Around the campfire
Each year in the spring, the Kindergarten plans a day of camping to celebrate Cc days. The Kindergarten my second year here made the first plans. They decided that a school day of camping was enough for Kindergarten and every group since has agreed.

The Younger Group has its overnight camp here at the school. The Older Group has three days at Kiser Lake, and Kindergarten has their day of camping.

This year the children were excited to make their camp plans. I filled them in on what had been done by past groups — how we usually camp past the Cycle Circle Side of the playground where you can’t see the school, but can still walk back to use the bathroom, how I bring a very large tent and everyone helps put it up, and how we usually have a campfire.

They unanimously chose to roast marshmallows for our camp day afternoon snack. Then they quickly decided they wanted to stay at camp all day — for both snacks, lunch, songs, stories, everything! There was some discussion about camping on the Golf Course, but ultimately they decided to camp in the traditional spot beyond the Cycle Circle Side of the playground. They agreed to make trail mix for morning snack, selected several stories to take with us — Freckle Face Strawberry and The Tales Julian Tells (which we were in the middle of reading) — and figured out that no one could bring a warm up for lunch since our microwave is inside. Lucy and Henry volunteered to bring their teepee, assuring us that they could set it up themselves, and everyone could play in it. They also wanted to bring our class kite and stomp rockets. 

At snack that day the children dictated the following letter about their camping plans:

Dear Parents,
We’re camping at school tomorrow for the kids. Bring your sleeping bag, if you want to. Bring your lunch box with no warm ups. We are going to eat outside. Put on sunscreen, if you want to. We’ll take lots of walks. We are planning to stay outside most of the day.
Love,
Kindergarten

Our camping day dawned with the promise of beautiful weather in store. It turned out to be one of the warmest, sunniest, and windiest days of spring so far. We began our camp preparations inside. Merida, Lucy, and Henry met me at the front door. “We were here before you!” they shouted with delight. I laughed, “Well, this is my second time here. I had to go back home to get these.” I held up a bag of marshmallows. “I forgot them!”

In the middle of the class library, we started a pile of supplies to go to camp — sleeping bags, lunches, water bottles, the teepee, and the Mammoth (the three-room tent I bring from home). We washed our hands and made a batch of trail mix. The children used fabric markers to decorate camp caps. Then we washed off the school’s little red wagon to ferry our supplies to camp. For the first trip out each Kindergarten carried her/his own sleeping bag. The Mammoth went on the wagon, along with the snacks, books, and fire starting supplies. We left our lunches for trip two. 

We parked our wagon and deposited our supplies by a tree. The children looked back and noted with some disappointment, “We can still see the school.” The long winter and late arrival of spring meant that the trees were not as leafed out as on past Kindergarten camping trips, and the school was indeed visible from where we cached our first load of supplies. “Do you want to go farther?” I asked. “Let’s put the tent here!” Merida announced.  Everyone approached the spot where Merida was standing and realized that if we put the tent there, close enough to the trees, we couldn’t see the school anymore. 

With a satisfactory tent location determined, we went back for our lunches. On our third and final supply trip from school, four Kindergartners carried the metal fire pit back to camp, but not before one final bathroom trip, letting MJ know our location, and leaving a note for Jack, who had yet to arrive at school.

Here is the note that the children taped on the door (along with a paper airplane) for Jack:

Dear Jack,
We will be camping out of bounds, when you get here. We want you to know that you might not be able to see us. Go down the hill on Cycle Circle Side and walk around to where you see our wagon.
Love,
Lucy, Sophia, Violet, Henry, Merida

Our first task in camp was to set up the tent. Setting up a tent can be a challenge for even an experienced camper, so this process is always an interesting and amazing one for me and our group of five and six year olds. The Mammoth has three rooms and is basically like putting together three separate tents that then can be attached to each other and staked down. The wind makes it that much more difficult, and this was a particularly windy day. 

The children quickly pitched in with each one finding an important role to play. Henry was the pole builder and re-builder. The tent has been around awhile, and the elastic that holds the poles together is somewhat stretched out. After helping build the poles and laying them out, Henry carefully watched them as they were pushed through the appropriate tent sleeves, stopping us and rebuilding the poles as needed. Merida helped push the poles through, and Lucy and Sophia were chief pole catchers on the other end. 

The Mamoth tent

I shared the story of the year the Kindergartners had to rescue the tent that was blowing away. That year, while several of the children were not engaged in putting up the tent, one of the parts we had put up but was not yet staked down began to blow away. I was very focused on building another part of the tent and didn’t see it. The children yelled to me, but quickly realized that I already had my hands full. The tent was blowing end over end across the field, when some of the Kindergartners chased it down and brought it back. Violet really took this story to heart and became the official tent holder, faithfully staying with the tent pod until it could be attached and staked down. The entire group stayed engaged until the tent was up and secure. 

Here are the rules the Kindergartners decided they needed for tent use while camping:

No pushing the tent.
No pushing people in the tent.
No tricks in the tent.
No shoes in the tent.

At that point Jack arrived, delighted to have found us and the fully constructed Mammoth.  In short order, he realized that we did not have any band-aids with us and made a trip back to school to get a band-aid for himself and a few extras to have at camp — just in case. 

By this time, everyone was ready for a re-fueling. We broke out the trail mix for morning snack. While we ate, the children discussed having stories in the tent. Could they be in their sleeping bags for stories? It was decided that I would be in the middle room of the tent with the book. By turning their sleeping bags towards the middle room, they would be able to see the book. In this way, we had a very cozy reading of Freckle Face Strawberry.

Stomp rocketsWe had a wonderful day for kite flying, and after snack the children busied themselves by taking turns flying our kite. Everyone took many turns launching the stomp rockets as well. They enjoyed experimenting with different launch trajectories and observing the effects of the wind. Lucy and Henry’s teepee was also utilized and proved to be infinitely simpler to erect than the Mammoth.

The children ate lunch in the middle room (known as the living room) of the Mammoth.  This part of the tent has no floor so food and shoes are okay. After lunch, the children relaxed in the tent until they decided that it was time to take our first walk. 

Due to the late spring, no poison ivy was up yet, so we took advantage of this unusual occurrence and headed out to explore the woods along Allen Street. Some of the children had explored here outside of the school day and were happy to show us the little tunnel (an older, smaller version of our current playground tunnels) and the benches in the clearing.  By the time we arrived back at camp, Brian was waiting for us. He had come to spend the afternoon in camp.

By this time, the Kindergartners had marshmallows on their minds, so we trudged to the edge of the Hundred Acre Woods at the corner of Allen and Corry Streets (also home of the Older Group’s Enchanted Forest) along with our wagon. With much searching each Kindergartner found a stick, perfect in length and width and sharpened to a marshmallow-spearing point by one of the adults’ trusty pocket knives. We also found a wagon-load of small sticks for kindling for our fire. After depositing our firewood near the fire pit and stowing our marshmallow sticks under a tree, we returned to the Hundred Acre Woods to explore. At some point in the woods, Violet realized her camp cap was missing. We retraced our path, and in case the wind had carried it, explored farther afield. It was nowhere to be found.  (Violet found it in her sleeping bag after our afternoon snack!)

At last it was time to make our campfire. We started by building a teepee of logs. We put fat wood and newspaper in the teepee, and then added the smaller sticks we had collected earlier. Because of the strong wind, we weren’t sure if the fire would take off or get blown out. Everyone remembered safe behavior near the fire. A few children enjoyed adding kindling.

When the fire was ready for marshmallow roasting, most of the children tried their hand at it. A few children preferred their marshmallows raw. Henry provided entertainment by catching his marshmallow on fire and blowing it out. When everyone was full of marshmallows and granola bars, they still had time to enjoy camp and have a little more tent time.

Before we knew it, it was time to break camp and go back to school for our end of the school day jobs and stories. The Kindergartners each rolled up their own sleeping bags, helped load the wagon, and conducted a last sweep of camp to make sure we weren’t leaving anything behind. They were so efficient that they even had time to do a little sketching of their camp experience once we were back in our room. 

This year’s Kindergarten camping was a microcosm of this group’s Kindergarten year. Their cooperative spirit, overwhelming enthusiasm, and remarkable competence shone through while camping, as it had throughout their time together this year. I have camped with many diverse groups of people, from the coast of Maine to the shores of Prince Williams Sound. I can honestly say that no group had better teamwork or a more positive attitude than the Kindergarten campers. There’s a special place in my heart for them and for our little camp site behind the trees just out of sight of Antioch School.

This article was written by Lindie Keaton and printed in the 2014 Active Learners Journal published by the Antioch School.

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