I’m not what you would call an outdoors type of person. In fact, my idea of a nature walk is strutting down Lampton Quay. The prospect of not only attending but actually being responsible for the running of a school camp was not something I was looking forward to.
School camps for me largely involved spending vast amounts of time wet and soggy after trudging through some deluge to tent in a place in the middle of nowheresville with no flushing toilets. This is except for Year 12, which was a ski trip to Ruapehu, when we got to see the mountain erupt and not much else. Suffice to say, my past forays into the world beyond the urban limits with school groups have not been pleasant and now another week of not only participating but actually being the person responsible hung before me.
26 kids, 3 parent helpers, 3 nights in the great outdoors. What could possibly go wrong?
Despite thousands of kids across the country going on camps without any major incident, my mind kept rolling through the lists of recent camp-related headlines. The trio of students who were swept off Paritutu rock, the canyoning tragedy and a group of students lost in the Kaimai ranges for a few hours. Alongside checking off equipment and chasing down payments, students drowning in white water, getting burned by fire, falls from various ledges and kids getting lost dominated my thoughts in the weeks preceding camp. The rational part of my brain knew that my fears were out of proportion to the actual risk – a measure of the neurosis we all suffer in an over-reported age.
While I frequently reminded my students about the importance of following instructions and how to conquer fear, I didn’t voice those nagging concerns that every teacher feels upon leaving the safe confines of the classroom and lend your students to the risks of the world. Those dark thoughts had no place in a classroom full of bright young eyes excited by the prospect of adventure.
It has been interesting to watch my students over the week, some of the kids surprised me with the gusto they took to our activities. Quiet kids suddenly became classroom superstars as negotiated high ropes and abseiling like superman. For others, I would spend the week literally coaching them off the side of the cliff.
As a teacher I’ve found this week incredibly demanding both mentally and physically. From the moment you start packing until the kids are sent home you are on call 24 hours a day. On the Wednesday night my class and I spent the night in tents as a nasty gale whipped around the camp site, 24 hours it was rain for our night in bivvys. Even with the awesome parent and instructor help, I have never been so knackered in all my life as I was on Friday afternoon.
There was also the challenge of the activities themselves. I tried out as many of the had to be calm and reassuring even though I myself was feeling my heart race as I was suspended 8m up on the high ropes course or coughing back water after I fell out of our raft. The comedic value of the latter served for a lot of gentle ribbing from other participants as did my blood nose after I whacked myself in the face while finding a place to puke after a long bus trip resulting in a bloody nose.
Now that it is all over, I find myself in a love-hate relationship with school camp. I still don’t understand the appeal of roughing it away from the rest of the urban population and things like electricity and hot showers. While such activities maybe fun to some, it is clear that suburbia has its purpose – to keep nature away from townies like me, and keep townies like me away from nature.
Nevertheless, for many kids camp is their once in a lifetime opportunity to not only get a taste of adventure sports but perhaps for some students a chance to venture out beyond their own community. More importantly camp takes kids out of their comfort zones. By embracing risk, they’ll find reward.
I’ve led groups of students to an “outdoor school” kind of camp (with nature-related curriculum) and “play camp.” Both, as you said, are completely exhausting mentally and physically.
We go to camp each year, I dread it. But then I remember that students come back different. There is a bonding that takes place because they have common stories to share. I get to know the students better too. Some other advantages are listed here: http://expateducator.com/2011/10/27/international-students-go-to-camp-the-importance-of-play/
Are you going soon or did you already go for the year?
I just went this past week! It was awesome seeing other students from my school leaving this morning on my way in and seeing how excited they all were.