The value of school camps
Most schools, it seems, have a program of school camps and excursions. These tend to fall into a few main categories: those which are more or less embedded in the curriculum, and those which are more of a holiday, or a day out. At religious schools, there is another category – that of spiritual retreat. Some schools also have ‘leadership’ camps prior to the selection of school captains and leaders.
During the fourth term of this year, I spent 5 days in Canberra with a group of 90+ 11 and 12 year olds, kids in their final years of primary school. This is the third time my school has undertaken a Canberra trip. As we run a multi-age Yr 6 and 7 cluster, it occurs every second year. Prior to the tour, the students have completed a “Discovering Democracy” unit of work which looks at both the development of democracy as a political notion, and how it is used today. In the weeks prior to the tour the children also had a series of guest speakers from the various levels of government: the mayor, the member of State Parliament, and our Federal Member.
While in Canberra the students visited, among other places, Parliament House, Old Parliament House (now the Museum of Australian Democracy), and the Electoral Education Centre. So this trip, as you can see, was firmly based in curriculum matters.
So, is it good value for money, at about $100 a day? Is it worthwhile? And why do some families not allow their children to attend such a camp?
Certainly, they experienced and visited places they could not if in Canberra on holiday with their family – the tour of Government House, the parliamentary education session are just two of those experiences.
As a teacher (and parent of a child who undertook the same tour two years ago) I see huge benefits both educationally and socially for the children. The obvious educational advantage is seeing the places and things they have spoken about in class. Sitting in Parliament House during Question Time is very different from watching on TV or reading about it. Taking part in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Australian War Memorial has a different impact to doing the same at home on ANZAC day. The different type of relationship that is developed by living and travelling with somebody for a week is very different from that developed during a week at school.
I don’t believe that money was an issue for the families that chose not to send their children on camp. While it wasn’t cheap, all families had known for two years that this trip was coming up, and some families had taken the opportunity to pay off the trip over a period of a year or more. Our school office had made a facility available for progressive payments to be made, and this was well-subscribed. One family, which has now had two children not attend, is very well-off financially, but says this sort of trip should happen with older students. I guess it will dawn on them as their children move through secondary school that that is not going to happen. Another family (the mother to be precise) said that if neither parent can accompany their children, then the kids will not go. Unfortunately for them we don’t like that sort of ultimatum, and called their bluff. The boys missed out, but then they don’t attend sport for the school in neighbouring towns if mum can’t drive them. And that could well be the crux of the problem: parents who are not willing to let go. I sometimes wonder when they will let the children do something alone….
To conclude, a couple of observations:
- Use a tour organiser. Life for teachers, especially for the one “in charge” is so much easier when you use a tour organiser. Years ago I did all the leg work in taking kids to Melbourne, and I couldn’t believe how much better it is paying someone to do it for you. For our Canberra tour, we used Educatours of Australia.
- Digital photos. Back in the day (yes, I’m old) all the kids would take a camera and spare film, and that would have to do. Then people started taking slides, and a couple of weeks after the trip there would be a (dreadfully dull) slide night. Now EVERYONE has a digital camera and takes a photo of everything. That’s good, I suppose, but the CD all the kids got after the trip had literally thousands of photos on it. Who’s going to look at them all?