Humanist Perspectives: issue 151: Camp Quest Canada 2004

Camp Quest Canada 2004
by Kathy Meidell

Is there a place, and a need, for a humanist summer camp for children? The success of the Humanist Association of Canada’s first summer camp for freethinking children, held at Birch Haven Resort (Baysville, Ontario), this past August, and sponsored by the Institute for Humanist Studies, answers both questions with a strong ‘yes!’ As well as the nature studies, orienteering, gymnastics, swimming and canoeing lessons that we might expect at summer camp, Camp Quest Canada (CQC) provided many activities with specifically humanist content. In Famous Freethinkers sessions, campers learned about various secular humanists that have made a positive impact on society: Thomas Edison, Mark Twain and Helen Keller among them. One evening, two leaders entertained campers and staff with seemingly impossible ‘magic’ tricks, and encouraged the campers to think critically about how each trick was done. Lively discussions followed the watching of videos such as The God Monologue, featuring comedian Julia Sweeney of Saturday Night Live fame, and the 2002 Godless Americans March on Washington that included poignant speeches from speakers such as Ed Buckner, Ellen Johnson and Taslima Nasrin.

A high point of the week-long camp was an all-day hike through Arrowhead Provincial Park. The campers were very excited to traverse boulders and rocks that stretched across rapids and a waterfall, and learn how to start a fire without matches or lighters. They had already learned survival skills such as compass-reading, map-making and how to identify certain plants and animals, and they collected many items to observe under the microscope back at camp. As well as sports and science sessions, the arts played a role in Camp Quest: the campers had recorder lessons, made miniature Inukshuks with rocks they had collected, and learned how to design their own t-shirts with fabric paints. Their designs will be shown on the Humanist Association of Canada website shortly. A special astronomy lesson included observing the sun in broad daylight. Along with these events and lessons offered to the children, through both organized and ad hoc activities, there was plenty of time for free play and getting to know each other. Campers had fun learning to play chess and backgammon, solve logic puzzles and do some code-breaking, as well as playing board games, ping-pong and beach volleyball. Another camp highlight, of course, was the bbq and campfire, with jokes, singing to the guitar and lively discussions.

Camp Quest Canada t-shirts, given to all the children, have the CQC logo on the front and ‘Humanist Kids are Beyond Belief’ written on the back. Campers were also given children’s critical thinking books: All Gods Come From the Same Place: An Atheist Primer by Madalyn Murray O’Hair; Just Pretend: A Freethought Book for Children and Maybe Right, Maybe Wrong: A Guide for Young Thinkers by Dan Barker; and What About Gods? by Chris Brockman.

There was no further discussion about religion — the children played together with a huge beach ball instead.

Campers went swimming almost every day that week, invariably encountering and playing with other vacationing children at the beach. During one of those sessions, the following dialogue between two eight-year-olds was overheard, as a Camp Quest child responded to a religious remark by another child:

“You believe in God?”

“Yeah,” said the other child.

“Why?”

“Because if it wasn’t for God, we wouldn’t be here… Aren’t you religious?”

“Nope.”

The other child looked surprised and blurted out, “But… if you aren’t religious… you will go to Hell!”

Ignoring the comment, the Camp Quest child got up to get more water for the sandcastle. There was no further discussion about religion — the children played together with a huge beach ball instead.

The success of this first summer of Camp Quest has left the enthusiastic volunteer leaders eagerly planning again for next summer.

Kathy Meidell is Executive Director of Camp Quest Canada, the 2nd VP of the Humanist Association of Canada, and President of the KWCG Humanists.

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