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Microcamps [and how to build confidence in kids]

For a half term I have been working with year 3 children from an amazing, open minded, forward thinking, adventurous Primary School in Cornwall. Year 3, are kids aged 7-8, many haven't slept away from home yet and most have never camped. The goal for this group was to learn what they needed to have a microcamp in their own school field.

As a fan of the microadventure movement I thought it would be good to adapt it for kids who are new to sleeping outside and build them up gently to the idea of a full microadventure.

Microadventure=no tents, just under the stars one night maybe a 5pm-9am.

Microcamp=tents, bit more kit, one night, we did 6pm-11am.

As discussed in other posts I know that a camp can have a major part to play in raising confidence for children and young people. It offers them more time to let of steam outdoors, they need to traverse the often unexplored landscapes of day turning to night and then get through the night outdoors without their parents in a strange place. Often they are out of their comfort zones but if you can build their excitement and curiosity about a camp out then they are motivated to challenge themselves more. Many parents and educators will know that The Challenge Zone is where most learning can happen. It's important that kids can challenge themselves in a way that they feel enabled and supported and that's where the preparation comes in.

So, a half term before camp was planned , we set about learning and practising the elements of camping that would help them feel safer, knowledgeable, capable and of course curious. When we started our first session only a handful of children were keen to camp, which I must say came as a bit of a shock and a challenge to me!

I created 5 elements that I thought we should cover in preparation for a microcamp.

  • Tent pitching and packing down

  • Weather preparation

  • Night time and darkness

  • Camp Fire safety and cooking

  • General camp craft, safety, teamwork and fun

We started with what you need on a camp and wrote giant lists outside in chalk, we discussed good kit and bad kit to bring. We pitched different kinds of tents to see how they were made and put together and learned tips such as: try to only push and not pull the poles as it stretches the elastic and they come apart, pegs go in at an angle, when you are in your tent, don't touch the sides as it lets in moisture or rain, your tent must be dry when you pack it away otherwise it will go mouldy and teamwork is pretty important.

We used hammer and nails to make tin can lanterns that we would hang on the route to the toilet. One session we made stone soup with the stone soup story and talked about campfire cooking and eating. We practiced lots, how to be safe around the fire so that the fire could become an important element that they could enjoy or leave as they wished without the usual heavy management that we apply in school time. We played lots of games and had lots of discussion about how it would be on the night and what we would need to remember. We also discussed microadventures and sleeping under the stars in a bivvi bag or a hammock and what that might be like. I explained that on the evening of their camp I would be having a microadventure and sleeping in a hammock. The group helped me decide where to put my hammock we pitched one and everyone had a go and discovered how easy they were to tie. They knew that if they needed me in the night for any reason, they would know where I was and I would be easily available.

On the afternoon of the camp we set up our tents in school time before going home to change, get kit and eat. Parents dropped off 17 children for the camp, significantly more than had originally thought that they could do it. They were super excited and showed their parents the tents they had pitched themselves and where they were sleeping that night.

Some did become more nervous as it became dark but they were happily distracted by finger light dances, soup, s'mores and a campfire story that they created. All went to their tents ready for bed after being fascinated by staying up later than they usually do at home. I am always ready for a little home sickness and upset kids who need to ring a parent but although some acknowledged how they felt about not being at home and that feeling a bit weird, they were all keen to stay.

I was needed only once in the night for a toilet trip, that was it. I was awake most of the night as I usually am with the responsibility of other peoples children and happy to see the stars through the trees, passing night time clouds followed by dawn, birds waking and then very early kids waking up!

So how do you build confidence in kids?...........

The next morning, they are always so pleased with themselves for having made it through the night. This is where the confidence building comes in. They can hardly believe that they were able to do it. They were outside in the dark, got a bit chilly and a bit damp, cooked over fire, slept in a field and all without their parents, they actually can't believe they did it! They love their parents and did miss them but did it anyway and survived. They were not paralyzed in fear of the dark or of creepy crawlies or any other beastie that they imagined. The enormous boost to their confidence, sense of achievement, resilience and inner strength is a hoard of buried treasure just freshly dug up.

[I'd like to end it there on that nice treasure metaphor but I can't because in truth, none of that can happen without the great adults to facilitate it. We were lucky enough to be with staff who were openly not camping fans or experts and even had a couple of camping disaster stories, but were just really up for the adventure. This would have been a different story with nervous, over anxious adults. As I have said in other posts, 'the grown ups' can make or break this challenge zone moment. We had staff with the perfect balance between genuine care and stepping back and leaving alone. Find those people and get them to help you organise a microcamp. Get in touch with me if you need any help, I can make your microcamp happen!! :) ]

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