It was a cold and dreary day up at Walden Pond, but the Eldorado Canyon program warmed their bodies and minds by fishing, playing games, and learning about inclusion.  Jess, our inclusion director, led the whole group in an activity that teaches campers what it is like to be treated differently by their peers.
First, Jess asked campers to raise their hands if they have ever felt “different” at school or at camp.  Almost every camper raised his or her hand.  She told the group  that this activity is a chance to see what it is like to be in someone else’s shoes, so that we can learn how to treat people who are different.  Jess then had the campers close their eyes as she placed labels on each camper’s forehead.  The labels read
Joke with me
Ask me questions
Compliment me
Don’t look at me
Laugh at me
The campers then mingled with each other, and were told to treat each other based on the label on their forehead.  Some campers were having fun, talking and laughing.  Other campers were ignored and decided to sit down and stop trying to talk to others.
In group debrief, campers discussed how it made them feel to have labels on their forehead.  The group silently listened to each camper’s experiences, and it was amazing to see so many of them open up to the group.  One said that being ignored made them “want to give up on making friends.” Another said that if she was ignored every day it would make her “hate herself.” “It seems like people are treating me based on what is on my forehead and not what is inside,” she said.  The group that had “laugh at me” was especially moved.  They said that it hurt their feelings when people “laughed at me and not with me.” One of our beloved junior leaders shared his experience having a disability in middle and high school.  He said that it was okay when kids laughed at him when he mad a joke, but that when kids laughed at him falling or hurting himself that it really affected his life.  The campers gave him a round of applause for sharing such a personal experience, and they started to discuss ways to prevent this from happening.
“I think we should try to talk to everyone, even if they look or act strange,” one camper said.  “And we should try to compliment everyone, especially people who don’t get complemented a lot,” someone else said.  The campers made a pact together to try and treat each camper the same, even if they might be different from the others.  A very well-spoken 8 year old ended the discussion by saying, “we are all the same inside, we should treat each other better.” We hope that campers can take this to heart, and apply this to their future lives at camp, at school, and everywhere else.