the fire pit for the rest of the week.  Jonah has built many a bench before, as have a few of the other experienced makers, but that provides us with a good opportunity to talk about the importance of revisiting challenges so that we can incorporate what we've learned and do it even better.  Plus, we still need a place to sit!

Bench groups are the same as small groups, and we quickly have three designs in motion.  Addison, Sophia, Zeke and Phoenix have come up with a woven design, hoping to have an extra comfy seat.  Anna, Reid, Sonia and Jonah also have relaxing in mind, and design a relatively standard bench, but add the flare of gentle rockers.  Jonah's also got a great idea for a foldable tea table on the side.  Our last group is thinking ambitiously with many variables.  The initial drawing includes a rocking swing like bench with a reclining back that can be completely flattened into a hanging futon.  What more perfect way to end the night than on a star-gazing bed you built yourself?  Alex, Marvon, Hannah and Liam assess if the lofty design will be possible in just one afternoon and get right to work. 

Looks like the rocker is definitely going to need a backrest.

The rest of the crew comes over to check out how the rocking benches feel.  

Meanwhile, Christopher's team is plenty busy stringing their paracord back and forth and pulling it taught as can be so that it doesn't sag too much over time.  Below Phoenix ties off the last of the bottom rows.  

With only a few hours total to design and build our benches, we've ended up with very successful and unique designs and a comfortable place to enjoy the fire.  
The Stargazer:

The Rocker:

The Modernist Weave:

Small groups meet up to discuss the differences between intent and impact and the importance of clear communication within a team.  Everyone can empathize with a time when their intent was misunderstood.  Try as we may, language is an imperfect medium.

The evening closes with a few more Spotlights, though Zeke and Phoenix have both headed to bed early tonight so Anna, Addison, and Reid volunteer.  Anna shares about her experiences working in a homeless shelter and how she gained perspective on life through a series of interactions.  Addison recalled a time he was mystified by finding a white polo shirt in the toilet and the hilarity that ensued.  Reid closed out the night with the story of Project Mitten - an ambitious project took on by our friends at Tinkering School where the kids set out to build a boat and sail it on Lake Michigan.  

Tomorrow is the big reveal of the project for this week.  Be sure to check back soon!



Day 1: Beauty

Day 1: Beauty

After months of anticipation, we have finally arrived at our week of overnight camp, wrapped in the beauty of the Redwoods of the California Coast.  All of our host sites have added something special to the flavor and the project possibilities of our camps, and Westminster Woods does not disappoint!  There's nothing quite like the sense of calm and wonder motivated by a sky-reaching grove of nature's giants.