Ask Kim 1 – Sir/Madam, We Have a Quest for You

By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Kim Newton, M.Litt. is the Executive Director of Camp Quest Inc. (National Support Center). We will learn some more about Camp Quest in an educational series.

Here we talk about the popular activities for the kids and more.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: With respect to the national organizational structure and operations of Camp Quest, for this educational series, some were covered in a previous interview. What are the most popular and the main activities of Camp Quest for the kids? 

Kim Newton: Camp Quest offers a wide variety of programs, from traditional outdoor adventures like hiking and canoeing to specific activities based in science, ethics, philosophy, and more. This summer, we’ve had camp programs based around themes of “Pirates of the Questibbean” (Camp Quest Michigan) to “Making Waves” (Camp Quest Texas) and “The Sorcery of Science” (Camp Quest Kansas City). At Camp Quest Texas, for example, campers explored how they could be positive change-makers on social issues that they care about, “making waves” in their communities. They also did crafts and other fun activities such as exploring local plant and animal species, contributing to current scientific research via National Geographic’s iNaturalist app. Our knowledgeable and experienced volunteers are always quite innovative in creating meaningful opportunities for campers to both learn and have fun!

One of our Signature Programs is Famous Freethinkers™. This activity raises awareness of positive contributions made by atheists, agnostics, humanists, freethinkers, and other non-theistic people to our society. A camper or counselor will often present about a Famous Freethinker before a meal or at a campfire session, drawing information about that person’s life from a card featuring their photo, accomplishments, and quotes. We teach children about these freethinkers, some of whom they may have heard about in school, or others they may not know about, like Frida Kahlo or Alan Turing. Thanks to a grant we received from the Stiefel Freethought Foundation, we’ll be updating this program in the coming year, focusing on increasing the diversity of people included in the program. We’re always open to opportunities to collaborate with other secular organizations on program development and expansion.

One of the kids’ favorite activities is Socrates Café, a moderated discussion about a philosophical question or other topic of interest. This activity promotes open dialogue that is marked by challenging each other’s ideas while treating one another with respect. This is perhaps one of the most important aspects of how Camp Quest puts humanist values into action. Our future depends on young people having the social and communication skills necessary to navigate an increasingly complex and globalized society. Cultivating opportunities for young people to have constructive dialogue about important topics and questions is vital if we want our fragile democracy, and our planet to thrive. This is part of what I think makes Camp Quest so special, and why supporting our programs is the best way to ensure that humanism remains a relevant and vibrant aspect of our campers’ lives once they are adults.

Jacobsen: How does the provision of a secular mentor leave the young to develop their innate capacities and pursue their more natural interests compared to other organizations such as the Boy Scouts and the Girl Guides?

Newton: I believe that Camp Quest is unique in its approach to mentorship, primarily because our volunteers understand that their first responsibility is to foster healthy and respectful relations between campers and to model this behavior as well. 

Traditional youth-serving organizations may run successful programs, but too often the focus is on children’s obedience to a higher order or law rather than on self-discovery and empathy with others. It’s important not to overshadow the essential reasons that children participate in such programs, to be socially connected to their peers and gain life skills. The obsession with authority and traditional hierarchy at other organizations is evidenced by the emphasis, in the United States at least, on children’s’ adherence to oaths and pledges, and their conformity to social norms (reinforced by traditional trappings of uniforms, badges, etc.) 

You won’t find this type of conformity at Camp Quest. Rather, our campers are encouraged to pursue their own interests and to explore their developing identities. We support this by providing a variety of programs and allowing campers structured time to self-select what activities they participate in. Counselors mentor campers by encouraging positive interactions and servings as coaches and guides to the campers’ self-directed learning process, rather than acting as authoritarian instructors.

At Camp Quest, all campers are welcome and accepted for who they authentically are. Other youth organizations are only just beginning to understand that their traditions of exclusion (of other genders, of LGBTQ people, of religious and non-religious minorities) is detrimental to their continued existence. Since our beginnings in the mid-’90s, Camp Quest has been a leader on issues of inclusion and diversity. When we let youth know through our actions that they are respected and valued for just being who they are, then they can start to build the sort of self-confidence that leads them to pursue their natural interests and develop their capacity for healthy relationships and community-building. I think all of the adults that work thousands of hours year-round to make Camp Quest possible understand that this is what it’s really all about.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Kim.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.

Do not forget to look into our associates: Godless Mom, Nice Mangoes, Sandwalk, Brainstorm Podcast, Left at the Valley, Life, the Universe & Everything Else, The Reality Check, Bad Science Watch, British Columbia Humanist Association, Dying With Dignity Canada, Canadian Secular Alliance, and Centre for Inquiry Canada.

Other Resources: Recovering From Religion.

Photo by Vincent Guth on Unsplash

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