This summer, about 1,300 children signed up to roam the 33 acres of Camp Fire Heart of Oklahoma Camp DaKaNi. The camp aims to help campers find themselves and learn life skills through activities disguised as fun.
“Almost everything that happens in camp, from the structured activities to the children’s creative play time, is a teachable moment from which some life skill can be learned,” said Penn Henthorn, Camp DaKaNi Camp Director. “When youth fish at the pond, they’re not just learning to fish; they’re learning patience. When they’re canoeing, they’re learning to listen and work as team.”

When Camp Counselor Andrew Tucker was teaching a group of young campers to canoe, he gave them basic steering information and a mission. They had to paddle the canoe around the pond and under the bridge that sits in the middle, and they had to do it twice.

After receiving instructions, the first group got into the water, which is only about three feet deep, with life vests and paddles, and set off. They started out slowly, and their uncoordinated paddling made the boat go in circles, but they finally got into a rhythm and passed under the bridge for the first time.

Standing away from the pond near some shade trees was Camp Counselor Michael Thomas. “It’s weird how quickly they all kind of realize right and wrong,” he said.

Sitting near Michael and waiting their turn were twins Steven and Dominik Morrison, 6. When the first group finished, Andrew called for the two, but Dominik didn’t want to canoe—and that was fine too.

“We don’t push them to go to the absolute max. We push them to their own max, whatever they feel comfortable with,” Michael said. Instead of canoeing, Dominik said his favorite camp activity was Ga-Ga, a game in which participants face off in a wooden octagon filled with sand. Whether playing in sand, pushing through water, or learning to question what activity sparks a personal interest, Camp DaKaNi is finding those teachable moments when kids learn best.