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"LEADER" Online: Vol. 6, No. 1

Free the Horses camp offers challenges and fun

by Diana King

 

"Challenge yourself through Free the Horses Adventure Camp! Spend two days and one night at the Rahr Memorial School Forest for an adventure based on “challenge by choice” activities…Teamwork, cooperation, belonging, respect, responsibility and positive decision-making are all part of the magical quest of Free the Horses…

Warning: Parents…your child will return home from camp exhausted!"

With this enticing announcement in the Manitowoc Public School District summer school flyer, it didn’t take long to fill all four sessions of the first Free the Horses Camp in Manitowoc, Wisconsin.

Free the Horses: A Self-Esteem Adventure is a video-based program from Active Parenting Publishers that sends children on an adventure to free a group of wild horses that represent their own dreams and talents. Through a variety of activities children travel together through the Lands of Think, Feel and Do; find the Golden Spiral of Success (Belonging, Learning and Contributing); and eventually earn the Keys of Courage, Responsibility and Cooperation and, finally, free the horses.

 Free the Horses camp organizer Todd Hadler

“I thought it would be neat to run a self-esteem camp for our kids that incorporated physical challenges,” explains elementary school guidance counselor Todd Hadler. He had used the Free the Horses program in two schools with great success and wanted to give other children in the district the opportunity to develop greater responsibility, cooperation and courage. Ginny Vraney, a physical education teacher, helped create teamwork activities that would capture the interest of the energetic campers.

Hadler received approval from the school district to offer the camp for rising second through fifth graders at the Rahr Memorial School Forest. The nearby facility on Lake Michigan offers cabins, a nature center, walking trails and a beach.

In June, Hadler and his staff of four counselors—Vraney; Nancy Giordano, an elementary counselor; Duane Deicher, a physical education teacher; and Jacob Ahlswede, a college student—kept the campers busy from 8 am to 10:15 pm with a full schedule of activities. Physical challenges such as the hula hoop pass, human ladder, and balance beam were planned after each Free the Horses video segment. For example, after students watched the video on “Contributing,” the team-building activity was an outdoor scavenger hunt.

Campers learned about decision making, responsible choices and resisting peer pressure in the swamp walk. “We walked to a platform near the mucky swamp and I told the students we did not know how deep the swamp was. Then I tried to persuade them to jump in and cross it--with the promise of dinner. Some students immediately wanted to cross, while others thought their decision through and decided it was not safe for them to cross the swamp. We were trying to teach the difference between having courage to take risks and making responsible choices by weighing right and wrong, safe and unsafe choices,” recounts Hadler. The students who decided not to cross earned a reward for making the right decision and resisting pressure. Crossing the swamp was not a good, safe choice.

The scavenger hunt and hike to the shore of Lake Michigan helped the campers develop huge appetites for the meals prepared by camp staff. Mealtimes were also an opportunity for learning as the campers received “hopper” responsibilities such as setting the tables, refilling the family-style food bowls and helping with clean-up. As they sat down at the table for dinner the first night, each camper was asked to put a paper bag over their dominant hand. By simulating a disability and eating with their non-dominant hand, the campers were learning to be sensitive to the needs of others.

“The campers thrived in an atmosphere that combined physical activity with opportunities to experience belonging, learning and cooperation,” says Hadler. “On the last afternoon kids were exchanging phone numbers and autographs and some were even crying because they had to leave.”

“Unfortunately, for all too long we have tried to teach self-esteem as if it were an academic discipline…Free the Horses, on the other hand, builds self-esteem by presenting young people with meaningful challenges,” notes Steve Gibson, director of student services for the Manitowoc Public School District.

Feedback about the camp from campers and parents has been overwhelmingly positive. In fact, the Director of Student Learning and School Forest Coordinator have asked to incorporate some of the activities into student field trips during the school year and dates have already been set for Free the Horses Camp 2001!


• AGENDA •
Day 1: afternoon - evening

3:15 Video from Free the Horses: Golden Spiral of Success—Learning
3:45 Team Building—Blindfold Walk
4:30 Recess
4:45 Hoppers Report to Kitchen
5:00 Dinner—non-dominant hand disability simulation
5:45 Video: Golden Spiral of Success—Contributing
6:15 Team Building—Scavenger Hunt
6:45 Campfire Songs and S’mores
7:30 Workbook/Memory Book Stations
8:30 Get Ready for Bed
8:45 Movie/Popcorn
10:00 Bunks
10:15 Lights Out

Click for more information about Free the Horses: A Self-Esteem Adventure, which includes a copy of Todd Hadler's Free the Horses Camp Curriculum.

Reprinted from Leader magazine.
Copyright 2001 by Active Parenting Publishers, Inc.