There are many things that simply cannot be studied from the pages of a book, and essential life and social skills are good examples. These lessons are best learned from direct experience and purposeful reflection, which is the core of Experiential Education (EE) philosophy, and the result of many youth camp experiences.
Experiential Education is a process through which a learner constructs knowledge, skill, and value from direct experience – or simply put, it is “learning by doing”.
Children’s holiday camps are a great place to lay the foundation for experiential education, since they encourage spontaneous opportunities for learning in a positive environment. A visit to Sugar Bay Holiday Camp in KwaZulu Natal proved just this.
At Sugar Bay, balancing four metres above the ground, a young boy’s smile gleamed as he not only achieved a new crate building record, but also courage. Motivated by a bunch of other campers, this boy conquered his fear of heights. This was also where he discovered that new experiences can be good experiences.
At the theatre, youngsters who were inspired by screenplays gained the self-confidence to produce and perform an extraordinary stage production to an audience of two hundred campers. They were intellectually engaged, emotionally challenged and socially rewarded for their hard work, and for pursuing an idea passionately.
During a beach treasure hunt, campers learned to appreciate nature as they felt the sand between their toes, heard the crashing of the waves, and relished the salty sea breeze in search for their loot.
During their Arts & Crafts lesson, a group of girls were braiding friendship bracelets silently under a tree. They were then asked to exchange bracelets with the stranger next to them. This simple exchange helped them make a new friend they’d hope to keep. They learned the value of friendship and generosity.
At the final camp fire, everyone reflected on their experiences and discovered for themselves just how much they had learned and conquered. Lessons that will remain forever valuable and useful to them.
Camp experiences perfectly illustrate that not everything we learn needs a textbook or certificate to prove that we have been properly schooled. Experience challenges learners to reflect on their achievements and learn from their failures in valuable ways that will increase both their theoretical and practical knowledge. The aphorism, “Experience is the best teacher”, is clearly confirmed after learners return from a good camp.