First school camp: my son just experienced his first school camp! He is in Year 4 and it was a three day, two night outdoor adventure camp.
Late last year we were advised by his teacher for 2016 that the Year 4 students may be going on camp this year – so we had plenty of time to ponder. Once it was confirmed that the Year 4 students would attend, we started to prepare him for it.
The first thing we did was visit the school camp location. I contacted the staff there and asked if we could also bring a friend. His friend stayed over at our house on the last night of term 1, and then the next morning we visited the camp. The staff member we dealt with was amazing. She was very patient with my son while he explored the rooms. He even had the big ring of keys and was permitted to unlock some of the doors himself. We could only look at the facilities for the activities they would be doing during camp, but it was still very beneficial.
The kids played table tennis and just enjoyed being in the area. Taking a friend proved valuable, because it made the whole visit less official and he was definitely more relaxed. Plus, it doesn’t isolate him as the person needing extra assistance.
A friend of the family is a teacher, and her students also attended the same location for their first school camp early in term 2. She spent time with my son describing the activities, because we didn’t get to see them up close when he visited the camp. This enabled him to get a far better idea of what to expect.
Another friend suggested I approach a male teacher- who my son didn’t know very well – to build a relationship with him. For obvious reasons, a male teacher would be going into the boys dormitories during the camp, and I wanted to ensure that my son was comfortable with this teacher in case he needed some support. The teacher was incredible and took the time to listen to my suggested strategies should he need to provide that extra support. The teacher enquired about my son’s medication and asked things like “is he comfortable taking medicine in front of other kids?” This wasn’t something I had thought about, and it was very helpful to have suggestions like this.
My husband and I decided very early that we would not attend the first school camp. We felt that it would be better for our son’s independence and confidence if he attended without us. Plus, he was likely to be more relaxed and enjoy things if he didn’t have one of us watching over him.
Now it was time to actually pack. I gave him the list of items the teachers had asked the students to pack and we got everything together. For practical reasons we chose a suitcase so he could fit everything in, including his bedding inside it. Little things like that make the transfer of items easier and can make a big difference.
The same friend who suggested I approach the male teacher also attended the camp on two of the days. My son knew she would be there, but for ‘just in case’, kind of like a ‘Plan B’. My friend and I also checked in regularly with each other in the days leading up to camp to ensure neither of us had forgotten to pack anything!
She did everything we could have asked for, not drawing attention to the fact that she was there. In fact, when she went to see if he needed some help to pack on the final morning (which needed to be completed by 8 am!) he was already finished. We had bought a larger cover for his sleeping bag so that he could pack the bag without assistance by stuffing it. This paid off as I heard that a lot of the other kids needed assistance to pack theirs.
He even coped when one of his closed friends left the camp in an ambulance due to an accident within the first hour of camp. Luckily his friend is fine but my son did miss him. We contacted his friend soon after he got home from camp to reconnect.
My son said that the hardest thing about camp was falling asleep. He rated the entire first school camp experience as a 9 out of 10. It wasn’t a 10 out of 10, because of his friend leaving very suddenly. We are overwhelmed by how well it went. The other parents that attended said that they could see he was having a great time, and he just fitted in like the other kids. It was an ordinary school camp for him, but an extraordinary first school camp for us as his parents.
His teacher was also really impressed at how he went. All the preparation paid off, and it truly was worth making the extra effort.
If you would like suggestions on how to prepare for big, new experiences such as this, please feel free to contact Lifelong Pathways.