A call is made over the PA system, and within seconds, the thunderous sound of footsteps stampeding towards us has our hearts racing. We clutch handfuls of Rolos and Skittles, ready to toss them to the ravenous bunch that were sweet, smiling children only moments before.
Canteen is open.
Until this year, canteen consisted of a bucket of pre-selected candy and snacks delivered to the bunk each afternoon, along with mail and printed emails. If a camper happened to be in the infirmary or at an inter-camp tournament, his snack was fair game. After much discussion about the experience and healthy choices and timing of snacks, we decided to try something new.
And hence was born “Canteen”. Here’s how it works: Each day, every camper gets 5 digital Tou-bucks (TB). One period of the day, the store is open and campers can meander (run at full speed) over to the store and contemplate the myriad of options before making a selection. We then debit their accounts based on what they spend. If someone doesn’t spend his 5 TB one day, it rolls over and accrues in his account. Prices range from 5 TB for a piece of candy or snack to 1 Million TB for Big Bird’s Prius. There are also sunglasses, puzzles, MadLibs, magazines, fake mustaches, and new items added weekly. Each day, there are daily specials, such as farm-fresh vegetables or popcorn.
This is what I love about canteen:
The questions. Campers love a challenge, and nothing inspires their creativity and ingenuity more than getting STUFF. “If I have 10 TB can I get 2 pieces of candy?” (No). “If I save from now until my CIT year, can I afford Big Bird’s car?” (No), “Can I have my parents send money so I can increase the amount of Tou-bucks in my account?” (No), “Can I pitch a tent outside Canteen so I can be first in line tomorrow?” (Only when the next iPhone comes out)
Some kids don’t want candy! Some of them even overcame peer pressure and incredulous stares from their friends and ordered SNAP PEAS! Now, don’t get me wrong. the majority of kids still want candy when given the choice (this kid included), but I mentally high-five every camper that proudly walks away with a healthy snack or new sunglasses. Or better yet, the ones that are saving up for something BIG, like a t-shirt. That takes some serious 9-year-old self control.
Choices. Because isn’t that what camp is all about? When kids are away from home and get to make decisions that we normally make for them, they stand a little taller. At camp, they decide what activities to try, what to wear each day, what to eat at meals, and now what to spend their pretend money on. It seems like a little thing, but it’s kind of a big thing. Those choices develop independence, confidence, and yes, sometimes cavities. Don’t worry, we have toothpaste too – for 0 TB!