To a parent, the thought of sending your child on camp can seem like either a blessing or a curse- depending on your parenting style and, subsequently, who your child is. Irrespective of the parenting a child receives, the experience of camp can, in my opinion, endow a child from any parenting background with numerous benefits. Having been on camps as a child, remembering the life lessons learnt, having heard the experiences and witnessed the changes in my own children as a result of camp, and having recently supervised 81 students on camp, hopefully allows me some latitude on these matters. I refer to a camp with a values-focus (such as those offered by Scripture Union). Reducing the benefits to five, I have attempted to elucidate some in detail.
- Camp facilitates independence
On camp, children now represented only by themselves, must immediately stand on their own two feet. They realise, quickly, that they must heighten their senses and listen carefully in order to understand what they must do. They are responsible for themselves and their belongings. If they have a shower or go for a swim and leave a wet towel on the floor, that towel is still cold and wet on the floor the next day. They feel chilly and dry themselves with a wet towel and make a plan for next time. They learn that they must use the clothesline after their swim or shower, in order to improve their comfort. When they do this next, and enjoy a dry towel and warm body, they feel like they have managed their needs, and learnt a valuable life lesson.
- Discipline is espoused
On camp, a child is often expected to wash their own dishes. This may be new to them and can be quite empowering, once they get over the shock of servant hood. They quickly realise that doing dishes is quite an art, requiring the washing of glassware before dirty plates and cutlery. They work out that it doesn’t take too long, and once it is done, they appreciate the sense of achievement. They dry the dishes, and fetch a tea towel off the line. They put the dishes away for the next day and they do it properly, not wishing to have a dirty plate to eat off themselves the following day.
- Team mentality
On camp, there are many team building activities. The first instinct of a child, generally speaking, is to claim personal victory or seek personal gratification. Children like to distinguish themselves among their peers. When engaged in a team activity, equipment is set up as a team, and packed away as a team. This can be frustrating if everyone is not pulling their weight. “Many hands make light work” is a concept immediately grasped. Children learn that they can’t sit back and allow others to do the ‘heavy lifting.’ They realise that this character trait is undesirable and doesn’t win them favour, nor does it get the job done. When a challenge is set, the temptation to seek glory for oneself is high, but the nature of the challenge makes it difficult to pin point one winner. In the end, children must look at the activity as a whole, and realise it took group effort and combined skills and encouragement to achieve success. This slowly begins to alter their mindset from self-centred to team-minded.
- Emotional regulation
Nobody sleeps on camp. At least not well, and not enough. There is a lot going on and, even though fatigued, there are too many friends to talk to. This means that, in addition to experiencing the learning mentioned above, children are faced with managing their emotions under physical duress. They are in the midst of difficulties, physically, and sometimes they realise that crying under competitive circumstances or activities where a group is relying on you, isn’t the most suitable response. They may realise that lashing out at a peer in anger, or being lashed out at, is not a popular or appropriate emotional response, and they must find alternate ways of communicating their frustrations or feelings. This is achieved through trial and error and peer feedback, and is fundamental to the development of their ability to regulate their emotions. When they verbalise their feelings and use strategies to manage their emotions, they feel more mature, successful and empowered.
- Appreciation of home
Being on camp is an exciting, demanding, enjoyable, emotional and fun experience! But they do say, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” There’s nothing like eating in a noisy hall with a lot of children, drying yourself with a wet towel, sleeping in a dorm with a group of smelly chatterboxes or riding on a bus for hours to remind you of all the reasons you love your family, and the creature comforts you’ve grown so accustomed to. Your child will return home with a renewed sense of gratitude, which is always a pertinent reminder. They will realise how much is done for them on a daily basis. They will realise the blessing of a dry towel, a clean glass, a quiet bed and a warm hug, and will hopefully feel the joy and appreciation that goes along with these realisations.
Camp is an excellent and effective means of pouring out all these benefits over our precious children. They will hopefully never return to the sense of entitlement they may have had prior to a camp experience, and never dismiss the importance of a servant heart and a helpful hand. I can’t advocate enough, for a values-focused camp experience, to help shape and develop the character of a special child. It’s an investment.
By: Erin Woodage, Year 6 Classroom Teacher