Last week was the annual Grade 6 Camp Elphinstone experience. For students on the South Slope of Vancouver, it is a game changer. Most of the children come to camp and experience a plethora of “Firsts”. This year some of those “firsts” included:
- taking a ferry
- staying in a cabin with friends
- sighting a baby bear
- watching a river otter poop
- catching a fish
- swimming in the ocean
- attempting to hit the bell at the top of the climbing wall
- Meal time and Campfire ritual of songs and chants and debates
- counting the seconds between the forked lightning and thunder
- eating Mexican sushi (actually scrambled egg breakfast wraps)
- setting the table, serving food, and cleaning up
The team building opportunity presented by the camp experience creates a perfect opportunity to develop the essentials of social and emotional learning. This results in a sense of belonging and a wonderful tone going into their final Grade 7 year of elementary school for Tecumseh students. The YMCA has years of providing high quality programming for young people and has all of the elements of the camp experience down to perfection. The camp rituals of family style food service and traditional campfire songs and activities challenge students to take risks, engage in experiential learning and explore their identity. The young counsellors from Canada, New Zealand and Australia are able to keep up with the pace of energetic Grade 6 students and facilitate safe and memorable learning experiences. Our Junior counsellors from David Thompson Secondary and sponsor teachers came together to ensure the best experience possible for our campers.
If you talk to our students, they will tell you they are on a holiday from school. In actual fact, they have simply entered the outdoor classroom to engage in experiential learning masked as fun. The learning is not in just one experience but many experiences in nature and with peers over time. If you have the time and inclination, you may want to open up the redesigned curriculum in British Columbia-Grade 6. The three-day camp experience touched on many big ideas, all of the core competencies and a meaty chunk of curriculum. The social emotional learning is pervasive throughout all of the activities and experiences and indigenous ways of knowing are infused throughout the experience.
Meal time and camp fire included action songs, chants, listening games and debates for students to hone their powers of persuasion. Shelter building required teamwork to come up with a plan to build a shelter from materials on the forest floor that could withstand both the earthquake and water test. Canoeing, kayaking, hiking, the climbing wall and archery challenged students to take risks, learn a new skill and took the development of flexibility, strength and endurance to new levels. The range of games such Running Pictionary, Capture the Flag, Camouflage tag and Wink, Wink, Murder necessitate safety rules, game rules, social interaction, spatial awareness and verbal and non-verbal communication skills.
Upon reflection, the camp experience opens a myriad of possibilities for more intentional curriculum learning. I am not proposing duo-tangs filled with photocopied worksheets. I am proposing that we consider the aspects of curriculum that can be incorporated into the camp experience. Place based Aboriginal perspectives and ways of knowing as outlined in the First People’s Principles of Learning could be clearly articulated. The opportunity to directly teach social emotional skills to allow students to develop coping skills for dealing with stress and for dealing with conflict effectively are present throughout the daily schedule. The consideration of opportunities for direct instruction in mindfulness by tapping into nature and social interaction are plentiful. It means people with background knowledge about the solar system, constellations, local flora, fauna and primary resources become invaluable. Materials such as compasses, Write in the Rain notebooks and field handbooks may need to be purchased. The camp experience may be re-imagined, not as an “extra” but as a vital pathway to develop and incorporate big ideas, core competencies and curriculum knowledge for our students in a meaningful way.