According to results of the 2007-2008 Australian Government’s National Health Survey, one-quarter of all Australian children, or around 600,000 children aged 5-17 years, are overweight or obese.
It’s no secret what many of these kids are doing if they’re not on the playing field……sitting at the computer or watching television.
Australian recommendations are that children should not spend more than two hours a day watching TV, playing computer games or using other electronic media for entertainment. However, research paints a different reality.
A 2006 South Australian study found a median screen time of 3 hours and 49 minutes per day - with three-quarters of this time devoted to TV - in the 10-13 age group.
This ‘X-Box generation,’ as they have been termed, presents a special challenge for teachers and caregivers on camp.
Children who spend significant amounts of time in sedentary states, such as watching TV or playing computer games, increase their likelihood of poor fitness and being overweight - which in turn can lead to increased health problems and a higher incidence of social problems related to being ‘big’.
However, the good news is that school camps present a fantastic opportunity to get kids out, about and moving in a fun environment.
The million dollar question, however, is how teachers and caregivers can get less active kids out of the bunkhouse and into the action without tears and tantrums. And why is it important for kids to experience new activities and get out of their ‘comfort zone’ anyway?
According to Pete Griffiths, Director of Business Development for the Outdoor Education Group, taking on new challenges helps students reach their full potential.
The Outdoor Education Group (OEG) uses outdoor experiential learning to teach students valuable life skills - and to encourage them to get out of their comfort zone in a safe and supported way.
OEG programs are designed to help students recognise that risk can be dealt with responsibly and with thought, rather than heedlessly - a lesson that is highly applicable to any young person’s personal life.
‘We apply guided reflection to determine how they might approach a similar situation again. Thus a vital element of the experience is the transfer of learning into everyday contexts,’ Pete said.
Outdoor education camps are ideal for all students, including the less active student who needs encouragement to get involved in physical activity.
“It’s important for children to learn to accept and even welcome challenge. This challenge can be physical (taking part in a walk or canoe session), social (mixing with a group that they would not normally associate with - moving beyond their cliques), emotional (spending time away from home), and even spiritual (being in a natural environment may give them a sense of something bigger than themselves).”
Pete said all of these things are based on moving children out of their ‘default’ - doing the easiest thing - way of thinking and behaving to create an awareness that challenges can be met, and then applying this to their day to day lives. For example, they can use their experiences to prepare for the challenge of completing an exam.
‘Students can learn a lot about themselves, their strengths and their weaknesses, by taking on new challenges. They also learn how persistence in extending one’s often self imposed limitations can bring success in the most challenging of situations - be they physical, emotional or social.’
Pete said this ability to bounce back from setbacks or challenges with confidence and optimism was a vital tool for any young person as they entered adulthood.
“It is the confidence that comes from accepting a challenge and successfully coping with it that we are seeking. This works most powerfully when there are direct parallels with daily life. For example, if a young person is willing to face a challenge then they are better equipped to make good decisions regarding risk.”
Getting started: Activities to get kids out of the bunkhouse
There is much on a practical level that teachers and caregivers can do to get less active kids involved in camp activities.
‘Streaming’ outlines can work - eg having ‘hard’ and ‘less hard’ outlines to accommodate the less physically capable and the more active kids.
“This can work if managed well - we talk about reaching the ‘challenge’ line to appeal to the gung ho kids rather than identify the ‘easy’ line for the [less active],” Pete said.
However, he noted the counter argument; that groups should be mixed in order to get the less active kids to extend themselves and the more active kids to assist and mentor those kids they don’t normally associate with.
Other fun camp activities to get everyone involved include:
A ‘disco’ evening. Dancing often appeals to kids who don’t like conventional exercise. Organise a fun disco evening with a range of music styles to suit everyone.
Games of chasey or hide and seek.
A ‘night hike’ with torches, camp songs - and an incentive at the end.
Incorporate learning with activity. For example, if your camp has an environmental focus and you wish to study plants and habitats, take your learning outdoors.
If you have some space at camp, bring along some balls and Frisbees. If space is limited, or it’s raining outside, try balloon volleyball in the camp common room.
Activities that kids wouldn’t normally experience in their everyday lives - horse riding, sailing, canoeing, rafting, orienteering and raft building (which involves a mix of skills - not just physical ones).
Another idea that works well is offering a range of activities that students choose from - thus accommodating a range of interests and abilities.
By thinking outside the square, camp organisers and teachers can set a fun schedule that includes exercise, healthy eating and lots of fresh air!
For more information about the Outdoor Education Group visit www.oeg.net.au or call (03) 5774 2617.