I have taught in a parochial school for over 35 years, and although academics is an extremely important part of our curriculum, it is not the most important part. We are most concerned with our students' spiritual growth, how they value themselves and each other, and how they live a faith-filled life. To this end our entire day, including academics, is built upon a faith foundation.
To help foster a sense of God's community within my sixth grade class and really motivate my students to live their Christian beliefs I involve my kiddos in an overnight camping trip (really an old-fashioned youth retreat).
We leave school on a late Thursday morning and travel about 30 minutes with all of our camping paraphernalia by bus to a beautiful nearby camp. Located directly on the southern shore of Lake Erie it is one of the most beautiful areas in our county. The presence of God is evident everywhere you look. God's gorgeous creation is just awesome!
Once we arrive, we settle into our lodgings and get started with team building activities. These activities are designed to help us learn to appreciate our talents as well as the talents of our classmates. We focus on problem solving, relying on each other, following directions, trying to succeed in a non-competitive environment.
The second day is all about God: God's beautiful creation, how we fit into God's creation, how we care for creation, what is our purpose in God's creation... some pretty serious stuff for 11-12 year olds.
A large part of this day is spent on a nature/scavenger hunt into the woods and along the lakeshore.
Next we gather in the arts and crafts building to create an artistic collage of our time spent together.
We end our stay at camp with an inspiring prayer service, held in a simple chapel built from felled trees during the building of the camp more than 60 years ago. Who wouldn't be spiritually inspired in this quaint building?
My students were required to keep a journal of their experiences, noting their feelings and experiences; however, they were unable to finish the journal before we left camp. Many of the activities were purposefully not completed (our lives are not yet completed and are a work in progress) and will serve as starting points for discussions and additional activities throughout the school year. We will integrate our camping experience into all of our academic courses, from writing about it to creating a power point presentation, from doing science investigations to researching about fauna and flora we observed and especially into our prayer and spiritual life, our life lessons.
I can't wait for Monday morning to hear and see how my students have been motivated by this wonderful experience!