by Cassidy Gillard
Our challenge course offers so many wonderful elements. We have the peanut butter pit, where campers need to get each member of their group across the pit to a log using only a swinging rope. We have the traverse, where the whole group must get from point A to point B along a wire. We have the “up and over” where groups have to get up and over a log that is up above the ground, the wobbling ladder that kids get to climb and see if they can get up without tipping over, the wild woozy, a slackline, balancing elements, and so many games and activities, all focused on working together and sharing ideas and trying and trying again and trying something different. Aside from campers, we also facilitate corporate groups, sorority groups, CU student groups, schools, and more. No matter who is participating in the challenge course, they always come out of it stronger, more connected, more aware of the construct of their group, and of course they always have a blast.
Sometimes, when campers hear “challenge” they get a little nervous. It sounds hard. To some kids, it sounds scary. To some kids, it is the best activity they will have all week. When beginning challenge, we talk about safety - of course - however what I appreciate most about our challenge program is that we talk about two types of safety. Physical safety and emotional safety. It is an opportunity to talk about respect without using the same rule that every child has always ever had, “be respectful.” Instead, kids immediately get the sense that they are safe, not only physically, but safe to be themselves. It creates validation that emotions are real and that they matter, and that each person is responsible for keeping the feelings of the people around them safe.
The Ranch is generally somewhere that people feel safe. Campers have so many quirky, cool, fun staff to look up to, and they see us as our very genuine selves without any reservations around being the truest versions of who we are. They are encouraged to be themselves, they are encouraged to take on new challenges, and to continue building skills that come naturally to them, and they get to see other kids do the same. For emotional safety to be highlighted at the challenge course feels incredibly important to me, and I believe that it builds on kid’s desire and ability to feel safe being themselves. Because emotional safety and respect are essentially the same thing, however when emotion is validated and campers are responsible for keeping everyone safe, they become these little champions seeking respect for those around them, rather than just kids who are expected to be respectful. It’s interesting to me that by simply changing a word or phrase like that it can have such a drastic impact on how it is perceived, and it is fascinating to see the responsibility that kids can take on when they consciously consider emotional safety.
Additionally, challenge offers a literal challenge to each person who shows up. The experience of working through a problem as a whole group and considering each idea that is given out and persisting through multiple attempts is humbling for those who jump into things. Being given an opportunity to give out ideas and be heard is empowering for those who are more reserved. Being supported by the people that the majority of someone’s day is spent with is something that many people don’t have the opportunity to feel. Whether the challenge is physical, emotional, or social, each person who shows up comes out of it stronger, and each group becomes more closely knit and effective as a team.