What’s The Point Of Camp? by @Susanwalter99

The value of a few days away from school and family

Team 1 headed off to the Jungle Survival Camp, reached after an hour’s trek through the rainforest. Once there, they chose suitable trees between which to rig their hammocks, mosquito nets and ‘bashers’ (roofs to the un-jungle trained!) The guides then introduced the children to jungle survival techniques involving food (building traps), water (finding it), fire (making it) and shelter (building it). Dinner was followed by a campfire accompanied by roasted marshmallows.”  (Ben Hawkins, Y6 Teacher)

This is a re-blog post originally posted by Susan Walter and published with kind permission.

The original post can be found here.

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Last week, I asked a group of Year 8 and 9 students which school trips they remembered. Unanimously, they said they remembered every single one of them. Our Primary camp weeks are coming up fast, and as someone who is both a teacher and a parent, I wanted to remind you how important the experiences our children get from going away with their friends and teachers are, and why they are a compulsory part of our school curriculum.

School camps are life changing.

I often help brief the parents about sending their children away on our residential camps, and have been in the jungles of Borneo, Gopeng and Ipoh myself with the children, so know exactly what they are in for, and it always makes me really excited as a teacher to be able to offer such great experiences.

I am a parent too, and on reading the email above from my own child’s camp, my maternal instincts cut in. My son is only 10, surely he isn’t really old enough to be sleeping in the jungle in a hammock he has “rigged” himself?  My son, who can’t manage to get his own dirty clothes into the laundry basket, let alone off the floor… he can’t be? To most ‘Ten-agers’ though, camp, is as normal a part of school as music, maths or mandarin, but us parents still worry about our children tramping through the jungle, building traps, and squashing into hammocks above ants and spiders. So perhaps the point of camp is as much about us and starting to let our children go as it is about the learning and excitement they will get from going?

But I know we parents still worry; why is it necessary for our children to go out into ‘The Wild’ for a week, when they could no doubt get a reasonable approximation to the experience in a mock up in one of KL’s air conditioned malls? Well, although they didn’t know it, Judith Carlisle, Head Teacher at Oxford High School, and Colin Smith, Chief Engineer, Rolls Royce, summed it up recently in the The Sunday Times about the benefits of making children contend with challenges that they might fail at. Judith first:

“It’s about the principles that every parent wants, that their child grows up as happy as they can be and as robust as we can get them to be, and that they learn more by failing and not getting it right.”

  Happy. Robust. Failing. Yes. Yes. Yes. Now Colin:

“Bring back the sense of wonder. If you get that in your brain then you’re hooked.”

 Sense of wonder! Children can’t get that in a mall mock up, but in the mythical jungles of Borneo where headhunters still roamed until the 1960s, they really do. There’s real indigenous tribes, blow pipes, spiders, leeches, raging rivers, and dirt. Not virtual Minecraft dirt, but fallen from a thousand year canopy dirt. Learn from your guide, work as a team, build your shelter well and tie your hammocks tight or you’ll be sleeping in it, dirt. You can’t recreate that, it is something that can only be learned from experience.

The rivers are cool and clean though, and so are the camp showers, so any children that become too enamoured with the ancient terroir soon freshen up ready for the next chance to have fun proving themselves to their friends. So much so, that it’s noticeable how the children that spend time in the dirt on the first night, are the most focussed and committed team players when it comes to building rafts to ride the rapids and keeping alert for leeches on the jungle treks – as according to the guides it’s “lucky if you get leeched”. That’s what Judith Carlisle means by robust!

 Not only that, but this quote from a child as he jumped out of the raft at the end of a long afternoon on the river in Gopeng with his team, surely contains a lot of what Colin Smith means by a sense of wonder?

This is the BEST day of my life!”

I mentioned before, that the Secondary children I spoke to remembered ALL their school trips and camps, and remembered them in considerable detail. They talked about how they did things they never thought they could have done before, how they faced and overcame challenges and how proud that made them feel. How, on the longest island to island zip wire in the world, they actually felt like they were flying; how they climbed right to the top of the pole at mountain school before leaping off to grab the trapeze; how working as a team, they crossed the river safely and learned how to raft. They also talked about how good their food tasted after serving meals to their friends, and how they learned to wash dishes and clean up after themselves.

In this day and age, when we all wish our children would choose to spend a little less time in front of a screen, how exciting that we can un-plug them, be it overnight at the Aquarium, or for 5 days in the Borneo jungle. How exciting that we can give them these amazing, life changing opportunities.

Sadly I was out of the country at an education conference when my son came back from Borneo last year, but he sent me a text to tell me all about camp. ‘Ten-agers’ don’t waste words. His text just read  #AWESOME!

But it didn’t stop there. #LIGIT   #SWAG   #O.P.   I have no real idea what those words mean, but I understand completely what they say. My son had had the best week of his life.

That’s the point of camp.

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