Chris Hodgson, Outdoor Education Coordinator
School camps, why go to the bother of running school camps? School camps are an important part of school life for many schools around the world. They vary in length and purpose. Geelong Grammar send their Year 9 cohort ‘on camp’ to Timbertop for the whole of Year 9. Many schools have 6 to 10 week camps for their Year 9/10 students. These schools usually have their own camp sites and their school fees are significantly higher than those of King’s.
The reason for doing the camps are very similar across all schools and generally fall under a couple of categories.
The year level camp base around the home group to build relationships and possibly support some classroom topics.
Subject specific camp used to support and extend subject learning.
Experiential learning is key to each camp regardless of the type of camp students attend and it is the experience students have that tends to stay with them for many years to come. For those who have attended school camps as students many of you will recall events form the camp decades later. Hopefully if the camps are thoughtfully planned and delivered the outcome will be positive.
Dr Peter Martin and Tony Hewson wrote an extensive paper for Outdoor Education Australia promoting Outdoor Education in the National Curriculum and the outcomes of Outdoor Education. All camps at King’s would hope to achieve the following outcomes for students.
‘Personal development. The Melbourne Declaration places considerable importance on the personal development of students. They are to become “confident and creative individuals” who, along with much more, “have a sense of self-worth, self-awareness and personal identity that enables them to manage their emotional, mental, spiritual and physical well-being…are enterprising, show initiative…develop personal values and attributes such as honesty, resilience, empathy and respect for others”.
Group Development. Teamwork is a major outcome of a great many aspects of school life – sport, drama, music performance, class group work to name a few. Each of these is highly effective in teaching teamwork through experience. None of these activities work properly without teamwork. Thus there can be no suggestion that these are not all important aspects of a young person’s learning development.
A Positive School Culture. By binding a group together through successful common experience in challenging circumstances, Outdoor Education helps to create a positive school culture. Groups return to school with a positive attitude which affects the whole school.
At the same time when teaching staff accompany groups into the outdoors, new relationships develop between students and staff. Students see teachers in a new context, which is very different from every day life at school. They see them as part of the team and acknowledge them as people. This bonding of staff and students has a deep impact on the culture of the school.
(Dr. P. Martin & T. Hewison, 2015. p.21-23)
All camps would also encourage students to manage risk in a positive way and to take risks in a safe and supportive environment. Once students enter Senior School and study Outdoor Education as a discrete subject addition, outcomes are sought. Most obviously students learn the technical skills to safely participate in the adventure activities during camps but they also learn about the importance of creating positive group dynamics and who to lead their peers. Students learn about risk assessment and management. As students learn about the environment and spend extended periods of time in it they have the opportunity to achieve a greater personal understanding of and empathy with the environment.
Increasingly extended periods of time spent outside in natural environments are be looked at as an antidote to life in the Twenty First Century. There is a greater emphasis on student wellbeing and time away from a life lived connected to social media. Anecdotally teachers and students at King’s have seen the benefits of being outside and away from their normal life lived at a hectic pace (particularly in the Senior School).
Living in a small community for extended periods of time requires a different set of skills than the normal school day and allows for greater self-reflection. When done well this can bring about changes in behaviors and attitudes can actually strengthen relationships between students and staff and students which can lead to better outcomes in the classroom on return to school.