Our P&C at Southern Cross Early Childhood School (SCECS) is always looking for new ways to engage our community and provide new and exciting experiences. At our first meeting for 2017 our principal had an interesting idea: to host a camping trip, on school grounds, for everyone in the school community. It was daunting and exciting all at once, and so CampOUT! was born.
Camping is great, my family loves it, spending time outdoors, lighting a campfire, toasting marshmallows, bushwalks, BBQ breakfast cook up, spotlighting animals at dusk, kids running wild exploring — no screens — but how to create a genuine overnight camping experience on school grounds, in the middle of Canberra and get permission from the Education Directorate?
To make it work the P&C and school hosted jointly. We all agreed it had to be fun, safe and equitable. The first part was easy, we're good at fun. Safety took a lot of planning, taking into consideration site access and layout, first aid, supervision and, of course, little people and FIRE. How do we get permission and whose insurance covers what? Finally equity was key to the event being truly accessible to everyone in our community. Not everyone owns camping gear.
This year’s event, held in April, was the second CampOUT! Around 30 families participated in the overnight event. For several families, it was their first ever camping adventure. Bringing families together in a shared outdoor experience truly models the school’s motto “From Little Things Big Things Grow”. Evidence shows that connecting children with nature in the early childhood setting is the best way to seed a love of active outdoor play for life.
So, how did we do it?
Thirty families, means approximately 50 kids, all under nine years, who need to eat, sleep, go to the toilet and toast marshmallows. We worked together to create a very thorough risk assessment that had to be signed off by the Education Directorate (EDU) as this was the first of its kind. It included the usual things plus whose insurance (P&C or school/EDU) covered what and the fire set up.
As everyone arrived, they registered. We had a staff member camped at the gate in case anyone needed to leave in the middle of the night. The P&C provided a first aid officer with the principal covering the late night shift.
No cars were allowed, so we had wheelbarrows and bike trailers to collect everyone’s gear at the gate. In 2017 we tried camper trailers but there were safety concerns, so this year was tents only.
At 7pm we locked the gate so the kids could safely run wild in the dark. A site manager checked tent placement and a couple of bathroom monitors kept the facilities tidy and stocked.
The kids at SCECS are encouraged to test boundaries, get messy and engage in a bit of risky play. We fenced off the fire zone and controlled access via fire monitors. The kids and their grown ups all had a fire safety briefing before proudly receiving their fire-safe badge and being able to hang out by the fire and toast the ever-important marshmallows.
The trick was to provide enough to do without it being over scheduled, allowing for free play and exploration. How often do you get to explore the school grounds at night? Due to being in the city we enlisted the help of some cute native animal puppets that hid in trees or under logs and the spotlight hunt was on! Before bedtime we had story time under the stars. After the little people were asleep it was the big kids’ and grown ups’ time to hang out at the fire, have a cuppa, toast more marshmallows and catch up.
We held CampOUT! this year a week after Easter. The high chance of it being very cold meant families couldn't get away with a $20 tent and a $5 sleeping bag and no one wants to spend big money on just one night. We encouraged families to try to borrow a tent and bring just blankets and doonas. We looked into buying or seeking donated equipment to loan out, but then we discovered Capital Camping Hire. They waived the minimum 2 night hire, delivered everything, including a spare family package just in case, then returned the next morning and packed it all up! Small family tents were only $18 a night. For dinner most families packed a picnic, got takeaway or pizza, but some did cook.
We finished up the whole event with a cereal, milo, bacon and eggs breakfast cooked by the P&C, then everyone packed up exhausted but happy and promising to be back next year.