That Theatre Camp in Menlo Park [Rant]

In March, La Niña attended Theatre Camp in Menlo Park and loved it; she claimed that the three instructors were really fun and that she enjoyed every day. At the camp’s peak, La Niña was reciting Shakespeare in restaurants, talking to people in interesting dramatic voices, showing off her dance moves, and demonstrating her fake emotions skills. So, thinking it was a quick and easy win for a camp, I enrolled her in the summer version.

But somewhere along the way, the summer version of the camp lost something. The three great instructors were there… and they are still great… but it seems (in my opinion) that there were a few other adults that had difficulty handling children.

I’m being generous in that last statement.

Now, I worked for 15-years as a coach and swim instructor; and, one of the things I really like about kids is they will give unfiltered and unbiased feedback whether you want it or not. The secret to working with these little honest talking machines is understanding this and constantly adapting your program based on what they are saying in their unfiltered but brilliant way.

For this reason, I wanted La Niña to write this post because ultimately she is the end-user of the camp (the product)… not me. She attended the camp. She participated in the activities. She gave the feedback to the staff but nothing was done. She chose to not write because camp did not make me happy and I don’t want to write about it.

Fair enough… so let’s cut to the chase…

Camp is boring.La Niña

“Boring” is quite possibly the worst thing you can hear about anything. The camp experience is a product and if a product is boring, no one is going to buy it. As a product designer, when I hear this type of feedback it’s time to take executives into a boardroom and re-evaluate their future in the market.

A child who is bored will push every button within their reach and keep pushing until kittens and puppies fall from the sky; it’s not rocket science. To solve this, step-up-your-game, adapt, and find new ways to engage… an engaged child will laugh, have fun, solve problems, and want to be better.

Mommy, am I a troublemaker?La Niña

I’ve never used this word in association with a child so it came as a bit of a shock… because ultimately if a child is a “troublemaker” it’s because the adults around them are doing something wrong… and it’s time to adapt.

Because of this little question, I had to teach little La Niña about bad behaviours.

Bad behaviours are things that people learn over the course of their life through interactions with other people: bullying, name-calling, manipulation, meanness, sabotage, information hoarding — all because of insecurity or for some sort of personal gain. In businesses, I’ve seen team members destroy a project so they can become “the hero” or protect their job.

It’s actually quite common and is a self-perpetuating cycle: people hear/see this, they carry it, and they pass it on. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Refusing to pass these on, and seeing them as wrong/untruths is one way to stop the cycle.

Crushing a kid’s honesty and labelling them as difficult is wrong. The world needs a generation of critical and creative thinkers who can untangle the mess that we’ve created… and we need to allow this generation to grow without killing their ability to think. I already see this need in most corporations (and the world is simply made up of corporations called countries) and the crazy, obsessive compulsion for people to suppress anyone who tries to change the status quo or who is somehow perceived as being better or different.

Another thing that is disturbing is telling a child they can’t do something because they are insert stupid reason here. Since coming to California the stupid reasons we’ve heard are: “because you’re a girl,” “because you’re not American,” “because you’re too small,” “because two friends can’t do the same sport,” and “because you’re a troublemaker.”

All of these statements are bullshit; it’s no wonder the world is full of people who lack the courage and confidence needed to live up to their potential (or beyond it). And, because of all of these statements, little Miss La Niña is doing lots of wonderful things this summer that she was told she couldn’t do… because I don’t want other people to inflict their phantom limitations on my daughter. I want her to discover her own boundaries, make her own decisions, and think for herself.

Now… back to the camp. We chose to leave camp and never go back, and in the evenings, La Niña and I spent a lot of time at the beach or in the park talking and deprogramming messages. It was actually good bonding time where *I think* she learned some important life skills.

4 comments on “That Theatre Camp in Menlo Park [Rant]Add yours →

  1. And today’s stupid reason: because you’re not nice enough. Where do people come up with this shit? Honestly. One of my favourite quotes is (and I have a t-shirt that says this): Well behaved women rarely make history.

  2. I think a lot of these camp coordinators have a preconceived notion that everyone should fit into a certain mold and if anyone doesn’t do everything “right” they don’t fit. Take an intelligent kid who likes to make a lot of decisions on her own and they don’t know what to do.

  3. Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Joan of Arc, and Mother Teresa were all called troublemakers. I say lets have more “troublemakers” willing to challenge conventional wisdom.

    1. I agree. Unfortunately we live in a world where there’s not much validation or encouragement for troublemakers… so there’s a complex dance between continuing to cause “trouble” and trying to keep you’re self-esteem in tact. I actually don’t fully understand what the term “troublemaker” means because I’m often put on a project as a “disruptive thinker” to push boundaries and help a company evolve. This is one of those things (in my mind) where there’s no black and white.

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