It’s TomTod Ideas’ 5th birthday! We’ve been empowering middle school students to launch absurd ideas that enhance the common good for five years now, and it’s been a momentous half decade. We’re celebrating with a 5 for 5: Five things we love about middle schoolers.
1. Critical Thinking
It can be difficult – if not downright impossible – to fully sum up the middle school brain. But that’s one of the reasons we love middle schoolers: Their inquisitiveness, intrepid curiosity, and desire to know more (even if at first they act like they don’t care) is something that drives their middle school gray matter. It’s incredible to watch as they seek to know as much as they can before they evaluate problems and ideas, and then make decisions.
2. Creative Innovation
Let’s face it, middle schoolers can be weird. And we love that. Because we’re weird too.
Middle schoolers are at a stage where everything from their bodies and brains to their emotions and thoughts are all tangled up and learning how to grow. The amalgamation of all this confusion, possibility, and diversity (within themselves and what they see in others) is probably the source of all their good ideas. Who would have ever thought to dream up a free bikeshare programthat was served out through the public library system? Who would have thought to develop an app where refugees can find resources, information, and become more acclimated to their new homes? (Look out for more info on that, later.) It’s these instances of innovation that we at TomTod Ideas feel a personal obligation to amplify. Too often all those “crazy ideas” an 11-year-old has are ignored by adults. Not here. Not by us.
Teamwork. Group work. Asking for help. Checking the facts. Using shared resources.
These are lot of things people struggle with, adults and middle schoolers alike. But we’ve found at Camp What If that when you take a diverse group of middle school students and challenge them, and also actually listen to them, a smorgasbord of collaborative possibility. We had a camper this past summer who absolutely did not want to climb through the spider web rope course at Camp What If: Wilds. Instead of demanding that she do it, our camp counselor asked why (she was afraid of falling to the ground). Then we asked if there was a way to help her overcome that fear. She wasn’t sure at first, but a friend suggested all her fellow campers help boost her legs and arms to get through. With a small amount of trepidation she agreed, and then she did it. She overcame her personal fear, worked with others, and felt more empowered to collaborate in groups for the rest of the week at camp because she had that initial challenging and impactful experience.
Middle schoolers are some of the most caring people we’ve ever met. They have a deep, intrinsic optimism that shines through – especially when you ask middle schoolers what their passions are. Just take a gander at Manny’s or Nyrii’s stories, you’ll see why they care so much.
At Camp What If: Masters and Wilds this summer, we focused on the international refugee crisis and how we could respond to it (and in what way.) Dan, one of our camp counselors, shared some telling evidence when we asked him about what he saw in his middle schoolers at camp:
“By the end of the week it seemed most campers had figured out how the refugee crisis related to and affected them, as well as what they could do to help.”
In one week they figured out how to respond, help, and why it’s necessary in the first place. Bingo.
Sure, confidence is key…but to what, exactly? Why do we instill this in our students and cherish it? Because no one ever said middle school was easy. It’s very much the opposite. But that’s why TomTod Ideas exists. Confidence, once planted, grows and grows to combat the daily insecurities and anxieties middle schoolers face. All those times an adult said “no” to a good idea, all those times someone disregarded a middle schooler’s valid, personal opinion, or question seeking to know more, or when an adult simply can’t be bothered to deal with a middle schooler right now and tosses them a digital device to occupy their time…that’s what confidence combats. That’s the key to a positive, well-developed, supported, and empowered middle schooler: instilling in them the confidence to know they matter, their ideas matter, and they have the ability to put their dreams into motion. And when you see that happen, when you see a middle schooler realize someone is listening to them and recognizes their ideas are real and valid, that makes all the difference. It’s why we do what we do.
And there’s just five out of the many reasons we love middle schoolers. What are your five? Post on social media why you love middle schoolers with the hashtag #TomTodturns5.
It’s a big year for us as we reach the Big 5. You can help us reach another 5 more years by giving a gift so we can empower more middle schoolers, reach more schools, and enhance more communities. Thank you!