Outdoor Education – what can you do as a parent – Part 2 of 2

Parents students outdoor education

Following on from my Part 1 post a week ago (go here), this is the upside of the things you can do for your children (or if you’re a student reading this – for yourself) that are simple and easy and frankly, you and I probably did when we were kids.

  • Make your kids do chores. It seems fundamental but these days, most homes have dishwashers, so many families have a cleaner come in once week/fortnight (you know that time when you ask the kids to clean up the mess in their rooms because the cleaner is coming the next day), where we outsource dog walking, gardening, car cleaning and so on. Research has shown that chores foster interpersonal skills, improve mental health, create empathy and build on responsibility. More importantly, doing chores develops gratitude in children.

    My kids doing the camping dishes

  • Demonstrate and practice with your children how to peel and chop everyday vegetables. I’m not talking about kale or squash – more onions, potatoes, carrots, capsicums and so on. When a student cuts a carrot 1cm thick and is then disappointed when it’s still crunchy after a stir-fry, you’ll be able to help them think ahead.
  • Let your children know that everyday chores (like cooking for some of us) are laborious, monotonous and boring. Be prepared to work against the self-concerned nature of children and work on developing a sense of social justice within them.
  • Have your children do the dishes. I remember taking my kids away when they were 3, 5 and 7 and realised they didn’t know how to wash or dry dishes because we had a dishwasher. Here started the lesson and by the end of two weeks, they were experts. In particular, focus on hygiene and as always – try to make it fun.
  • Let your children pack their own gear. Take the list provided by the school, the scout group, the church group and have them lay all of it out on their bed. Then they can tick it off as they put it into their bag. Support and help them but don’t pack it for them as once they are in the field they’ll have to do it themselves anyway and they’ll be one step ahead of the pack.
  • You may not agree with everything on the gear list but stick to the list. Items such as sunblock, broad-brimmed hat, gloves, no cotton clothes, wide-mouthed water bottle and so on have been put there for a reason. People like myself have been in the industry a long time and we know what works best and what doesn’t. By all means query the list with the staff member involved, otherwise – stick to the list!

Stick to the list

  • Don’t impart your anxiety or fears onto your children. You may not like camping or carrying a pack, but don’t underestimate your child. Ask open questions like ‘what was the food like?’, ‘did you sleep well?’, ‘did you make any new friends?’ instead of ‘it must’ve been terrible walking in the cold weather!’ OR ‘sleeping on the ground is dreadful isn’t it?’ OR my favourite ‘it must have been hard to walk with that heavy pack!’ No presuppositions. Only curious questions, please.
  • Don’t be a helicopter parent. Let them make mistakes. Forget things. Lose things. Be mean. Be kind. Be helpful. Be rude. Get anxious. Get scared. Find their feet. As a parent – we can be so busy giving our kids everything we didn’t have, we forget to give them everything we did have. If you think you’re a helicopter parent then you probably not looked upon fondly by staff due to your high needs and expectations, often over-inflated value on things that are considered ordinary and most of which you project is about yourself, not your child. Bit tough? Yep, but it’s something we deal with every day.

    Mum showing how to chop veggies

  • So they forgot their lunch and water bottle for the first day of camp. Don’t chase the bus down and give it to them. Let them problem solve it. They won’t starve or dehydrate. That’s part of the learning. If you continually ‘rescue’ them then that’s what they’ll expect for the rest of their lives. In fact, this is where the bonding starts with a group as people offer a piece of fruit, a muffin, part of their sandwich (dietaries and allergies considered of course).
  • Don’t underestimate the awesomeness within your child/ren. I wish I could make an individual video for every parent and show them how their child consistently rises to the challenge. Most of the time, they put up their tent with their mates. They prepare a meal with others. They help out those they can see struggling. Or they ask for help if they need it. They ask good questions of staff. When we as parents step back and let our children be children you’d be surprised at how amazing they are. Give them that chance.
  • Allow them to receive feedback and that there might have negative consequences for their actions. This instils in them the concept of mutual respect and the rights and interests of others. It sits uncomfortably as a parent but it’s essential to their growth.

Parents students outdoor education

  • Their outdoor education experience is their experience, not yours. Don’t presume or preempt what may or may not have happened.
  • Do expect that your child will come home tired, hungry and smelly. Don’t mention it. That’s part of being on the program. Ask them before they go on their trip what they’d like for dinner when they return – favourites I know of are roast, sushi, lasagna, Thai food, pizza or fruit salad.
  • Don’t be surprised by the lack of dirty clothes. When you’re living outdoors you tend to wear the same things over and over again (particularly boys – I have a son!). For a five-day program you only see a couple of pairs of underwear and one t-shirt – don’t worry. They were doing exactly what they should have – lived in the moment and disregarded fashion.
  • It’s not your experience – it’s theirs. Let their stories unfold when they return. They may not bubble out of them straight away or you may not be able to shut them up. Allow their stories to be their stories. Quiz them. Challenge them. Encourage them. Look to the growth within the time they’ve spent away rather than the negative.

Parents students outdoor education

  • My final tip is, and I have mentioned it in my previous post – do not let them take any technology on a program. This is the one chance to disconnect from the WWW and reconnect with themselves and others around them. Anyway, the network is often available anyway and they’ll run out of charge within 24 hours. These days we are all so used to being able to speak to our kids, look up what the weather is doing next week, find out footy scores, Google anything – but I beg you to give your child space to just ‘be’. Allow them to soak up their environment without the distractions from technology and you. As a parent, I know this can be hard but believe me, it’s worth it for them and for you.

Now it’s your turn.

How have you found your experiences send your children off on camp?

How have they coped?

What advice would you offer other parents?

Leave a comment below.


  1. Bennie on November 5, 2018 at 9:37 am

    Like the way, you addressed the issues in Part 1 and then answered them here in Part 2. And really, kids can’t cut vegetables? Yikes.

    • deborah on November 6, 2018 at 9:00 am

      Bennie, unfortunately, yes. The most times I would open my first aid kit would be for a bandaid after a child has cut themselves trying to slice an apple, a carrot, a tomato. They aren’t used to using a knife and certainly not cutting a hard vegetable such as a carrot.

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