Friday, 8 March, 2013 - 00:00

School camps can lead to the emergence of a Napoleon or a Neil Perry – and not in the person you might expect.
One thing that often emerges during the corporate role-plays of the
21st century is that it's not always the obvious leader who demonstrates
real "leadership".

In the role-play exercises that are performed as part of personnel
selection processes, for instance, or during high-level corporate
getaways, it may be that the senior managers involuntarily take a back
seat while their subordinates step up and decide how to create a bridge
from boxes or other seemingly pointless exercises.

Similarly, school camps can become an arena in which the most
unlikely student finds a forum in which he or she takes the lead –
either by choice or force.

"Not every kid is a natural leader, but there are different ways kids
can lead," says child psychologist Tim Dansie. "There are many ways of
being leaders, and some of them don't come up in a classroom situation.

"Often it can be as simple as volunteering – putting your hand up is,
in itself, a sign of taking some responsibility, which is part of

Dansie is an Adelaide-based clinical practitioner who entered the
field after a career as a teacher – spending a large amount of time in
physical education and outdoor education excursions - in private boys'
and co-educational schools. He recalls a camp during which boys were
divided into groups, each of which had allotted amounts of food and was
responsible for producing its own meals.

One student who wasn't known as a leader volunteered to direct his
group in its menu decisions and meal preparation. Very quickly, the
group's provisions were the envy of other students; soon he was helping
other groups determine how to create some variety and taste in their
meals, despite their limited resources. "He knew what he was doing,"
Dansie says. "He took it on – and, again, earned newfound respect from
his peers.

"There's a kid who would never have taken on a leadership role within
his school, but outside that environment found a way to show his skills
and become highly valued by his peers."

Leadership is but one "life skill" that can emerge as a prized factor
away from the "us and them" environment of the classroom, Dansie says.
Many students may find that their individual strengths are evident on a
camp – and also, perhaps, their weaknesses.

"There are some kids who find the academic demands of school very
difficult, who socially are very quiet, and who get on camp, outside the
classroom, and they just shine," Dansie says.

"It may be that camping is something they've done before, or that
they have skills that aren't normally revealed in the classroom or
school that on a camp site are discovered – not only by the other
students and even teachers, but possibly by the student himself or

"The student earns respect and perhaps new friendships among his or
her peers, and from teachers as well. It can be very significant for
their self-esteem."

Dansie recalls an instance from his own teaching career, when during a
school ski trip it became apparent that a male student who was "very
quiet, not great at ball sports" was a terrific skier. "He was
outstanding, and upon our return quickly became known as the best skier
in the school," Dansie says. "His self-esteem was boosted enormously.
The other kids could see he was good at something. The camp provided
that opportunity."

Another life skill is team-work; camps provide many opportunities for
teachers to determine which students will volunteer beyond their
immediate responsibilities and which will do as little as possible.

"For younger kids, camps are about leaving their parents and sharing
time with their friends," Dansie says. "That's an important part of
their development – leaving their parents and families or the safety-net
of a sleepover.

"As they get older, it's more about learning skills like
co-operating, working together as a group. As a teacher, you learn a lot
about kids – you see who's willing to help and who expects everything
to be done for them."

Dansie says teachers should be alerted to factors that may hamper a
child's enjoyment of a camp, or that may create problems with other
children. Homesickness and fear might create anxiety in a child, and
should be discussed before the camp is shunned outright; however, there
may be reasons for a child's reluctance that should be heeded, Dansie
says. If a child's parents are going through a separation or divorce,
for instance, and the child may become emotional or distressed upon
leaving home, discussions between parents and the teacher can determine
if the best course is for the child to attend the camp, or to remain
with the family.

The key, says Dansie, is to provide a camp experience that makes the
student want to return for more. These days, concerns about homesickness
may be addressed through the availability of mobile phones or internet
connections that enable communication while away from home. Dansie
recalls that one former student was satisfied before she left for a camp
that she would be able to send and receive text messages during the
trip. She "loved " the experience - and her friends didn't even know she
was contacting home.

But enjoyment of the camp means providing experiences that are
memorable without pushing too far, he says. Send some kids on a boot
camp without any chance of relaxation, and they'll never camp again –
but on the other hand, older students should be exposed to experiences
that are challenging and allow them to learn more about themselves and
their capabilities. His suggestion: give students experiences that
"stretch" them, but not too far, especially when they are young and may
be away from home for the first time; but no matter how old they are,
provide age-appropriate physically and mentally challenging exercises
that are not a part of their normal school existence.

"You want them to walk away with great memories," Dansie says. "I've
been on a camp where it rained five days straight. We were walking, and
had very little sleep. But the kids – once they got past the fact they
were wet and tired, found it became fun.

"Those kids still talk about that camp and how unbelievably funny it
was. "Camps provide those memories. I'll guarantee if you ask most
people, they'll remember some aspects of their school camps. But I'll
bet they don't remember who taught them long division."

"There are many ways of being leaders, and some of them don't come up in a classroom situation."