Some of you might be wondering why we decided to create a wizard school summer camp for 11-17 year-olds. Some days I wonder that too — creating a small business, complying with all the regulations for child safety and support, and handling all the marketing, promotions, management and development for a project of this scope is no joke.
But I’m doing it because I believe it is exactly what our young people need. They need a place where they can feel supported and empowered, where they can imagine and create and play and be the heroes in their own stories, where they can step away from their mundane lives for a week and enter a fantasy world that mirrors the outside world in many ways, but doesn’t have all the risks.
I believe wholeheartedly in the power of story to help people become themselves and find their place in the world, and I believe that embodying stories, trying on identities, and seeing new perspectives will not only make better people and citizens but also societies. What you create together matters and now, more than ever, we need to create, together.
First off, I’m a mother. I have two grown children, one who graduated from college in 2016, and the other who will graduate in May 2017. The third is a rising 6th grader, and they are all unique and creative and smart and wonderful. Having been a parent for 25 years now, I understand the trials and tribulations of each childhood stage, but especially adolescence. That tension between becoming one’s own person and meeting the expectations that parents, institutions, and society have placed on them. The time when their eyes are opening up to the injustices and problems of the wider world, and they feel helpless against it. When they want to listen to their elders, but can also see that they don’t have all the answers. When they want more responsibility but are afraid of the stakes.
I’m also an educator. I’ve worked with young people since 1998, as a middle- and high-school teacher and librarian, and as a community college professor.
I’m going to say it now: Our kids are stressed out. They need a break. They need to play.
Our middle and high school students are over-scheduled and under tremendous pressure: grades, social, physical, familial, athletics, and the looming future. Classes you take in the 7th grade determine what math classes you can take in high school, which determines whether you will have enough math and science to apply to top-tier colleges. Taking high-school credit courses in middle school means they will affect your GPA, and a less-than-stellar GPA could keep you out of the better colleges. You have to be well-rounded on college applications, so you’d better play a sport, join clubs, do church activities and community service, and have a part-time job. Teachers regularly give 1 hour of homework per night, per class, but when you’re in 7 classes, that adds up to spending your evenings and weekends doing work. At school, you have 5-7 minutes between classes to rush to the bathroom and make it to your next class. You’re not sleeping enough for your growing body, and you’re tired, which can lead to making mistakes, mistakes with real consequences for your future. Our middle- and high-school students need a break.
That’s nice, parents say. But they can’t fall behind. Summer camps need to be learning experiences as well as fun.
Here’s the rub: Stories are learning experiences. Wizard School is amazing and fun and a break from the ordinary, AND it is a learning experience.
All the things that traditional summer camps teach: self-confidence, being away from home, forming relationships, overcoming challenges, increased physical activity, positive risk-taking, increased community, lifetime relationships. Wizard School Summer Camp teaches those too. It also teaches communication, creativity, innovative thinking, problem-solving, and here are the most important things: empathy and autonomy. At Wizard School, you learn to see the world through the eyes of someone else and to interact in a fictional world that is similar to, but not the same as your everyday one. That allows you to put aside your own daily insecurities and try something different. And it changes you. When you’re the one who casts the spell to save your classmates, you’re the hero. It feels good. And you remember that good feeling, long after the story is over.
At Wizard School, it’s possible to have your treacle pudding, and eat it, too.
It’s a fun, unforgettable experience, and a dream come true for many fans of a certain green-eyed, mussed hair young person with an unusual scar on his forehead. It gives kids a break from all their everyday pressures, allowing them to explore through story their identities and their world. And at the same time, without feeling like a lesson, it helps them grow through transferable skills in applying knowledge, understanding problems, and conveying information to others.
It truly is magical.