Outdoor education is a program that started forever ago at our school. Fifth and sixth graders stay with their classroom teachers, a couple of P.E. teachers, and an art teacher at a campsite with cabins and a lodge for several days and do all types of outdoor educational activities. (photo from 5th grade.) The seventh and eighth graders along with their teachers stay at a state park in tents, cooking their own food on Coleman stoves, and expand on those outdoor learning experiences.
In the weeks leading up to the four day and three night stay, the students choose tent mates, plan menus, assign cooks, and go on a shopping field trip to price the cost of their planned meals. In Mimi's seventh grade year she practiced, at home, cooking her favorite breakfast of bacon and hash browns and she cooked pancakes. These would be the meals she would prepare for her tent mates. This year she did not practice. I think her cooking job was cinnamon sugar toast.
The night before the trip we helped Mimi pack her gear in a large rubber maid tub. In true Girl Scout fashion we pack with an eye towards being prepared for just about anything. Beyond the basic clothing needs we packed good quality rain gear that consists of a rain jacket, rain pants, and rubber boots. Over the years the groups have camped in the rain and I mean rain storms with blowing wind!!! The kids would come home so muddy parents would just throw their camping gear away.
Mimi's weatherproof tub of camping gear. The Kleenex were for nosebleeds (allergy related) not tears.Even though or because it is October we pack sweatshirts, winter coat, gloves, a stocking cap, and these hand and feet warmers that are chemical gel packs. T-man's eighth grade outdoor education year (see photo) had teachers allowing kids to use the teachers' cell phones to ask their parent to bring coats and socks. They had had days of rain and then the tiniest amount of snow flurries, enough to make them cold and miserable. What else did we pack?... flashlight, batteries, garbage bags, towel, soap, toothpaste and brush, hand sanitizer, fry pan, bike helmet (bike and horseback riding), sleeping bag, camera, and mom's treasured West Point army blanket, and books. Can't go anywhere without a good book.
Mimi's eight grade class left on a Tuesday morning after loading their personal gear and team gear in a U-Haul truck. They headed to Wal-mart to purchase their food before heading to the wilds of the state park. Thursday night we would get to see her and Friday they would eat breakfast (cooked by the teachers) break camp, load the U-Haul, and arrive back home (school) around 1:30.
As Doug and I drove out to the state park for parent night, I felt that maternal tug on my heart of another milestone passing by to quickly. This would be our last outdoor education event, as Mimi will be heading to high school next year. I also said a prayer that she would not cry to go home like last year. When we arrived for parent night, Mimi was thrilled to see us. Giving us exuberant hugs that about knocked me off my feet.
Parents brought side dishes and dessert. Campfire roasted hot dogs were provided. I brought two batches of Mimi's favorite Spanish rice. We had fun chatting with her and her friends. As dusk began to fade into night the tears and complaints arose. Outdoor education was terrible. They don't learn anything. The toilets are horrible. The food is bad. Take me home!!!
I asked about kayaking, oh yea that was fun. How about getting water samples? She was looking forward to that. Oh yea that was fun too.
Mom: I'm guessing you (Mimi) didn't ride a horse since you don't like horses and have never ridden one.
Mimi: Oh no, I decided to ride one. It's part of the experience mom!! I rode a wonderful sweet horse.
Mom:What about astronomy? The star are gorgeous here. Did Mr. B bring the big huge telescope this year.
Mimi: Yea we did that last night. Oh and we had night hikes but they were too short. Sniffles and more tears.
We walk her down to her tent to check that out and get her in closer proximity to her friends.
Mimi: We hear wolves at night.
Dad: I think those are coyotes.
A few more tears and then she remembers that she left her book at the group gathering site. She heads back to get her book leaving Doug and I by her tent. I'm think can I run to the van now and escape the water works and pleas as we leave. But no I tough it out.
Mimi returns. I hug her and say we need to leave. She hangs on and again pleads her case to go home. In my heart, I know she's a picky eater and probably didn't each much. I know that she is a picky sleeper but she had my Army blanket. And I agree the bathroom facilities are horrible when you camp. I have exhausted the calm gentle reasoning of consoling, finding the silver lining, speeches of best experience of your life, this will make you stronger. Doug just jumps in and says we're not taking you home. With that we give her a hug, Doug promises lunch at her favorite restaurant, and we leave.
In the van I console myself. I remind myself that she loves the outdoors. This is the best weather you could have on a camping trip. Her tent group consists of her best school friends and they really get along well. Having been one of the outdoor education teachers in years past, I know that this is a wonderful, enriching, safe experience. The biggest caveat that I remind myself of is that she is a teenager, likes to complain (can we say spoiled), and loves to push mom's buttons.
She arrived at school Friday afternoon and dragged me outside to help carry her gear. She called her dad, and skipped off to lunch leaving her fire smoked, sweaty gear in my classroom.