May 2015 So what’s the point of school camp?

Or School Camp #AWESOME



school camp Susan Walter (GIS) Garden International School

What’s the point of school camp?

So what’s the point of school camp?

“Team one 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.”

I help brief the parents about sending their children away on their residential camps, and have been in the jungle myself with the children, so know exactly what they are in for. It always makes me really excited as a teacher to be able to offer such great experiences. But I’m a parent as well as a teacher, and on reading the email above, from my own child’s camp, my maternal instincts cut in.

Tas is only ten, 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… To most ten-agers, camp is as normal a part of school as music, maths or Mandarin, but us parents still worry about our kids tramping through the jungle, building traps and squashing into hammocks above snakes and spiders. So perhaps the point of camp is as much about us and starting to let our kids go?

Okay, maybe, but why is it necessary for our kids 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 of Oxford High School, and Colin Smith, chief engineer at Rolls-Royce, summed it up recently in The Sunday Times about the benefits of making kids contend with challenges that they might fail at. Judith first:

“It’s about the principles that every parent wants, that their children 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! Kids can’t get that in a mall mock-up, but in the mythical jungles of Borneo where headhunters still roamed until the 1960s, they do. And some! There’s real indigenous tribes, blow pipes, snakes, leeches, raging rivers, and dirt.

The rivers are cool and clean though, so any kids 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 kids that spend time in the dirt on the first night, are the most focused 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 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!”

Unlike how I initially felt being away in Bangkok when Tas got back from Borneo, meaning Trophy collected him instead of me. Once I got the one-word message, “smiling”, however, I was able to relax.

Trophy’s texts are normally wordy, starting with “Remember…”, “Can you…”, “If…”, so I wasn’t surprised when five minutes later my phone brightened again, “#AWESOME!” But it didn’t stop, he’d unleashed a one-word message maelstrom “#LIGIT”, “#SWAG”, “#OP”… and the screen glowed so brightly in my lap that my face lit up like Jack Nicholson’s on The Shining posters! What was he doing? He knew I was at a conference! I got it at “smiling”, Tas had had a good time, and what was with the #CAPS?

But on looking more closely at my phone… the messages weren’t just to me… and, they were from Tas! Not only had he enjoyed it, but he was telling me, and all his friends on Instagram, just how much he’d enjoyed it!

That’s the point of camp.

school camp Susan Walter (GIS) Deputy Head Garden International School

School Camp #AWESOME

1 thought on “May 2015 So what’s the point of school camp?

  1. Alison

    Borneo! That sounds amazing. I totally agree with all the points you make – I hate it when my daughter goes on camp, she’s 7 – but I love it when she comes back and tells me about all the scary things she’s done

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