Having recently returned from a five-day camp with our Year 6 students at our picturesque Outdoor Education facility down on the banks of Lake Victoria near Paynesville, I was reminded firsthand of the value that these programs provide to our children. For these students, who are developing their leadership skills, the experience helps them learn to work with what they have, to compromise, to repair or to substitute. In doing so, they develop significant coping and adaptation skills.
The viable weather, testing terrain, challenging activities, time away and natural resources are key ingredients that ask different questions of our students. The camp context sits outside the regular social structure that characterises life at school. Importantly, it is also a technology-free zone away from the intensity of iPads, iPhones and computer games. To their credit, our students adjusted easily to the rich natural surroundings at Camp Toonallook where echidnas, possums and kangaroos are their neighbours.
The Outdoor Ed program contains elements that involve leading a group, trusting the other members of the group, problem solving and perceived risk taking. It provides a strong platform for leadership skills and abilities to be observed and practiced.
This time away also highlights the value of a less structured day where free time is a deliberate design feature. As parents, we want to provide our children with the best start to life. We tend to think that if a little is good, then more is better… but is it really?
We enrol our children in a host of activities – soccer, music, martial arts, the list goes on. We schedule play dates and try to fill every space in their day with toys and devices. However, our time at Camp Toonallook suggests that what our children really need is downtime. Simple time to be immersed in their play and use their imagination. Time to read a book or time to snuggle up in a loving cuddle. The Outdoor Ed program makes space for childhood by filtering out the busyness and the chaos.
Perhaps there is a lesson in this as we approach the holiday break. Perhaps less is more when it comes to making the most of the downtime afforded to us over the next three weeks.
Head of Carey Donvale