On home turf

13th February 2004 at 00:00
Why pay for camping when you can use your own grounds? Gary Hayden visits a school that does just that

Camping offers excitement and adventure, promotes independence and teamwork, and can lead to a lifelong interest in the outdoors. But planning it can be a nightmare. There's transport to arrange, equipment to find, staffing to organise, and health and safety issues to consider.

Wendy Hayden, of Green Lane community special school in Warrington, Cheshire, has found a way of simplifying things. Each year, she and her class camp out in the school grounds.

"I enjoy camping," she says. "So I wanted my pupils to experience living outdoors. And camping at school makes a lot of sense: there are no transport worries or site fees, it's easy for staff to lend a hand, we can use the school's bathroom facilities, and we have emergency access to the school building during the night.

"The grounds are a safe environment, easy to supervise so I can allow the children a lot of freedom. And because the activity takes place at school, and is run by school staff, there are no insurance worries."

Green Lane has 120 pupils with moderate or severe learning difficulties.

Last summer, Mrs Hayden camped out with all 13 members of her mixed Year 45 class. The event took place over two days, with one night under canvas.

Wendy Dolphin, a teaching assistant, helped to run the camp, and three other staff helped out overnight.

The pupils slept in two large family tents, each supervised by an adult.

They brought their own sleeping bags, and used PE mats as mattresses. For cooking, the group relied on staff camping stoves and the school's barbecue. The total cost of the camp was pound;150 - most of which was spent on meals and excursions. Each family contributed pound;5, and the school chipped in the rest.

The children produced packing lists, a shopping list, and a programme of activities (using symbols for non-readers). The tents were set up before school so when the children arrived they were able to move straight in, under the envious eyes of their schoolmates. Over the two days they went shopping in town, tenpin bowling, held an evening barbecue, and went on a ranger-led walk through a local park.

Pupils were unanimous in praise of their adventure. One girl said simply, "It's the best thing I've done in school."

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