A pile of boulders in the campground was the highlight of a Palomar Mountain Cub Scout camping trip. A visit to the observatory and walking about some gorgeous forest already made it a great event. The kids spent hours inventing all kinds of things to do. They ran, they climbed, they built, they organized themselves, they jumped, they threw, they danced, they even ate. This was despite all kinds of other fun things planned for them, like making Halloween creatures and walking around the mountain, to whittling and axe and knife throwing. Safely, no fingers lost or even nicked. We did lose a knife in the leaves or branches somewhere. Someday an archeologist will find it.
Palomar Mountain Observatory Campground
While Palomar Mountain was the backdrop, it doesn’t look that much different from other camping spots we’ve visited. The bathrooms are primitive, but maybe slightly nicer than other campgrounds we’ve visited. It’s still sleeping in a tent on the ground, which isn’t that bad if you layer your mats properly (crate-style on top of inflatable). The camp-created food is fairly simple, but quite tasty. To allow everyone to leave faster, we canceled breakfast on Sunday so we only had camp-stove coffee, which was still better than the diner where we eventually ate.
Independence for kids
Perhaps the boulder pile’s appeal was the independence it gave the kids. The adults shooed the kids away from the pile during meals and after dusk, but otherwise the kids could do mostly what they wanted. In the rocks, there was no constructed activity and little adult guidance. The kids were essentially on their own while still closely watched by the adults. The scouts were so engaged, the adults didn’t go forward with some of the additional activities originally planned.
Letting kids learn despite the risk
Usually, the parents manage the scouts closely to keep them occupied and safe. Of course, parents keep track of their kids in an effort to bring them whole and safe to adulthood. And the boulders did create risk: someone could’ve fallen and even broken bones. There were scrapes and splinters. It was an opportunity to let them just be themselves and find their own organization. As important as getting the kids safely to adulthood is letting them figure out what person they are and what they are able to do. Letting them be their own people in their own society teaches them things they can’t learn anywhere else. That is worth the risk of a broken bone.
The spontaneous exuberance of the kids when left to their own devices is a benefit of unmanaged time. It’s tough to do regularly, so it’s great when we can!