Spotlight On: Camp

14 October 2022


This article first appeared in Queenwood Weekly News on Friday 14 October, 2022

Term 4 has started with Camp Week for the Senior School and, somewhat miraculously, we seem to have lucked out with five relatively dry days sandwiched between two La NiƱas in Sydney’s wettest ever year. As I write, the girls will be travelling back to school, somewhat less fragrant than on Monday morning but certainly more appreciative of hot showers and their own beds.

Queenwood’s outdoor education program is more extensive than most. Pandemic aside, it begins in Year 1 and moves through a carefully staged progression of challenge: from just one night away from home and the novelty of a Zoo Snooze through to a full, self-sufficient week in the bush. The landscapes and activities are varied and we even push the girls to explore the urban environment in Year 10. (For many girls, catching public transport from one side of the city to the other is a challenge on a similar scale to abseiling off a cliff.)

Taking out 500 Senior School girls in one week is a challenge for us. Our staff, led by Ms Ashleigh Mace, Outdoor Education Coordinator, invest a great deal of time and resources into planning and training in preparation and in responding to the dozens of unpredictable scenarios that arise during the week. The willingness of the teachers to get involved is remarkable as they, too, have to go without many comforts and are also juggling the time away with family life, which might mean small children missing Dad or older children missing Mum as their HSC begins. With the ever-increasing mountain of risk assessments, COVID complexities and competing demands, the question inevitably arises: is it worth it?

Emphatically yes. The list of reasons is long, but here are four:
  1. If you want to make a friendship or a family, you have to spend time together. And if we want to create a school community which gives every girl a sense of belonging and connection, they have to spend time and make memories with each other. When we ask our graduating students about their fondest memories, Camp Week features prominently – and it’s often the hardships (the rain, the sandwiches that got dropped in the river, the sickly noodle concoction they cooked for dinner) which prompt the most laughs and strongest memories.
  2. It’s good to be in nature. They are physically active and spiritually nourished and they learn the value of outdoor recreation for lifelong enjoyment and wellbeing. Study after study has confirmed this – but I think we know it in our bones. At a time when young people’s mental health has never been worse, it’s more important than ever to invest in the things which we know will protect and heal.
  3. It develops vital skills and self-knowledge: self-reliance, interdependence, teamwork and leadership. Different environments bring out different characteristics, and we find that girls who may be shy about putting themselves forward in the classroom can step forward and take the lead in new ways. They become more aware of the impact of their behaviour on others and learn skills of cooperation and collaboration from necessity because they can’t retreat into their usual spaces or patterns of relationships.
  4. It generates the right kind of stress. The girls are set challenges which are simultaneously uncomfortable, unfamiliar, even frightening but also eminently achievable. They have to persevere through the discomfort and, in so doing, they learn that feelings can change and emotions are not always the most reliable guide. By not listening so closely to the inner voice telling them that it’s too hard and they should give up now, they acquire the resilience they will need for life. In the immortal Churchillian words: when you’re going through hell, keep going. And as they sink into their beds this evening, they may even realise that it wasn’t hell after all!
I hope that your daughters are enjoying being home tonight and that they will carry with them some happy and lasting memories from this week.

And a final word for our Year 12 HSC students whose exams began on Monday: you’ve got this!