By Vivienne Scott
I vividly remember my first residential school trip. At the tender age of seven, this was the first time I had ever stayed away from my parents, perhaps with the exception of the occasional sleepover. I recall the anticipation of going away with my friends and teachers, the nerves about whether I’d like the activities, the pride in packing my own suitcase, and the fear (or was it excitement?) of being away from home. It is the same emotions I see on the faces of our year four (third grade) students at Dover Court International School* as they arrive early in the morning, laden with bags and, perhaps, a few too many snacks, ready to depart to Kota Rainforest Resort.
Children’s daily schedules are busier than ever as schools compete to provide innovative opportunities for academic, sporting and extra-curricular learning, and parents complement this education with further tutoring or recreational activities and clubs after school. In our efforts to provide children with the best possible opportunities, though, is there a risk that their days are so overly structured and timetabled, that they are inadvertently restricted in self-directed activities and self-discovery?
Time, or lack of therein, is often our worst enemy. We know that children are capable of organizing their own belongings, serving their own food, tidying up after themselves; we simply haven’t the time to wait and allow them this responsibility. Our busy schedules often dictate that it is often quicker and easier if an adult does this for them. From the minute students arrive for their residential trip, however, there is no assistance to carry their luggage, organize their belongings or direct the completion of tasks. To some, this creates initial confusion and helplessness, but as children learn to problem solve and work together, learning is quickly observed.
Inevitably, students forget to bring their water bottle or sun screen to their activity, and this creates a natural consequence of delaying and shortening their time spent on it. Natural consequences are vital learning opportunities and it is satisfying to see the same students rehearsing and double-checking their self-organization skills the following day, without need for adult instruction or intervention. Their satisfaction and self-esteem arise from pride in their newfound independence.
Unlike the formal classroom environment, residential camp activities are delivered as problems requiring trial and error approaches until success is achieved. These challenges require resilience, collaboration, negotiation and conflict-resolution, and students’ strengths and personalities naturally develop into the roles of leaders, directors, mediators and collaborators; each as important as the next. A leader cannot implement their idea without a team, and a team lacks direction without a leader. What better way to challenge a fixed mindset or teach respect for all hierarchical roles?
Of course, the greatest value in residential trips is that this invaluable wealth of learning and personal development takes place without children really noticing or considering it to be ‘education’. Self-reflection is an ongoing requisite for learning in this environment and learning, therefore, takes place in context. Skills are not taught, but acquired and developed. It is widely recognized in the field of psychology that teaching strategies to overcome challenges will have little benefit unless a client opts to put themselves in that real-life scenario and practice applying and honing new skills.
Benjamin Franklin once said: “Tell me and I forget; teach me and I may remember; involve me and I learn.” Perhaps this is a fitting summary for why experiential learning is of such great value in our modern-day education system.
* At time of writing.