CLASS ACTION

Adventure camps build independent children

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 December, 2014, 4:55pm
UPDATED : Monday, 08 December, 2014, 4:55pm

My daughter is about to spend her first night away at the school residential adventure camp. She doesn't want to go. She is not sleeping well and keeps on coming into our bed. Should we make her go?

This is the time of year for camps and residential visits in Hong Kong. The weather has cooled down, and can usually be relied upon to be good for al fresco education.

Many children will be very excited, and often a little anxious, while others, like your daughter, may be dreading it.It is not unusual for children to have some anxiety about being away from home. Anticipation and fear share many similarities.

But this type of experience is invariably positive in every respect and pupils return home, more often than not, stimulated and excited, ready to take on fresh challenges. It is often a good childhood memory, and some students literally grow on such occasions.

Your feelings as parents are also entirely natural. But be assured that your daughter will be so busy with a frenzy of activity, she will not have much time to be homesick.

I would strongly encourage you to let your daughter participate in this camp, despite your natural anxiety. Adventure camps, in particular, are character-building, especially in Hong Kong where life can be cosseted.

Some children, for example, depending on the interests of their parents, have never hiked in the countryside, have little appreciation for the wonder of nature, and rarely do challenging physical activities.

Although the great outdoors is not for everyone, some children discover a passion for things they have never attempted before.

Residential visits are increasingly used by schools as an integral part of their curriculum for social and emotional education, as well as building physical skills.

Some schools in Hong Kong do overnight camps for students as young as seven, then build up to several nights away.

If your daughter gets homesick, staff members are used to dealing with this. Her physical and mental well-being will be monitored by professional staff. Even if there is a minor problem in the night, she will know how to get help.

On the safety front, regulations governing outdoor activities have to be tight these days. So much so that some argue that the experience has been watered down.

Qualified professionals are usually on hand to offer support at adventure camps, and often run the activities. They will be first-aid trained, and your daughter's teachers will have spent hours checking every aspect of the trip.

Schools take health and safety very seriously, and detailed risk assessments have to be done. Assuming you have provided the school with the requested information, including medical requirements, you can be assured that teachers will contact you promptly if there are any issues.

There may be an introductory session for parents to learn more about the trip, and have any questions answered. If not, don't be afraid to request details of what your daughter will be doing while she is away.

The excitement of being at camp with friends and teachers in a completely new environment can be exciting and enlightening in so many ways. It can be a useful bonding experience.

Seeing the teacher in a different context and as a real person out of school can help pupils form a more rounded relationship with them. This pays off back in the classroom. New relationships with classmates can develop and previous ones mature.

Independence is a crucial life skill, and camp is an ideal vehicle to develop it. Your daughter will be required to manage her belongings and her own behaviour.

Parents are often amazed by the change in their child after just a few days, caused by new experiences, and even the food they tried.

Some children may not eat their vegetables at home, but will do so when their peers are around, and they are genuinely hungry. Menus on camp are invariably basic, but balanced and healthy.

Teachers do not usually allow any sort of parental contact during camp, as they know that, ironically, it tends to worsen homesickness and create problems rather than solve them.

Also, valuable personal possessions such as mobile phones, are an unwelcome distraction and can get lost.

This is a time for children to be away from technology and have time to appreciate the world around them.

Don't be surprised if your daughter's bag comes full of sweaty clothes packed in haste after a busy two days. It will have been worth it.

Julie McGuire teaches at a local primary school