By Ben Sunding, Camp Program Manger
Recently I watched the movie My Neighbor Totoro for the first time. Animated by the charming and famous Studio Ghibli, this film depicts two young girls who move with their father into a shabby, old house located within the beautiful and luscious Japanese countryside. Pretty soon into the film, the girls find that this place isn’t like any other home as mysterious creatures roam about their new residence. Stricken with curiosity, the girls begin investigating the creatures, following them through the woods and discovering their secret hideout. What ensues is a joyful adventure that only the children are able to fully experience due to their innocent hearts.
I wanted to talk about My Neighbor Totoro because so much of the magic and wonder displayed within the film applies to our programs at Eagle’s Nest as well. Firstly, there’s the idea of kids just being kids. Throughout the film, the sisters play together, laugh together, and create their own fun as they explore their new home. There are of course moments of conflict between the sisters, but they easily work through it as their deep care for one another surpasses any disagreements they encounter. Within all of our programs at Eagle’s Nest, we use our own imaginations to play with each other. Through this natural process of play, kids learn to share, resolve disputes, and create a better sense of belonging with one another. Part of the job of our counselors is to guide them through this process, in which they don’t tell the kids what decisions to make, but instead provide an open ear and a supportive heart.
Secondly, the father of the two girls, Tatsuo, shines as a supportive role model who rarely misses an opportunity to join in on the fun his two daughters have. In one scene, the younger sister Mei goes through their backyard field picking flowers while Tatsuo mulls over some boring looking textbooks. As Mei picks the flowers, she places them on Tatsuo’s desk insisting that he runs the imaginary flower shop. Tatsuo is elated to hear this and begins to mentally prepare for his new and important role. In another scene, the kids want to introduce Tatsuo to their little woodland friends. Crawling on hands and knees, he follows the girls through tunnels of bushes and shrubbery. Throughout these scenes and many others, Tatsuo plays right along and embraces the same energy of his daughters. One of the pleasures of working at Eagle’s Nest is getting to see interactions like this everyday. Our counselors, teachers, and outdoor instructors have quite the knack for finding silly things that our participants enjoy and turning it into the basis of a class or lesson. I recall one summer a group of kids were taking a guitar class called School of Rock. The class is meant to teach kids different songs and chords to play on guitar, but it just so happened that those specific students were really into Weezer, and so the class was quickly restructured into School of Weezer. Hilarious Weezer cover performances followed.
Finally, much of the movie takes place in the fields and woods surrounding the family’s home. They use this area as the ultimate playground, a place which always has something new for the characters to discover or get excited about. It almost goes without saying, but the same is true on our campus here at the Nest. There are many winding trails throughout the property that we sit upon, and very few have explored all of it. Even small things, like star gazing, sending notes through fairy houses, or building your own secret fort help to encapsulate some of the magic that can be found whilst exploring the outdoors. This sentiment especially applies for our Hante programs as participants have a chance to explore a part of the world that is different from this campus and their own backyard.
In summary, there are a lot of parallels that can be found between the programs we have at Eagle’s Nest and some of the magic and joy that My Neighbor Totoro is wrapped in. Nowadays, it can seem like kids of all ages have few opportunities to just be themselves and experience life without any expectations, however, My Neighbor Totoro shows that if we simply let kids play with their own imagination, whilst we act as supportive guides, great things will come.