During my time as a day camp leader this past summer, I started an accidental cult. Well, not really. Well, not at all…
But something a little strange, though seriously funny, happened. Now, you need a bit of background information. I volunteered at a day camp run out of my church (but at the time, my husband Jeff and I had just started attending). Jeff got a job as a “day camp director” and so I thought it would be fun to volunteer while he worked. A grade 12 girl and I were the leaders for grade 3-4 girls. We all had camp names. Mine was T-Rex.
I love working with kids, but I was a bit nervous meeting 70+ brand new kids all at once. The camp was 4 weeks long, but attendance varied by week. Sometimes we had 10 girls, sometimes we had 6. I was scared my girls wouldn’t like me or wouldn’t listen to me because I was new. But I was so very wrong.
Thankfully, I bonded well with my group. One day during the first week, a few of my campers and I were playing with chalk during “recess.” I grabbed a stick of purple chalk and drew something almost identical to this:
My girls giggled. I told them a bit about my life-long dinosaur obsession as I passed around the piece of chalk. One girl asked if I could show her how to draw the dinosaur head. Of course I said yes. Three other campers watched, and I walked away to grab some water. I talked to a few other campers, skipped some rope (badly), and returned to the group of four girls. I looked down at the tarmac and was greeted with a rainbow of “T-Rex was heres”
It made me laugh, because they weren’t T-rex. They had copied my picture exactly how it was – even though it didn’t make any sense. Eventually, I guess they realized that writing “T-Rex was here” only made sense if I wrote it, so they moved onto “T-Rex Rocks.”
By the next day, there were over 40 drawings of my little T-Rex logo with “T-Rex was here” or “T-Rex rocks” written on the side. My group only had six girls during that first week.
There were also ARROWS drawn all over the entire parking lot. You know what those arrows were? Well, every time I walked anywhere, one of my girls would follow me around and draw an arrow from a giant T-Rex Was Here picture in the centre of the parking lot.
It was starting to get a little weird. Jeff joked that I started the cult of the T-Rex. But it was harmless, and it was cute, and it was fun. And by week two, the T-Rex obsession had died down and things went back to normal.
So no, this is not the story of some crazy accidental T-Rex cult I started with a group of grade 3 and 4 girls. But this is the story of a lesson I learned firsthand. Kids are crazy impressionable, and if you put yourself in a leadership position, they WILL look up to you. They will look up to you if you think you’re shy, if you think you’re outgoing, if you think you can handle it, if you think you can’t. They will look up to you if you’re right, if you’re wrong, if you’re funny, if you’re snarky or sarcastic.
I didn’t do anything to merit this attention. The first few days, I wasn’t super talkative with my girls (honestly, I was kind of intimidated by them!) I wasn’t very charismatic or in any ways fun to be around (or so I thought). Still, it quickly became clear that these girls were paying close attention to me. I was a role model, whether I liked it or not.
And I did like it. Because I love working with kids and have done it consistently for almost four years now. But what if I wasn’t ready to be a role model? What if I knew, deep down, that kids shouldn’t be looking up to me?
I guess this isn’t anything you’ve never heard before. Of course we know that kids listen, they watch, they pay attention, and they imitate. But this was the first time I truly experienced it first hand. If you’re in a position of leadership, with children, youth, or even other young adults, remember that they’re watching. Be careful of what you say, because the next day, your version of “T-Rex is here,” whatever that may be, might be repeated 40 times on someone’s version of tarmac.