Australia has a fairly strong reputation for unpredictable terrain and a diverse array of wildlife. Add these elements to an adventurous camp experience and serve that up to a student from a metropolitan area with little experience in the Australian countryside and it makes sense that anxieties about the unknown might arise.
In addition to students, parents and school support staff that might be accompanying students on a camp trip may also have fears about the unknown conditions in a camp environment. Part of our job is to make sure everyone entering into a camp program feels safe and excited, so we’ve put together an article to walk you through some common fears and provide some insights and strategies to help overcome them.
THE BENEFITS OF SCHOOL CAMP
We spend a lot of time talking about the benefits of outdoor education like personal growth, empathy, teamwork and stronger hands-on learning experiences but did you know there is significant benefit to overcoming fears as this work leads to greater self-confidence and resilience?
These traits are crucial especially when we consider mental health statistics in young people in Australia. Lack of confidence has been found to be among the top 4 major barriers in seeking help for mental health struggles in young people aged 15-19 years old. Not to mention, as a nation, our resilience levelsits at 65.4%, nearly 20% below the protective level, leaving many Australians at risk of mental illness.
COMMON CAMP FEARS
Homesickness when anticipating spending time in an unfamiliar environment, especially when overnight stays are involved, is normal and extremely common. Homesickness is usually the most prevalent in anticipation of the first school camp. Many young people will develop some peace of mind once they have a good understanding of what to expect on a camp program.
There are many strategies which may help, including journaling or brainstorming some activities to engage in when feelings of homesickness arise - however it's important to remember, every person is unique in what is helpful in overcoming these feelings. For some, a reminder of home is comforting. For others the reminder can make homesickness even stronger.
The most crucial support is in open communication ahead of a camp experience and asking questions to get as much clarity as possible on what to expect. A little reassurance and time spent acknowledging uncomfortable feelings can go a long way.
FEAR OF THE UNKNOWN
Fear of the unknown is one feeling we are all familiar with - young or old. While the feeling is thrust upon us, by design, to keep us safe, we’ve spent a lot of time and effort ensuring our programs provide safe means to explore the outdoors and learn about ourselves, others and the natural world.
If the reassurance isn’t enough, we also do our best to provide a wealth of information about the rough structure of a camp experience, how to use gear you might encounter on camp or even how to pack a pack or set up a tent. If the material you find on our website isn’t answering your questions, we also spend a lot of time facilitating discussion ahead of a program. That means, any questions you have can go through your camp organiser for one of our team to answer and give you some peace of mind.
There is still a chance, even with all the information available, the fear of the unknown is still felt. However this may not always be a bad thing. A large part of building resilience is in overcoming these fears.
A selection of Year 7 students said of their camp experience:
“While leaving home may be difficult and the activities may be testing, but it is definitely worth it because you will remember this camp for a long time, and you will make many friends.”
“It is a super exciting experience and very different. At first it may seem a bit out of the ordinary of your normal day but you'll get used to it. Also being off your device means you'll appreciate nature more and spend more time laughing with your friends and you'll make new friends.”
“I would say that while it may be difficult at first and while it may not seem like it, this experience will really help you grow as a person and when you are home you are going to appreciate how much this experience will help you step out of your comfort zone.”
INSECTS OR WILDLIFE
While the conditions of the outback aren’t within our control, there is a lot of planning, logistics and preparation that go into monitoring these factors to ensure the safest possible environment for camp programs.
When it comes to mitigating risk related to wildlife, appropriate protective gear and robust first aid are our tried and true go-to’s. Our team are also both very experienced in safely coexisting with local fauna and well trained in first aid.
There are also many simple and effective camp habits established including checking shoes before putting them on, staying on cleared paths and hiking as a group which typically prevent run-ins with wildlife and also ensures no student is alone or out of range of communication and assistance during a camp program.
We are aware students participating in camp programs have varying levels of fitness, skills and abilities. We also know, students who have lower levels of fitness or ability can have anxiety about falling behind or feeling self-conscious about holding up the group.
Thankfully the best tool we have for dealing with these anxieties is communication. Once we know a student either has a low fitness level or has anxiety about their actual or perceived ability, we can make a few choices.
In some occasions, simply splitting the cohort into smaller groups allowing for buddies of similar abilities is helpful. Another crucial communication piece for students is the concept of challenge by choice. By allowing each student to approach each activity at their own confidence level and accept each type of attempt as valid and worthy of encouragement can do a lot to alleviate fear of future challenges in the program.
There’s a lot of pre-camp fear that can be offset by having preparation elements within your control. Between general camp prep information like the essential items to pack (and avoid packing) and more specific program information provided by The Outdoor Education Group for your specific group’s program; there is alot if information that can help put an anxious mind at ease.
There are elements of a camp setting in nature that might feel new, strange or even a little uncomfortable - but some of that discomfort may actually be good for us as humans. Communication about any fear that feels too overwhelming will help our team accommodate as much reassurance of emotional and physical safety as possible. A positive attitude and a willingness to trust the process and people can open up a world of possibility for growth.