By Janet Gray-McKennis, 3rd and 4th Grade Head Teacher
There are many reasons we take our third and fourth graders to Camp Edwards. Each of the four trips they experience is different from the others, and they have different objectives. The academic focus this fall has included immersing ourselves in a year-long study of ecosystems, and we will soon launch our social studies unit on American Indians. In addition, we had three primary goals for this trip that had nothing to do with our academic agenda.
One purpose very close to my heart is to provide our students with an opportunity to begin or continue to develop a deep relationship with nature. We began the trip with making shelters from found natural materials. While this activity will connect to future work examining characteristic shelters made by various Indian nations, students primarily experienced building their shelter as an act of making in the context of the group. On the way to each activity, the children soaked it all up. They noticed flowers, trees, frogs, fungi, animal homes and trails, and more. Many of us were repeatedly struck by the beauty of the place. At night, the familiar trails became spooky and mysterious, and students had encounters with wild creatures, both real and imaginary. Under the open sky, we found the moon and a few stars from familiar constellations. In the morning there was Mars. While in the forest, students had the opportunity to feel intimately connected to the small things of nature.
Another important aim was to give children the chance to enhance their social development. The classrooms always come back from the fall camping trip more cohesive. There is a team-building aspect that is inherent in many of the everyday activities. Children work with a variety of other students as they set tables and clean up after meals, figure out how to construct a shelter together, practice their cabin skit, and cheer one another at the climbing wall. Our classroom community is enhanced by the challenges that we have overcome together.
Finally, our intention was to offer the students an opportunity to overcome difficulties. Persistence is a trait that we believe will help our students to be successful in life as well as in school. At school, children might stop just at the moment they need to push themselves to try a little harder. Recognizing that a child is about to make a breakthrough, teachers can encourage students to resist the temptation to give up. But it’s much more effective for children to experience the rewards of perseverance themselves. How valuable for children to understand through experience, rather than being told, what will help them to overcome adversity. As they practiced aiming for the target in archery, found their way when they missed a turn on the path, or attempted to climb the wall, our students experienced some of life’s powerful metaphors. I wish for each of our students that they will aim carefully for their heart’s desire, find their path whenever they are lost, and climb dizzying heights to reach the summits for which they long. Experiencing the power of persistence is a key part of our curriculum.
I want to take this opportunity to recommend helping out as a parent chaperone, and to thank all of the parents who have helped us, both this fall, and over the years to help make this experience available to our students. Chaperones serve the entire community by ensuring the safety and wellbeing of our students. They make sure that students get to their activities, monitor hydration, remind them to wash, help friends work out problems, and take amazing photos for the folks back home.