Last week I received the rich opportunity to attend camp with the 3rd/4th graders. Our students at this level attend Camp Edwards in Wisconsin every fall and spring.  They walk through the marshes, study pine forests, enjoy community meals and campfires, learn archery and climb rock walls. This camp experience was deeply and wonderfully Ancona; it was led by children.

As I observed, I noticed that students were out in front, ahead of their teachers, reinforcing how to conduct themselves at meals and discussing what great things one should do with free time. Even at mealtime and in cabins, it was clear that the 4th graders were modeling the expectations of this rich experience for 3rd graders. Our students took on roles of cleaning, setting tables, and hopping to get condiments with responsibility and zeal. Given the task of preparing for an evening presentation, three of them discussed past skits in an attempt to invent something even more unique and novel this time around. As they arrived closer to their own ideas, the higher their energy and investment rose.

Head of School Photo

When taking their hand at a bow and arrow, when trying to start a fire (for a long time!), and when attempting to climb over the projecting “nose” of the rock wall, students chose experiences that were both challenging and of high interest. Interestingly, adult hands did not get between them and their adventures. While I watched one tenacious risk taker (see time-lapse video) struggle to start a fire with flint and steel, teachers and chaperones offered words of encouragement, but rarely stepped in to “do it for them.”

I have to admit, there was some typical family nervousness about my daughter’s first night sleeping away at camp. After the campfire, though, she came right up, hugged and kissed me with a definitive “good night Daddy,” and disappeared with her cabin mates into the night.

This is Ancona: Kids in front. Kids making the choices. Adults behind, leading with questions. The authenticity of Ancona’s myriad learning experiences involves kids so much more than anywhere else. If your child had the choice between answering her own question and answering an adult’s question, which would she choose? Which would you want them to choose?