Imagine living your entire life in just five days.
That’s just what children did last summer at a bucolic mountain camp located near a major city in east Asia. The camp theme was based on the board game Life, the popular retro classic where our time on earth is distilled into a series of choices and chances and the goal is to make more money than everyone else.
The camp’s theme was apropos for this part of the world, where students face intense pressure from their parents and society to succeed from a very young age. Children in big cities spend nearly every waking hour on schoolwork as they compete for limited college opportunities that lead to high-paying jobs. Learning English is a critical skill for all of these children and can mean better educational opportunities, but a lack of exposure to native English speakers in their day-to-day lives offers scant opportunity to practice. So parents are eager to send their kids to the summer camp, which provides English language lessons and cultural experiences along with sports and recreational activities.
By playing a realistic version of the game, campers age 8 to 18 got a chance to experience adulthood in a series of fun and challenging activities. Everyone was assigned to a “family” unit, and the older children were designated as parents while the younger children were designated as kids and teenagers. Children aged 10 years each day of the weeklong camp, caused by an alleged “rip in the fabric of time directly over the campsite.” Everyone at the camp had to find a job to earn Camp Bucks, which they used to pay for meals and various camp activities. The “kids” in the family attended a college fair on the second day so they could get pay raises based on their alma mater and college degree.
“There were some complaints regarding wages early during some camp weeks,” said camp leader Adam Stone*. “One ‘mother’ complained to me about her ‘husband’ blowing their savings at the casino!”
Challenges were built into the week through assigned Life cards, where families had to address topics such as budgeting, time management, and how to deal with conflicts. The families also bonded while rafting, hiking, biking, and roasting marshmallows over the campfire. On the last day of camp, the families took time to reflect on their 50 simulated years of life together.
“Not one camper judged the success of their lives and families by their financial status,” Stone said. “Rather, they shared about making new friends, gratitude and love for their counselors and teachers, lessons learned, and even new direction in life. One student took steps to make his mother’s faith his own. We saw fruit in the lives of these children!”
-Written by Lisa H. Renninger
-Photos provided by Adam Stone*
*Name has been changed to protect identity.