Top Tips for Planning School Camps

20 Feb 2019 2:06 PMAdmin AQYC Top Tips for Planning School Camps

Perhaps you have inherited the task of ‘running the school camp’, or perhaps you have been in the school camp coordinator role for some time and are now looking to improve on previous experiences.

The first question you should consider is ‘how can my students or group get the best value from their time away from school’?

At their most basic level school camps (in this article the term ‘camps’ refers to a fixed site offering cabin or bunk room style – as opposed to ‘under canvas’ - accommodation) offer a range of activities which are designed to keep students busy and amused. Sometimes we find that a school chooses a venue for reasons not related to student outcomes, such as teacher comfort, proximity to home, or even price – none of which has any bearing on the quality of the student’s experience, but all of which are important.

There’s no doubt that the concept of teacher comfort is becoming a central issue in the way school camps are set up today. Teachers make a great personal contribution of time and effort by spending time away from family and other work commitments in order to be an integral part of their student’s experience away from school, and this should be recognised by the camp manager. While some camps go to extremes (for example, special meals and eating areas away from students, perhaps even wine in an evening), it is more important to offer the basics – good clean accommodation with its own facilities, some factored ‘down time’ in the program where teachers can take some time out, perhaps a teacher’s lounge with good coffee and a high level of support during the camp itself. Being on school camp should not equal discomfort!

The next step is to define what it is the school wants to achieve from your school camp. This may be as simple as providing younger pupils with their first taste of being away from home and developing a sense of independence, or it might be to introduce the idea of accepting personal challenge that supports the development of resilience in young people. Whatever the desired outcomes, the chances of success are far higher if the school approaches activities at camp in the same way as it would back in the classroom. Too often the camp’s program is simply focussed on ensuring that the students have fun, yet with a little thought and some effective facilitation from the camp staff there is the opportunity to achieve greater results. Ultimately, this is the distinction between outdoor recreation (fun) and outdoor education (learning).

All school camps have much the same activities on site, some of which – such as anything at height - require specialist oversight. These types of activities can be operated as in an amusement park by camp staff with highly specialised training on that specific activity at that site only. While this is the bare minimum of training you should demand, it is pertinent to ask if the activity instructor is able to draw more from the activity than simply pumping a group through in the allotted time. Can he or she frame the activity to align with your desired outcomes? Can he or she bring up pertinent points during the activity that help the students to learn about themselves, their peers and how they work together?

Here we are touching on what can be seen as the ‘non- negotiables’ at a school camp that revolve around the health and safety of participants and school staff on program. You must ask to see copies of basic documentation, such as insurance certification, food handling, activity protocols, risk management assessments, etc – all of which the camp should be able to easily provide. 

Next, we need to consider the issue of ‘sequencing’ the camp. It is not uncommon for each year level to go to camp with no real thought given to how that camp fits into past or future experiences. When planning a camp, then, it is useful to know what students have done at earlier year levels, and to give some thought to what the school is working towards at the end of the outdoor education program. Then you can select activities and focus that support the sequential development of skills and outcomes. This does not have to mean that you need to go to a different site with entirely different activities at each year level (although the ability to ramp up physical challenge should occur as students mature), but it does mean that sites should be chosen that best fit the developmental stage, and educational focus, of the students at the time. For example, there are camps that can offer a high degree of interactive indigenous programming that can support your class’s curriculum, and others that are set up to teach about sustainability in a very practical sense (through energy and water use monitoring, the use of kitchen gardens, recycling, composting, etc). With a bit of thought and research it is possible, then, to tick rather more than one box during your time away from school.

There does come a time, however, when students will require further extension in the outdoors through participation in journey based educatioal programs. Young people rarely get the opportunity to live simply and by natural cycles – getting up when it is light, getting fresh air and exercise, human interaction that does not depend on ‘screen time’, eating good food and going to bed when it is dark. And since a journey involves travel, which in the Outdoor Education context means human powered, there is plenty of scope for dealing with the physical challenges imposed by the environment and the social challenges of being in a small group 24/7. The key thing, then, is to make sure that by planning a well thought out and facilitated sequence of school camp based programs, students will be well prepared to take this next big step into the Australian outdoors.


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