Those words are not safe words for me.
They do not bring back a plethora of happy memories or camp stories.
In fact, they fill me with an impending sense of doom.
I am not sure at what point school camp changed from a fun, extended sleepover to a torturous activity that made me want to break both legs beforehand to prevent attendance. However, I can point to a less than fondly remembered 8th grade camp which was infested with rain spiders… Following an ant invasion (a result of monkeys getting into our tuck); the eight-legged, eight-eyed critters were crawling all over the place including my shoes. This is not a fun experience for an arachnophobe such as myself, and I am sure it has contributed to my attitude around school camp.
Regardless of this inherent dislike of the activity, I found myself accompanying one of the classes at school on their 4-day school camp this past week. I cannot lie – I was feeling a bit overwhelmed prior to our departure. As much as I was sure that teachers were bound to have a more enjoyable experience than the children (I mean, surely adults have the option to say “No thanks, I’ll just sit out this activity.”), I was still faced with the prospect of spending 4 days with 30 children (75% female) and 2 other (male) members of staff.
I am pleased to report that all my expectations were enjoyably turned on their head, and I had a pleasurable – bordering enjoyable – experience. Luckily, we embarked on our two-hour journey in high spirits thanks to the sun showing it’s face for the 2nd day in a row and managed to settle the weeping children, many of whom had never spent a night away from their parents before, within a few minutes. The camp was more geography based than the team building, rugged, adventure camps of my past; which meant pretty walks through bluebell covered woodlands instead of orienteering hikes, scenic village comparisons instead of muddied rabbit hole activities and interesting animal and river studies instead of foofy-sliding into e-coli infested waters! The sun, sadly, disappeared shortly after we arrived but we managed to only get the odd shower of rain here and there which meant even the few muddy activities were largely mud-free!
I learnt that the teachers who accompanied my classmates and me on camp deserve far greater gratitude than I ever thought to give; camp is absolutely exhausting for accompanying adults! You wake up at least an hour before the children are set to wake up and go to bed about 2 – 3 hours after lights out, you spend the mornings braiding hair, you have to think of creative ways to encourage children to eat/ walk/ do anything, you supervise showers and remind children to pick up all their belongings so that their mothers don’t kill you on return, you comfort children feeling homesick or just sick, you educate on the reality of dehydration, you wake up every hour to break up prospective midnight feasts and you open your life (and wardrobe and physical ability) to children you have to face the next week in the classroom. I was absolutely exhausted!
4 days, countless meals, little sleep and multiple activities later, I returned to school desperate for a real shower, a proper sleep and voiceless. As much as my memories have been improved, school camp is still a term unlikely to add a spring to my step.