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The Benefits of Camp Schools with Students (Part 1)

Posted by Andrew Stuart* (Youth & Community Development Consultants) on


The Benefits of Camp Schools with Students (Part 1)

There is no better way to help a student than to inspire them, and an unforgettable residential Camp School experience can do just that. It can offer a wonderful opportunity to open young minds and nurture their potential, to teach life skills, boost a sense of belonging, build confidence and create a better understanding of the world around them. Spending time away from home can also offer young students a chance to embrace adventure and take calculated risks, face new challenges, build self-esteem and make lifelong friends along the way.

Our Camp Schools certainly are considered an essential part of the educational curriculum and they are designed to support a variety of areas of learning in each child’s personal and social development too. This has been the fact for many decades here in Western Australia. No Government’s drastic “cost-cutting” measures can take that historical fact away from our communities, our schools, our teachers and most importantly our kids. Why on earth our Government decided to hand over six of the seven WA Camp Schools administration to Fairbridge WA Inc, is beyond all rational thought! Fairbridge, of all places. With a sketchy history of poor fiscal management and staffing issues over many decades, surely Fairbridge, would have been the last port of call. Maybe it was? Maybe nobody else wanted to take up this challenge?  The Department of Sport & Recreation certainly didn't!  Why not you ask?  Isn't it obvious enough!

Terry Redman says it well, "They are moving from being government owned and government operated to being privately operated by a not-for-profit group, and the government is taking away $3.8 million and putting back $250,000. So, what is the proposition? The proposition is that we will go from six 'campsites' — not Camp Schools, using the Premier’s own words — that cost $3.8 million, to an educational provider, and presumably, in the Premier’s words, an “enhanced educational process” to what he says exists now, for only $250,000 a year. That does not add up. There is no way in the world that the kids who use these sites will get an outcome that is anything like positive."

Peter Rundle also summed it up exceptionally well, “I feel sorry for those employees, some of whom found out about the scenario of the Camp Schools on ... a Facebook page!  Their destiny did not come to them through any consultation; they had to find out from Facebook.  I cannot believe that the fees will not go up.  I worry for the kids of Western Australia. As I said, the mantra of this government, when it came in, was that every child in Western Australia deserves a decent education, regardless of where they live. To be honest, the list of back-flips just goes on and on.”

But by far my most favourite quote was by Pat Byrne from the State School Teachers’ Union of WA, was quoted as saying — “This is privatisation by stealth and once the control is gone, it will be very hard to get back!”   Classic!

So, what is it about residential Camp Schools - we all know why they are effective. So do thousands of Teachers and kids around the state each and every year. What really are the underlying benefits of participating in a Camp School with students?

Personally, I have many fond memories of my own powerful experience of School Camps during the 70’s with my primary school and high school years. I also had the privilege of being ‘chosen’ to participate in one of the first government schools (Balga Senior High) to offer Outdoor Education as an option in their curriculum. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Throughout the year, every Wednesday a small group of year 10 students would take-off on another incredible outdoor adventure with our legendary Outdoor Ed teacher in his troop carrier. Unbeknownst to me (at that time), this was the catalyst that later on led me to commence a successful ‘career’ both as an outdoor instructor, a youth worker and also a wilderness-experience program guide, leading numerous challenging outdoor adventures with ‘at-risk’ youth here in Western Australia. So, surviving a Camp School experience does work!

HOW DO THEY WORK? I thought about this in relation to my own experiences, and I reckon the rationale is this. School Camps provide children with the opportunity to work with a variety of adults (including teachers and camp staff), that will nurture experiential learning, build intergenerational relationships, and that which often leads to a ‘different’ style of learning. Teacher involvement is, of course, vital to every successful camp, with the bonds between students and teachers strengthened away from the classroom.

Students have the opportunity to form relationships through first-hand experiences with trained, caring adult role models and experience a sense of an enhanced level of achievement and success in a supervised, safe and a positive environment as a result.

Camp School staff, activity leaders and teachers are all equipped to convey teachable moments in a variety of settings whilst also developing and building upon personal competencies. These competencies should help shape a successful future for our children, but these are not just in relation to the ‘activities’ that students participate in, there are also those often not mentioned ‘life skills’ also taught on camp.

Whilst there are many benefits to the experience of a school camp, included below are just some of the ones that are of vital importance, particularly for primary students, such as team building, co-operation skills, leadership & followership skills, the ability to overcome fears, resilience skills, pushing through self-perceived limitations, and for students to grow in confidence. 

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Just a few of the educational skill-sets learnt in a Camp School setting often include the following aspects of a child’s development:

1. Social Skills Development

Improved social skills is one of the bonuses of attending a Camp School. Children need to interact with each other in different settings and different environments to help improve their social skills. Spending 8 hours a day at school is one thing but eating meals together, travelling together and sharing accommodation together, certainly teaches children the benefits of working together and treating others with respect.

Great opportunities exist to develop a wide range of social skills that strengthen established relationships and to develop new ones. Scheduled camp activities involve team co-operation such as sweeping and tidying their cabins, helping around meal times, or even team building exercises on the low ropes course, personal challenges on the giant swing, group camping, or even mountain bike riding.

One of the most important life lessons learnt whilst students are on camp is the ability to interact with others well. In a family this can be taught to a degree, but the experience in big groups for extended periods of time, is a great way to learn and practice these social skills.

2. Away from Normal Family Dynamics

A family normally has a set way to do things – dinner time, social interaction, bed times, etc. Breaking out of that family environment for a short period of time, teaches children about the diversity of others and gives them insights into how to do some things differently. For some children their 'normal' family dynamic may be incredibly dysfunctional, so the supportive and encouraging environment of a residential Camp School may be a welcome respite for some kids! Subsequently so, for some of our parents, a Camp School experience for their little angel, is an even much more welcomed break that they first ever imagined! 

This experience away on Camp, can be even far more impactful for some children. The introduction of "boundaries" in young lives, is sadly lacking in many homes. Camp School staff also work hard to introduce other 'virtues' into all of their activities and daily living skills whilst away on camp: moral virtues such as courage, honesty, humility, empathy & gratitude; intellectual virtues such as curiosity and critical thinking; performance virtues such as resilience, application & self-regulation; and even civic virtues such as acts of service and volunteering. That automatic dishwasher isn't going to load itself without the kids organising themselves into TEAMS to achieve and complete all those chores. 

Whatever overarching name you want to call it, this area of learning and child development - it is clear that our kids need it and it is a priority for all staff whilst away on a Camp School. Someone once said that the main purpose of a parent is to equip our children to leave home. Who knows, having to fend for themselves in a safe, organised camp environment for a whole week, may also give a child a much better appreciation for their home and family.

3. Independence Skills

For some children, a school camp may be their first time away from home. Research teaches us that it is vitally important for children to occasionally break the bonds of their own family group, and to build their independence and the ability to operate on their own, or with different people. A Camp School experience, whilst not exactly offering total independence, places each child in a position where they need to start taking responsibility not only for themselves, but also looking out for each other in their allocated team.

For example ‘what shall I wear’, ‘how much can I eat’, and even ‘when should I brush my teeth’ are all decisions that some young children have never made on their own. Camp School staff and their teachers will look after each child, but at the same time they will also allow them a slightly greater independence than they may normally be use to at home. This is a great learning experience for all children involved – especially if it’s their first school camp experience!

A Camp School experience provides an opportunity for kids to not only take care of themselves, but also by appreciating the importance of their interaction with and their connections to the environment and the great outdoors. Most children rise to the challenge. They enjoy this new found independence and some even begin to recognise the need to look after themselves, each other and their environment.

4. Team Building, Development of Leadership & Decision-Making Skills

Camp leaders and teachers are also active participants in all aspects of camp life, it would not be successful if this was not the case. However, children are often expected to take on leadership roles and to work together as a team to encourage positive decision making.

5. Encouragement of Physical Fitness & an Active Lifestyle

Recent stats already informs us that we have an increase in 'obesity' amongst our child and adolescent population. This is combatted whilst on Camp. School Camps role-model healthy eating, healthy living and a healthy active life style.  During camp, children are often exposed to a variety of experiences. These experiences are designed to be active and facilitate learning in a variety of forms, providing a greater awareness of the students’ physical outdoor skills and their personal fitness capabilities. For many children, this may be a ‘new’ experience in a challenging outdoor environment whilst away on camp. Put it this way, most kids sleep well after each and every day away on camp!

6. Personal Challenges & Success Experiences

Whilst on camp, students will be exposed to a wide range of new activities that they may not have tried before. Often when children are not under the direction of their parents or carers, they will display a more adventurous spirit and may even be more willing to have a go at things that they may not have tried before. Camp is a great opportunity to develop all of these skills.

7. Trying Something New, Educational & Fun

It is always good to have new, positive experiences. School Camps offer this in many ways! It's important for everyone to do new things and learn new skills – it’s all about growing up. A new environment, new foods, new friends, new teachers and many ‘new’ activities.

No longer bound by the classroom, teachers can now also teach in new and innovative ways at a Camp School. School camps may sound like a good way for the teachers and students to have a break, but the reality is there is a lot more educational time spent on camps.

8. Building Character & Accountability in Teams

This is often the most overlooked aspects of a residential school camping experience! The teambuilding aspect of Camp Schools activities is mostly about building resilience and character into our kids. On the WYLD Camps Project youth activities and training, we teach the seven qualities of accountability in TEAMS (Together Each Achieves More Success): Character, Competence, Commitment, Credibility, Consistency, Cohesion & Contribution. Within a team, there is no substitute for character. You can buy brains, but you cannot buy character. We need to teach our kids this principle early on, if they are to succeed in life's journey.  Our WA Camp Schools also do just that ... they teach all of these 'life skills' through an experiential learning model of 'teaching' that simply cannot be taught the same way in a classroom! 

So, surviving a residential Camp School experience does work and it does our kids good too!

About the Author:  Andrew has been actively involved in the youth & community development and outdoor adventure industries over the past 38 years. He has also managed several businesses in the outdoor adventure tourism industry including: the Western Venture wilderness-experience program, Corporate Adventure Training, Wilderness Ventures, the Outdoor Adventure Network, Outdoor Gear Australia and he is also a senior outdoor instructor, rafting river guide, and workplace trainer & assessor with the WYLD Camps Project - a wilderness youth leadership development project that works with 'at-risk' children & youth and their families here in Western Australia.

Interested? Want to read more of our articles like 'How To Become an Outdoor Adventure Guide', or perhaps more about the ongoing safety and risk management issues sadly lacking on the island of Bali? Check out more at the bottom of our blog page HERE

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