Sven Serves It Up

By Sven Leff - Recreation Superintendent

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Aug 02

Let Them Eat Dirt

Posted on August 2, 2021 at 9:15 AM by Kyle Jost

In 1995 I was already several years into my career working with kids – sports, camps, child care, etc.  I was working for the YMCA in a prominent community in before and after school programs similar to TDRPD’s Kids Korner and Kids Kamp programs.  Being the kind of job that splits shifts before and after the school day, I had the time during the school day to pick up a second job.  As it turned out I worked for the school district at my same elementary school site working the recesses and lunch time playground duty.  I saw “my” kids before, during, and after school.  I loved that job, and it’s the kind of work that Heather, Mike & Beth get to love doing on a daily basis here in Truckee.

Anyway, one day I’m working lunch duty on the playground and a group of boys came complaining to me, arguing because they couldn’t agree on how to make teams for a game of touch football. They couldn’t make teams.  Seriously?  They weren’t arguing about a foul or an out-of-bounds call, these 4th & 5th grade boys couldn’t make teams.  Why?!!??!  What is going wrong here?  I pointed out that recess was ending soon, so they’d better solve it if they wanted to get the game in.  One of the boys said, “Will you just count off and make the teams like you do after school?”

In itself it was a small moment, but it opened my eyes to something else about child development and the environment they were being raised in – adults were controlling everything about these kids’ lives.  I started paying attention to it more, and over the years I’ve seen this tendency for parents to get even more and more controlling of their children’s lives.  Helicopter parents.  Overscheduled kids.  The rise of club sports.  Parents fighting with officials and coaches at games.  Lawsuits against schools because their kid wasn’t valedictorian.  Media-induced fears about child safety.  I could go on…

Two summers later while still working for the same YMCA in the same school district I was made director of a summer camp for 6th-9th graders.  It’s a lot like TDRPD’s Adventure Camp and Camp Rad, where the kids loaded a school bus that I drove and we took them on field trips all over the area.  What I learned about middle-schoolers is that even at that awkward age they love to play and they’re looking to be given some independence.  What made that camp successful was giving them a mostly unstructured day.  We had boundaries of acceptable behavior and a system for roll call every 90 minutes, but otherwise the kids were given a list of activities available to them that day and turned loose.  They flourished in all areas!  I saw shy kids lead dance routines by summer’s end.  I saw friendships grow where they took care of each other.  I saw kids discover new activities like fishing and catching tadpoles.  Routinely the kids went home dirty and smelly.  Let me assure you… when a kid stepped on a boundary of acceptable behavior I came down on them hard and swift, but within those wide boundaries their own interests and personalities grew.

In Truckee we are blessed with tons of dirt and rock, water and sun.  The world is our playground.  At TDRPD summer camps – Summer Stars, Trudaca, Adventure & Rad – the goal is to get out and explore.  Go and get dirty.  In a #MountainForward sense, after a year of COVID lockdown, our summer camps are exactly the remedy the kids, staff and parents all need.  Yes it’s a leap of faith, but parents should get out of their way and let the kids push the boundaries and discover what their bodies and minds are capable of.  Go ahead and skin a knee.  Go ahead and jump into a lake.  Go ahead and make a mud cake and try to trick a counselor into tasting it.  Go ahead and climb a tree.  Go ahead and make up songs to commercial jingles.  Go ahead and … and … and.  Kids grow though this stuff.  Kids can show parents what they’re capable of and new things they’ve learned.  Parents can breathe easy knowing their kid is active and happy again.

If only we had summer camps for adults.  Get out there and #MountainForward!


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