Restorative Practices at Camp

Restorative: (adjective)          

“having the ability to restore health, strength, or a feeling of well-being.”

-definition from Oxford Languages

     At Pilgrim Lodge this past summer, we implemented the use of Restorative Practices. For the purpose of camp, we defined Restorative Practices as: a framework for community building, tending, and community repair. The shape that took at camp was primarily in the form of talking circles. It was not a big stretch to use talking circles at camp. In fact, circles are somewhat built into the fabric of how we have always interacted at camp. It can be a challenge to come up with an icebreaker game that doesn’t begin with a prompt to go around the circle and say your name and share something about yourself. What was different this past summer, however, was the intention that we brought to the use of circles.

     We were mindful to introduce circles as a way of sharing and listening that has been used by indigenous people for centuries. We articulated the purpose of using circles at camp: to get to know each other, to make sure that everyone is invited to participate, and, if necessary, to address a concern that has arisen. In this way, children and adults alike understood that there was purpose behind the format. We also shared some norms or standards for the circles:

  • Respect the talking piece: the talking piece is an invitation share, but you may always pass.
  • Speak and listen from the heart; this is a reminder to speak from the “I” perspective. It is an invitation to be vulnerable and to choose what you are ready to share.
  • Say just enough: this means share the airtime with others.
  • Stories stay, learnings leave: in order to create a space in which folks feel comfortable, we trust each other with our stories.

     We used circles in abundance to create community, sending painted rocks, gnome figurines and stuffed animals around circles as talking pieces. Campers of all ages were able to understand and participate. And when we had our “ouch” moments with one another, as humans in relationship are bound to do, we already knew how to use circles to talk about what hurt. We would send a talking piece around and ask, “What happened? How did you feel? What do we need to move forward?” These questions opened up space for each person to tell the story of their own experience of what happened – identifying where intent and impact may not have matched and caused harm. Participants in the circle were invited to the vulnerability of sharing the source of their hurt, fear, or frustrations. Naming those feelings can create space for empathy and new perspectives. They were offered moments to be brave and share what they needed from one another. In many cases, it resulted in a revisiting of covenant – how we agreed to be in relationship.

     I have spent a lot of time holding curiosity around the word “restorative” and the definition “having the ability to restore health, strength, or a feeling of well-being.” In our day-to-day lives, how often do we have conversations that result in the restoration of strength or a sense of well-being? I think about the word “restorative” in the context of what we seek to offer in a camp experience as a whole. How might taking the time to live with intention in our interactions with others, our faith, and nature be restorative for our bodies, minds and spirits? One adult camper shared in an evaluation: “My favorite part of my camp experience was ‘finding a faith community, reconnecting with God through nature. I had no idea how much I was missing this space in my life!!’” Perhaps, for her, the experience of camp was restorative.

     And then there is the word “practice.” “Practice: (noun) the actual application or use of an idea, belief, or method, as opposed to theories relating to it” (definition from Oxford Languages).

     The experience of camp, in its best version, is not meant to be contained at camp. Ideally, it is meant to empower us to return to our homes and routines and relationships with health, strength and well-being. And maybe…hopefully, with some new ways of listening and truly hearing; some new ability to be vulnerable and to open our hearts; some greater strength to name what we need. The word practice, for me, is a beautiful reminder that the call is not to perfection, but rather an invitation to keep showing up again, and again, and again…

All are invited into the circle.