School Cancels Camping Trip Because It Involves Camping Activities

Readers rzrdzhezks
— Let this not be the future of fun (from The Toronto Star):

Staff and Grade 8 students at an inner-city Toronto school were looking forward to the three-day graduation trip to an idyllic nature camp in Eastern Ontario — until they were informed they couldn’t canoe, kayak or try archery.

And swimming, rope activities and campfires? Only if “sufficient proof of safety” was provided ahead of time, along with “a script of safety routines and insurance in case of injuries.” With the requested documentation and swim tests near-impossible to complete before kids were to leave June 10, the trip fell to pieces, staff say.

Instead, the kids will get a standard-issue one day trip to Niagara Falls.

So much for connecting with nature, trying new activities and having a mini-adventure. And last year, when I spoke at the Society of Camp Directors convention in Ontario, I met this camp’s co-owner, Sol Birenbaum, who’s the most dedicated, kid-centered Free-Ranger on earth. In the article he is quoted saying:

“Amesbury was one of the first schools to come to Walden,” said camp co-owner Sol Birenbaum. “That was seven years ago, and we were so proud they trusted us to send their kids to us.”

Now, about 31 schools visit each year, and he’s not aware of any disapproving the camp, though some do opt out of activities or send questions ahead of time requesting safety information.

He said the camp’s safety requirements exceed those of the school board.

“Somewhere, there was a breakdown,” he said, adding he’s reached out to the school “because this particular program is so special to us, we wanted to let (the superintendent) know that we are willing to do whatever it takes to reinstate this case.”

But he did not wish to lay blame. “I think this is a paperwork problem, not a person problem.”

“If me and the teacher and the superintendent were sitting around a table, we could hash this out in four minutes, but that’s just not the way it works.”

Why can’t that be the way it works — caring people, sitting around, making good things happen? Why is “thinking of the kids” so often interpreted as, “thinking of ways to stop them from doing things,” as if that’s more responsible than trying to resolve the issues and go forward? 

What are KIDS doing here??? (Photo from Camp Walden website)

What are KIDS doing here??? (Photo from Camp Walden website)

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18 Responses to School Cancels Camping Trip Because It Involves Camping Activities

  1. tamara June 1, 2014 at 12:41 am #

    at least this doesn’t happen everywhere…just picked my 7th grade daughter up from her school’s camping trip yesterday…they went swimming, fishing, and climbed a big ol’ rock wall….oh and no swim tests beforehand either…

  2. Stephanie June 1, 2014 at 1:16 am #

    So glad my daughter’s school isn’t like that. She was just at camp last week, with archery, a rock climbing wall, canoeing, night hikes and more. There would have been swimming if the weather had permitted, but there was snow up at the lake one of the nights they were there, so definitely much too cold for swimming. The cold weather was quite a shock – southern California (mountains), we barely had anything to call a winter this year, so of course there was a cold snap while the kids were at camp. Good thing I checked the weather report before my daughter left; she hadn’t wanted to even bring a jacket, insisting a single sweater would be plenty.

  3. Sandi June 1, 2014 at 2:19 am #

    So sad.

  4. gap.runner June 1, 2014 at 2:47 am #

    And they wonder why this generation of kids is called a generation of wimps….

    Some of my favorite childhood memories were at a summer day camp that I attended from ages 7 to 9 in the late ’60s. I went horseback riding, jumped on trampolines, climbed up to a treehouse that had a long (metal) slide, did archery, shot BB guns, fished, did arts and crafts, and went swimming. The counselors gave the kids brief safety tips on archery, shooting, and jumping on the trampolines. Then we were free to do those activities. The only swimming test I took was to determine if I was in the the beginning, intermediate, or advanced group. During the last week of camp there was a sleepover with a campfire. Everyone roasted marshmallows on sticks, made s’mores, and ate junk food. I pity kids in the States (and Canada too) because their camp experiences will be restricted due to so many safety regulations.

  5. David Hartstein June 1, 2014 at 8:02 am #

    I don’t know what Canadian rules are but in New York State any approved camp must meet a standard safety test prior to opening for the season. This includes all the items noted in the article; insurance, emergency procedures, insurance, safety requirements/procedures for archery, climbing and other activities. The swim test is generally administered by the staff on the first day of camp.
    Sounds like there was some miscommunication and over protective parents.

  6. Emily June 1, 2014 at 8:48 am #

    I was the one who posted this article (well, showed it to Lenore to post). As for swimming tests, I’m not against those–they were part of the first-day ritual (or second day, if it was raining on the first day) at the summer camp I attended in my youth (Camp Kitchikewana, if anyone’s interested). We had to swim from the swimming area to the boating area, any style, no time limit. It was only about 75 metres, so most people passed, and were designated as “green tag.” Those who didn’t pass were designated as “red,” and those who came close to passing got “yellow.” Green taggers only had to be lifeguarded while swimming/boating/whatever (and swim with a buddy), whereas yellow taggers needed to be supervised more closely, and red taggers needed a counsellor right with them, and weren’t allowed in the deep end without a life jacket. Anyway, I actually think that swimming tests are a good idea, from a Free-Range perspective, because they recognize that every camper is different, rather than making overly restrictive, blanket rules for everyone, like that one story about the Girl Scout camp. Also, at Kitchi, the swimming test could be re-taken at any time throughout the session, and if someone got their green tag this way, it’d be celebrated at the next meal–there’d be an announcement about how “Today was a special day at the waterfront, because Joey got his Go For Green.” Then, Joey would get to move a green peg down one notch on the giant wooden thermometer that measured how many people at camp didn’t have their green tag.

    Anyway, my point is, systems like this, that allow kids freedoms and privileges in line with their level of responsibility, maturity, or, in this case, swimming ability, may seem bureaucratic. However, I think that they’re much better than “No fun for anyone, ever, because something went wrong one time years ago/someone, somewhere couldn’t handle it/nothing has ever actually happened, but what if it did?” The fact is, some people might remember a time when the default was “We assume everyone can do it, so everyone is given a “green” level of freedom from the start,” but nowadays, with the worst-first, litigious culture being what it is, there are too many people determined to keep everyone at “red,” for everything, forever.

    Assuming everyone is at “green” can be disastrous too, because that’s obviously not the case (and has led to a fair number of mishaps and lawsuits), but confining everyone to “red” is also detrimental, because it prevents people from doing what they’re capable of–and I say “people,” and not just “kids,” because it applies to adults as well. For example, I teach yoga at a chain gym near my house, and I love it, except for the fact that I’m not allowed to teach Shoulder Stand or Plow. I know perfectly well how to cue those poses safely, they’re not dangerous if they’re executed properly, and they’d definitely be poses where I’d walk around and supervise/help if I was allowed to teach them…….but, because of the gym’s insurance regulations, that can never happen. I actually had to tell a girl in my class to come out of Plow once. I felt so badly about it, because that’s one of my favourite poses, and I told her so. She told me that she used to be a gymnast, but the rules are the same for everyone. A few minutes later, she left my class, in the middle of the routine, and hasn’t been back. If the gym had had a different system, and allowed people to teach the more “risky” poses if they could prove they could do it safely (like maybe during the movement audition), then that girl would have probably stayed in my class, had a positive experience, and possibly come back. Now, I’m not complaining; I love teaching at that gym, I’m just bummed that I might have ruined yoga for someone by following the rules.

  7. SKL June 1, 2014 at 9:03 am #

    At that age, they should allow the students to vote, sign a waiver (or opt out), and be done with it.

    As for swimming dangers, the older I get, the more I believe that every kid needs to learn how to swim as early and as well as practical. It would be great if they could include that in school curriculum. That would remove the need for “swim tests” at any extracurricular activities.

    When my kids were non-swimmers, I used to be paranoid about water. Possibly because I’m not the best swimmer myself. But as soon as they were able to swim to the side of a pool, I stopped worrying. It’s very freeing. If I ever take swimming lessons myself, I’ll probably be even more relaxed about it.

  8. Donna June 1, 2014 at 9:38 am #

    I think swim tests are fine. I remember taking them at camp and our neighborhood lake when I was a kid in the 70s so it is not like this is some new invention.

    I do wish that our county camps had a centralized system so that my kid only had to take one swim test each summer. Our county leisure services department sponsors lots of great day camps, several of which have a swimming component, and most kids go to multiple different camps each summer. Since none of the camps share information, they all have swim tests on the first day of each camp week. My daughter will end up taking 6 camp swimming tests this summer. That seems a bit redundant, especially considering that my child is on the county swim team (run through the exact same agency) so clearly can swim.

  9. Emmy June 1, 2014 at 10:54 am #

    As a former BSA camp counselor, I believe in safety rules. And the safety rules I believe in are simple, efficient, and based on common sense. Swim checks at camp so those running waterfront can assess a kid’s reaction to the local water. Assessment at other skill levels. Preventative safety measures at shooting ranges. Usually the kids receive lessons!

    Safety should not be so much drama! I agree a four-minute hash session would have solved everything.

  10. Emily June 1, 2014 at 11:16 am #

    I agree with Emmy. There’s nothing wrong with “safety first,” as long as it just means “first” in the temporal sense–as in, “First, we’ll tell the kids the safety rules of the swimming area, and see how well they can swim, and then, we’ll let them enjoy the water”; or “First, we’ll have an information session on safety rules, necessary equipment, which adults are First Aid and CPR certified, etc., and then we’ll all go on a camping trip together.” In other words, in institutional settings like schools and summer camps, it should be “Safety first, and then let’s have some fun,” rather than “Safety only, to the exclusion of fun.” The problem happens when people get the two concepts mixed up, and then everyone debates it for a while, and often, the “Safety Only” folks end up winning……and the would-be participants end up losing.

  11. Emily June 1, 2014 at 12:02 pm #

    Also, one caveat about swimming tests/different rules for different ability groupings: I think it’s a good idea, as long as the lower levels allow kids to practice their swimming skills, so that they can eventually advance to the higher, less restrictive levels. So, the YMCA that forced all the kids who scored the equivalent of “red” to stay in the shallow end, in life jackets, within arm’s reach of an adult, until an arbitrary age cut-off, got it dead wrong, because their system means that “non-swimmers” (and “developing swimmers”) will never have the chance to strengthen their aquatic prowess, and become “swimmers.” My old summer camp (which was and is ironically a YMCA camp) got it right, by allowing the opportunity for kids to practice and improve.

  12. Emmy June 1, 2014 at 2:39 pm #

    At my waterfront I taught swim lessons! Kids coukd retest whenever they wanted. Within rules, doesn’t restrict kids.

  13. Stacy June 1, 2014 at 5:23 pm #

    Our elementary school used to take fifth graders on several-day camping trip each year. Although there were no water activities, the kids had fun and learned a little independence. High school students acted as counselors and learned valuable skills too. Somehow, that has been replaced with a day trip to a historical site involving a very long bus ride each way, and nearly every student brings a parent as chaperone. My child did not want me to come, until he realized EVERY other student in his class was bringing a parent and he felt awkward about being the only one who would have to tag along with a parent/child duo.

  14. Jenny Islander June 1, 2014 at 5:34 pm #

    I’m happy to say that my local Girl Scout leaders, who don’t want my daughter to walk a block by herself because of mad snatchers,* decided that the midwinter all-troop event was going to be about fire safety. As in, how to create a waterproof fire kit to take with you on a float plane or skiff, and how to use it to start a fire even with snow on the ground.

    *I decided to take a suggestion from a poster here and just let my daughter go down to the community festival by herself to do four hours of cleanup with another Girl Scout and a grown-up volunteer, even though there was a threat of “three strikes and she’s out” hanging over my head. You know what? Not. A. Peep.

  15. Cin June 2, 2014 at 1:06 am #

    Kids in the public schools in Yellowknife are taken on a caribou hunt. In winter.
    This is utter nonsense.

  16. Paula June 3, 2014 at 7:16 am #

    I remember as a kid, my mom was a Girl Scout leader and we were scheduled to go on an overnight camping trip but it got cancelled because at the last minute my mom and other moms deemed the idea ‘unsafe’. We actually got to the campsite and turned around! And all the kids were mad me because my mom is the one that gave the order to turn back.

  17. Nico June 10, 2014 at 10:11 am #

    Chiming in really late, but I had severe asthma as a kid.

    It didn’t stop my mom from packing me off to camp every summer, one that was equipped for asthma/allergic/medical issue’d kids. Some had PICC lines, others needed multiple breathing treatments, medications. The food was geared for the allergies, but allergic kids also had to bring their own safe foods.

    So what did we do? We swam. hiked into the mountains. We crafted. We rode bikes, kayaked, rock climbing, ice-caving, and every last thing every other kid did at camp. They just had a slightly bigger medical staff and we were maybe 30 min from the nearest hospital. Not once in the 6 years I went, was there ever a severe incident.

    And later, I worked at a similar camp. I loved every minute of those summer camps.

    Give kids structure and rules, and freedom with in that, and give em a nudge. I honestly can’t wait to pack my kid off to summer camp and to grandma’s ( who has a lakeside cabin). He’s only 11months but we have adventures planned.


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