A College Course at Camp?

When we share with colleagues that the Community Recreation and Leadership Training (CRLT) program is taking students from all three years to camp for their Fall Outdoor Experience, we get a lot of varied responses and encounter a spectrum of reactions, from envy to curiosity.

Most people, even those who live for outdoor activities and immersion in Nature, are not aware of the benefits and learnings which take place when the whole CRLT department, students and faculty, pack up for a five-day intensive at a sleep away camp over Labour Day weekend.  With a focus on leadership of recreation activities, environmental & Nature awareness, understanding of health and safety for both outdoor activities and community living, personal growth, and community building, the course work for each year scaffolds on prior learning. The natural setting provides the opportunity for the faculty team to implement four truly experiential education-based courses.

Under the guidance of faculty, third-year students run the camp. Co-coordinators elected by their peers are responsible to, and for, the team of students who implement workshops, activities and special events planned in earlier courses. While acting as cabin leaders and managing logistics, students balance their program goals with participant needs, changing weather conditions, long days and short nights. Students gain an understanding of the demands of event planning, group dynamics and behaviour management at the outset of their final year, while building leadership, resilience, perseverance and critical thinking.

Second-year students are completely immersed in Nature. They integrate learning about outdoor leadership while focusing on the natural world, environmental awareness and social justice issues. This year, they found frogs, snakes and grasshoppers; explored a marsh; tasted natural teas and challenged the status quo. Their program cumulates when second-year students become the leaders of environmental workshops for first- and third-year students, giving each student a chance to lead, test their knowledge and apply their skills.

First-year students are the participants, exploring how to be effective followers, learning outdoor skills and discovering how to work as part of a group. They develop an understanding of the impact that recreational activities have on our environment and build an awareness of how communities can come together for good. By being immersed in the natural world, their new community and being a part of the camp variety show, many discover strengths and skills they were not aware they had.

For those who have not been involved with one, intensive courses are demanding. The students’ day begins with breakfast at 8 AM and continues until curfew at 11:30 PM, with a full day of course activities in between. However, when course material includes making bat houses to help reduce extinction; discover Nature based everyday items which can improve wellness; and learn how to build a fire, pitch a tent or rescue a dumped canoe; it is more appealing to put down your cell phone and participate. Reflective journaling, group sharing and many conversations over coffee ensure that the connections are made, and learnings reinforced.

So why camp? Because the great outdoors is the world’s first active-learning classroom and being a part of this positive social experience helps our hands-on learners to stay engaged, learn skills and become effective recreation leaders. As one student was overheard saying– “This is unlike any other course I have done – I wish all my classes could be like this!” Unfortunately, this is hard to do, but we know from the feedback of more than 1,000 CRLT alumni, that the Fall Outdoor intensives were essential to their growth as a student and their success as a professional. As educators we know, that it would be challenging for students to gain this deeper learning in traditional classrooms or city parks, so we get to go to camp as well.

For those intrigued by the transformative power of outdoor recreation, we invite you to explore the Community Recreation and Leadership Training program on the Dawson website, follow us on Instagram (@dawsoncollege.crlt) or stop by 3F.2 and say hello.

-Submitted by Heather Martin, CRLT Faculty

Last Modified: October 4, 2023