I just got back from a two-night trip to Calwood just outside Boulder, CO. I was a Parent Volunteer for our 5th grade classes' adventure. It was the first time I'd really volunteered for something of this magnitude with the kiddos. It was profound. Calwood exists because its founders wanted to ensure children of all walks of life could experience the outdoors. It's remarkable how many kids don't access nature.
Thirty years ago I'd attended roughly the same program at Calwood as a 5th grader myself. I had experienced what my son and his classmates were experiencing nearly down to a 'T'. That was wild in-and-of-itself. I was able to connect clear dots between who I am today as an adult, and my experience thirty years ago which was wild, but, that's a different blog post.
I wanted to write about the positive impact a few things an experience like this can have on a child. I also wanted to write about the positive impact it can have on you as an adult. This may be obvious to many parents reading this, but, I'm not the world's best parent, so stuff like this doesn't come easy for me.
The experience is completely off the grid. There's no-wifi/Network connection. There's no cell-coverage. There are no TV's or radios/stereos. Guess what!?! Every kid survived without their electronics. Remarkable huh? The experience was so powerful it was like they forgot all that stuff existed.
The experience ensured kids cooperated for long durations of time.
The experience clearly defined respect for others. For younger kids to rebuff strangers in authority positions (e.g. the Calwood Instructors) is a lot harder to do in a completely foreign environment like this. It's relatively easy to talk back to a teacher in the classroom versus being a jerk to a hippy with long dreadlocks standing in front of you out in the middle of nowhere during a night-hike who is likely the only person in the group who can get you back to your bed safely. This sunk in for even the "trouble" kids.
The experience was awesomely educational in a very hands-on way. We spent each day out in the wild. We hiked everywhere we went, and the instructors tied everything back to science along the way. The kids were learning the intricacies of what they were experiencing around them. So cool!
The experience bonded kids together. They had to "survive" together and figure out how to get things done alone. No "mom" to clean up after them. No creature comforts of home. They had to figure it all out together. If you didn't... Darwin set in, and that's a powerful motivator.
Three sets of us: Calwood Instructors (paid staff), Teachers (our Elementary school teachers coordinating and driving the program), and the Parent Volunteers (me and my crew).
The experience was completely off the grid for the adults too. For the adults who chose to keep their mobiles' "on," every now and then on a hike a morsel of radio waves would bring an inbound SMS to them, but it was rare.
I chose to keep my phone off the entire time. It was the longest period I'd been disconnected that I can remember. We were so slammed with volunteering responsibilities, that I could hardly tell though.
As a Parent Volunteer we were there to basically keep the edges in place. The Instructors and Teachers were driving things (except when my control issues got the best of me a couple of times and I jumped in to try and "fix" something), and the PVs were really there just to assist. We were extra hands just to keep everything manageable.
I haven't spent much time "bonding" with "family community" unfortunately. I've tended to keep all of this at arms length. I realized this on the trip. I walked away knowing much of our 5th grade class on a really neat level. I walked away knowing several of my peer parents on a great new level. We all share something now that we'll take with us from this moment forward. That feels really cool.
I have similar bonding experiences in the "work community" context all the time. I just rarely have them in the "family community" context.
I highly recommend volunteering for an overnight-like experience with your "family community" and children if you have the opportunity. I highly recommend that experience be "off the grid" as well; back to basics.
Calwood is a great outdoors program. It was cool to see it continuing to flourish (despite some challenging years at times). If you're considering Calwood for your school, just pull the trigger.