Sunday, February 13, 2011

Camp for School?

I have always been against mindless group thinking. Sometimes, I will refuse to do something, just because “everybody's doing it”. Because of this, I am sure there are times that I have missed out on something great. I am O.K. with that. I am not a sheep. I am not mindless. Which brings me to my kids' school. The school has decided that part of the school year should have days set aside for outdoor education. Sounds reasonable, right? The school has a nature preserve nearby that it uses regularly. But that isn't good enough. When the students are in 4th grade, they are expected to go on a 1 night stay to camp. When the students are in 6th grade, they are expected to go on a 2 night stay to camp. Are my kids going to school, or camp? I expect my kids to go to school, do their homework, and work hard. I don't expect them to go to camp. I choose NOT to send my kids away to camp over the summer. Which works well for my kids, because they DON'T want to go. When I talk to school officials about camp and ask “why” the answer is “oh, it's fun”. Well, lots of things are fun that don't belong in school. I've also heard “we've been doing it for over 20 years”. Huh???  Just because something has been done for over 20 years doesn't mean it is a good idea or that needs to keep happening. Still not answering my question “Why are children expected to go to camp during the school year?” Silly me, I decide to voice my opinion in front of some of the local moms. All I really said was “I don't get it. It's like sending them to camp.” You would not believe the reaction I got. I was actually somewhat attacked for not being in support of it. After defending myself, I finally had to end the conversation by making some sort of joke about me being cynical. Yikes!

Now, before you judge me too, let me give you some more information. Point 1: “Camp is great for kids that never get to go anywhere.” Counterpoint 1: I live in an affluent area. People take 2-3 family vacations each year that take them all over the world for weeks at a time. They take weekend trips and extended weekend trips in countless numbers. Point 2: “Camp is great to give kids the experience of being away from home and their parents.” Counterpoint 2: Most kids in our area are sent away to camp over the summer. Many parents in the area also take vacations and leave their kids somewhere else. I don't think I could find a kid in our neighborhood that has never been away from his parents. Point 3: “Camp is great for kids to explore the great outdoors.” Counterpoint 3: We live in a certified “Tree City USA” and are surrounded by forest preserves and restored natural prairies. Try cutting down a tree in our town, and the fine you are hit, with will wake you up to the fact that we LIVE in the great outdoors. Point 4: “It's a different learning experience when kids are surrounded by nature.” Counterpoint 4: As I mentioned in counterpoint 3, we are surrounded by nature. We have deer, raccoon, opossum, rabbits, fox, skunks and coyotes literally in our back yard. With a mere 4 miles separating the farthest points, we have 5 federally certified nature areas. We have a nature center, complete with a building to do indoor activities, at the school's disposal. It has a river, pond, prairie and woods. We have a large forest preserve that has miles of trails, ponds and a river. We have another forest preserve that links to many others down the river. We have a nature preserve that is all prairie and we have a wooded preserve area. There are countless more facilities within a 20 minute drive.

So, my question is still unanswered... What can be done at camp, that can't be done during the day at one of these fine facilities in our own neighborhood? Lets see, craft using leaves? Yep, we've got plenty of those. Watercolor painting of nature? Yep, we've got nature. Pond study? Yep, we've got ponds and places to study them. Animal tracking? Yep, we've got animals. Geo tracking? Yep, you can do that anywhere. Trust activities? Yep, pretty sure that can be done anywhere. Star gazing? Yep, seeing as the school has the kids come to one of the forest preserves on a weekday night to listen for frogs, pretty sure they can arrange the same thing to look at stars. Team building activities in the woods? Yep, there is a facility that is about 20 minutes away, that has ALL of that and other classes have been to for the day. There is only 1 activity that I agree can not be done locally (that I know of) and that is an obstacle tower. The kids are tethered in and can try obstacles like walking on ropes high in the air. Agreeably fun, but is this 1 activity justifying the camp?

My kids are put on a school bus and driven 1 hour away for the 4th grade camp. There are parent chaperones but tell me if you know every kid in your kid's grade. They mix up the classes so kids are with other kids that they are not normally with. I finally had to tell the kids to look at each other so they knew who was in our group and could tell me who was missing. Half the time I just counted heads going to and from the activities. I had the right count, but not sure if I had the right kids! Those kids are slippery too. Turn your head for 1 second and they are heading down an embankment leading to the lake. With 7 adults standing around, I turned and saw the top of a girl's head disappearing. I called to her, thinking she was the only one and she called up 3 others! I'm not an overprotective parent, but my heart was in my throat for that one. None of the other adults thought it was a big deal and took the last kid up word on it that there weren't any other kids down there!

For 6th grade camp, the school bus ride is 1 ½ hours. There are NO parent chaperones. It is in February. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention, we also get the privilege of paying for BOTH camps. It's not something included in our fees, we are actually paying to send our kids to camp... during school. Explain to me again, why? More over, why does it seem like EVERY parent in our school district doesn't think twice about why camp is part of school? I get WHY they send them, because that's what parents in our neighborhood do, they send their kids camp. I'm not one of those parents.


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