Prospective parents page
I am often asked by parents what I do, and what the children do, on camp. My part is really easy, I cook, and clean, and if it is wet, I dry clothes. Pasta, soup, jaffles, 2-minute noodles, lots of cups of tea, dumplings, and the occasional sandwich. And I sit, constantly interrupted by a stream of tales of wonder, of water bugs, walks, games, swings and the million wonders of the bush. Over the course of the camp, there will be perhaps one organised activity, and that is nearly always wood collecting. At night, I may organise a game of spotto, or a quiz after dinner.
So what do the children do? They learn… in the true sense of learn. They discover themselves, what they like, what they want to do. This is nearly an anathema to modern schooling and child-raising, leaving them alone, without hints, prompts and games, to discover for themselves what they like.
In this is the greatness of our camps: that normally busy, organised, controlled children get a short period where they can find themselves. There is a value judgement here, that it is good for a child to discover for themselves… what is important to them.
A further aspect of this is that this freedom is empowering. Without the monitoring and guidance, without the adult provision of structure or entertainment, the children learn how to relate to each other, something not always or entirely possible in a classroom situation (or really anywhere where an adult is constantly supervising and actively involved).
Without adults, children find other ways to deal with life as it unfolds. Participating in play on the swing, for instance, most adults seem unable (even while I write this, I realise that this is something that I am not always so good on) to participate without getting a queue organised, 'insisting' either explicitly or implicitly, that the children have 'equal' and 'fair' turns. While the children may accept the idea of the adult as fair and use it without argument, where they may otherwise have spent hours discussing the arrangement - efficiency is not the point. The discussion and negotiation are real and valuable skills, skills that they can and will take with them in life and use in many settings outside of the playground. Clothing, eating, washing and dirt are similar examples, where many parents find it difficult to let go...
Tight supervision is opposed or antagonistic to what I believe camps are about. The object, for me, is that the children learn/discover that they can, successfully and happily, organise turns on the swing and the trampoline, that they are able to take care of their eating - make a sandwich or a jaffle, eat a piece of fruit, and that going without shoes is really a non-issue.
In this mostly uncontrolled atmosphere, where relationships are those of the 'free' child, and all achievements are those of the 'free' child, the child is master of his or her fate. Accomplishments are those of the child. The child owns these achievements, is proud of them and empowered by them. All walk taller, if dirtier, at the end of camp, empowered by the realisation of their own inner strength, strength hitherto hidden or underestimated, strength drowned in the constant flow of having things done for them.
In this, I do have a part, and that is to affirm the children's achievements, and to let them know that I am there for them, supportive of them. This does not take patience, but it does take time. As I said before, they (especially the younger ones) constantly present me with their discoveries, achievements, creations, stories. These are not an annoyance, or an interruption, or the cause of any frustration since I consider this my role. The elaborate story of the capture of a water-bug may take ten minutes… which would be annoying if I had to 'work' or organise something…if I was BUSY. But I am not. Camp is for the children and that thus I am there for them, interested in their achievements, but neither guiding nor prompting them. I believe in their strengths and share in their success.