Creating Real Choice: Downtown Stomping Ground


One day, we all wake up and no one tells us what to do. One day, we all wake up and realize that we have to choose what our days will look like. In fact, we GET to choose what our days will look like. Today, there are more options than ever before. More types of peanut butter, more books, more ways to entertain ourselves, more ways to earn a living, more ways to connect with old friends and more ways to make new ones. A huge part of living in our world is learning how to make decisions that are best for us and what we care about. THIS IS SO HARD!

What does best mean? What do I care about? WHO AM I!?


Ok, that was a little dramatic, but a huge part of growing up is starting to answer these questions. Realizing that you have power and choice over who you are and what you will do is exciting, challenging, and formative.

Kids learn how to make decisions by making decisions.

They learn that ignoring friends means those friends might ignore them, or that hanging out in the hammock all day laughing with friends might mean they miss out on archery. They learn how to weigh those options and decide for themselves what is best for them in those moments. Sometimes they make mistakes. Since we let campers choose things for themselves, we’ll frequently get kids who are sad because they missed out on tie-dye, or soccer. We do our best to help or comfort campers in those situations and sometimes we can all work together to fix them. Sometimes we can’t. And that’s okay.

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Decision making is a skill.

A skill that kids and adults have to practice to get good at. It involves weighing all the options, dreaming up new ones, thinking about the stakeholders, assessing risk, negotiating, and more. Decision making is hard. Soon our campers will decide if they want to go to college, go on a date, drink their friends’ beer, get in a car with their drunk friend driving, study for a test, or just say thank you. I’m not going to be there for most of those decisions and neither will most people reading this. What’s more, I don’t pretend to know the right answers to most of those questions. My hope is that by being able to decide to skip archery or go to the makerspace all day, our campers have a chance to practice making decisions, and to practice making mistakes. I don’t know the right answers for our kids, but I do know that we all make decisions and we all make mistakes. Why not practice this in a safe supportive community?

What it looks like at camp

Laura wrote an awesome piece about balancing partnering with kids and helping them accomplish what they are hoping to accomplish and about providing space for choice and self-direction. It is a delicate balance and more of an art than a science, but we have some systems in place to help. The cornerstone of partnership and self-direction at camp is Downtown Stomping Ground.


Downtown Stomping Ground is simply the center of camp. We have our Makerspace, Grove, Adventure Playground, gaga pit, magic cards, legos, Settlers of Catan, and other loose parts for kids. While you are downtown, you can move throughout the area and get up to your own stuff. You can just hangout, play, make things, or just take a nap if you wanted. Downtown Stomping Ground is open most of the day. Some kids are there the whole time it is open. Each day, campers can sign up for dozens of really fun activities, like tie dye, archery, swimming, Christmas in July, big night games, soccer, and a million others, but the key to the schedule and what makes Stomping Ground different and truly self-directed is that kids can choose not to participate in any of our activities and just get up to their own stuff. They are given a menu and have the choice to pick activities other people design or make up their own in Downtown Stomping Ground.

My hope is that all the hours in Downtown Stomping Ground and the millions of decisions that are made at camp will help kids learn three things. One, that mistakes happen. Two, how to make better decisions. Three, how to support and be supportive when mistakes and decisions are happening. In the end I hope this summer we can all get up to our own stuff. We can start to choose what we love to do, make decisions, and make mistakes. I’ll see you at Downtown Stomping Ground!

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(585) 451-5141

Jack Schott