Why do we take our children on camps?

 If you’ve already read our Environment Day page, then you will already have accessed some compelling information and research that supports the benefits of being in the natural environment for both academic and wellbeing attainment. But going on a multi-day camp provides opportunities and experiences that simply can’t be achieved in a single Environment Day.

The Cottage School camp experiences are among the most treasured and enduring memories of a child’s primary school years. Students recall with pleasure time spent on evening walks, spotlighting for nocturnal animals, hunting for shells on a beach, fishing in the creeks, building forts in the ‘Wild Woods’, singing around a campfire, performing in camp plays, the giving and receiving of camp awards, the list goes on.

The camping experience ‘grows’ the children. They return home to their families tired, dirty and happy with a wealth of experiences and a raft of good memories.

It is well documented that a major component of quality teaching is the strong positive relationship between teacher and student. Camps provide a unique opportunity for teachers and students to get to know each other in a different environment outside of the more formalised classroom-learning atmosphere, and to expedite these positive relationships.

How do camps fit in with the academic curriculum?

 Research led by Associate Professor Sue Waite at the Plymouth Institute of Education (2011) found that camping supported the key curriculum subjects of Geography, History and Science, due to the fact that most common camping activities were natural and helped understanding of ecosystems, life forms and environmental science etc. This learning of course can be experienced incidentally or deliberately planned.

Some of our camps are designed around some deliberate curriculum objectives and can see students going to any part of the state where these objectives can best be supported. So to see a group head off to learn more about our island’s history or ecology, or to gain a better perspective of our First Nation’s people and culture, is a welcome and not uncommon sight.  Needless to say, camps are never about all work and no play, because it is those other aspects of camp which when observed sees the personal growth in individuals.

Of course the Cottage School curriculum goes beyond academic and looks to providing our children with skills and knowledge of how to be in the world. So in many ways our camps are about learning how to spend time in the natural environment and what it can offer us in terms of life quality.  Children learn about camp equipment and how to use it, what to look for when acquiring new equipment, how to cook a meal on a camp stove, how to look after personal items over a multi-day camp, and the list goes on.

How is spending time at camp linked to psychological well-being?

At the 4th International Outdoor Education Research Conference 2009, research was presented that supported the benefits of school camps as being physical, personal, social and curricular.  It went on to state that, ‘Observations often noted the complete absorption of children in outdoor activities. The freedom afforded in an outdoor context seemed to support behavioural, personal and social development. Children in the primary school case study spoke of significant personal changes during residential trips.’

Dr James Neill (2010), a lecturer at the Centre of Applied Psychology at the University of Canberra, believes Australian children benefit greatly from being involved in outdoor education. ”In an ideal society, we wouldn’t need outdoor education, it would just be a part of life, but the fact is, it’s not.” he says.

Renowned child psychologist, Michael Thompson (2012), states that primary children develop in profound ways when they attend overnight school camps. Among the many salient points he raises are:

  • Learning to sleep away from home is a critical step on the way to independence.
  • Beating homesickness, which may be hard for some children, is, by definition, something parents cannot help children do.
  • You cannot give children self-esteem and confidence because these come from their own accomplishments.
  • You cannot give children independence because the only way children can grow into independence is to have their parents open the door and let them walk out. That’s what makes camp such a life changing experience for children.
  • Many young people do not really know how strong they are, how competent they are or even who they are until they get away from their parents and test themselves in a new and challenging environment.

How is spending time at camp linked to physical well-being?

Robyn Bjorrnson, executive assistant at the Children and Nature Network, says in general, children spend a lot less time outdoors than they used to. She says this lack of time spent playing outside in the fresh air can be harmful to a child’s wellbeing.  Spending time in natural surroundings stimulates children’s creativity.

Bjorrnson goes on to say that there are many positive health benefits associated with outdoor activities for children.

  • Children who regularly experience nature play are healthier, happier, and test better in school.
  • Studies indicate that direct exposure to nature can relieve the symptoms of attention-deficit disorders, improve resistance to stress and depression, increase self-esteem, stimulate cognitive development and creativity, as well as reduce myopia and lower child obesity.
  • Spending time outdoors also encourages children to actively play, which is good for them, rather than spend time focused on electronic media, television, and video games.

Research in 2013 from the University of Colorado Boulder found that camping can re-set our biological clocks and help those who find it tough to get to sleep and/or wake up in the morning. It’s all to do with the increased use of artificial light in our daily lives and the fact that camping can help us to adjust to the natural light-dark cycle if we’re given that chance. Receiving adequate sleep has long been touted as critical to our overall health and wellbeing.

Our conclusion of camps.

Beyond the health and cognitive benefits children may gain from free and unstructured play outdoors, nature also provides them with a sense of wonder and a deeper understanding of our responsibility to take care of the Earth, says Richard Louv, author of “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit-Disorder” (Algonquin Books, 2005).

This letter from the 2017 President (George Underwood) and printed in the Friday Notice, April 7 2017, provides an excellent summation of why we continue to provide and believe in the positive attributes and power that going on school camps offers our children.

It’s taken 7 years, but finally one of my children has said it’s OK for me to come on a school camp. I’ve always thought the way for my kids to get the best out of camp is for me not to be there. Camps are a time for kids to be responsible for themselves and their own things. To be away from their parent’s watchful eye and ‘interference’. It’s a time for them to grow a little. So usually I’m waving off the school bus as it bounces down Queen Street on the way to another Cottage School camp. Off on unknown adventures (or well planned co-curricular learning opportunities), but this time I was going too.

I always knew this was a big undertaking from the staff. We know they’re ‘on’ from the moment they arrive at school in the morning to when they deliver our kids back tired, dirty and exhausted, but we parents usually only see these bookends and not the actual camp in the middle. I didn’t fully understand the commitment our staff make when they take our kids on camp. I knew it would be hard work, but the physical effort it takes to parent and teach and live with a class of kids for 3 to 5 days, 24/7 is enormous. The meals, the social guidance, the questions, the nurturing, the tents, hats, sunscreen, the constant balancing of risk and benefit and of course the planning that goes into their schedule, but what I really loved seeing and appreciate is the way they integrate daily camp life into learning experiences for the whole child. The short one-on-one conversations…and the long ones. A question in response to a question (they usually know the answers), sometimes deciding providing no direction is the best direction. They encourage. They engage and at the same time provide them with the freedom to roam. They show interest, patience and respect. Did I mention patience?! And they always treat our kids as individuals (wow!) What excellent role models…

I left camp thinking two things, “Wow! How lucky is Louis?” and “I think I can improve my parenting”. So thank you Cottage School staff for 7 years of wonderful camps.    Respect.  George


Louv, Richard. (2005). Last Child in the Woods: Saving our children from nature-deficit disorder. Algonquin Books: New York City.

Neill, J. Internal validity and reliability of the 30 item Mental Health Inventory for Australian adolescents (Psychological Reports, 2000)

‘Outdoor education research and theory: critical reflections, new directions’, the Fourth International Outdoor Education Research Conference, La Trobe University, Beechworth, Victoria, Australia, 15-18 April 2009.

Thompson, M. (2012). Homesick and Happy: How time away from parents can help a child to grow. Penguin Random House: New York

 Waite, S. (2011). Children Learning Outside the Classroom From Birth to Eleven. Sage Publications Ltd: London.

Would you like to find out more about other activities? Environment Day