Sitting on the beach in the dark, listening to whispered giggles from the silhouettes illuminated by the almost-full moon, I am amazed. The awe-inspiring wonder of sitting near the ocean in the moonlight, the commitment of these young counselors who come out and dazzle in every activity, and the opportunity this experience has brought to these young people I care for are almost enough to move me to tears. I am jolted out of my reverie when a loud whisper comes my way: “Ms. Shannon, are you going to let Starchild draw a mustache on you with the markers too?!” Back in reality, I get up and brush the sand off my pants. “Of course!” I reply.
Our annual camping trip comes with many challenges for students, teachers, and parents: what to pack, being away from home, letting my child out of my sight for a week, logistics, drivers, homesickness, forgetting a towel, sand in my boots, water in my boots, friendly disputes over whose turn it is for the shower, not seeing my kid in any of the pictures, not liking the food, eating too much, worrying about whether my child is eating... the list goes on. But the challenges faced do not add up to even a quarter of the benefits reaped by all. There’s the confidence for the child who was worried about being homesick but had a blast all week; the new sense of independence a parent sees when their child returns home; the incredible bonds the teacher sees in the classroom when the children return to school the following week.
The annual camping trip is so much more than a week-long nature program. It is a rite of passage, an unforgettable opening of possibility, a framework for a burst of independent self-construction. There are lessons that can only be learned here. We don’t regularly dissect sea creatures and see their radial symmetry first-hand. We don’t concoct natural face scrubs and lie on the floor singing pop tunes. We never negotiate shower times in class. Children develop grit when they have to figure out how to manage their wet socks without their mom. They learn a lot about their bodies when they make the choice to eat three bowls of Lucky Charms for breakfast and then feel slightly queasy on their hike--again, without mom lecturing them, but just experiencing their own choices for themselves. It is such an honor to be on that ride with them. It is Montessori’s vision of “education for life” come to life, and it is irreplaceable.