If anyone is looking for an idea for a new reality show, they might consider a scenario where 28 schoolkids (ages 10-14) and four adults are sent into the forest for two days. For maximum drama, make sure that the kids in the cooking groups are all vegetarian and the rest love their meat, that none of the kids in the raft and fire building groups have ever used tools, and that the treasure hunt group consists of five kids with illegible handwriting and questionable spelling.
When it comes to sleeping arrangements, let them spend an agonizing week beforehand endlessly discussing the various scenarios of who could and would share a tent with whom until they finally, finally, arrived at their groups of four. Upon arriving at the campsite, supply them with tents for groups of two or three.
Make sure that the cell phone reception is bad, that the one toilet is a quarter of a mile away from the site, and that none of the adults had the foresight to bring a six-pack for after hours.
I did, however, remember to bring my potato peeler.
The first time we did this camping trip with our school four years ago, an insufficient number of (second rate) potato peelers was the first source of conflict and drama. So in Year Two I brought my good one from home. Unfortunately, it kept disappearing. So in Year Three I arrived with the peeler hanging from a ribbon around my neck, instantly creating a new Raft Camp Legend. When someone wanted to use it, they were first ceremoniously knighted into the Sacred Order of the Defenders of the Holy Potato Peeler with strict instructions on their new responsibilities and the conditions under which they could pass those (and the peeler) on.
Potato peeling is no longer a problem – it seems everyone wants their turn at it now.
Between setting up camp, making lunch and eating it, building rafts and riding them, burying treasures and then unburying them, making dinner and eating it, the first day was exhaustingly full. Late in the evening, the soothing effect of the campfire was counteracted by the sugar induced energy burst from roasted marshmallows, chocolate and cookies (“S’mores” – a little American tradition I introduced to Raft Camp three years ago, much to the consternation of my fellow teachers.) The traditional Begging for the Postponing of the Bedtime began and this year it was relentless. At two minutes before 10 pm, we were on the verge of acquiescing – and the kids all knew it – when suddenly the Great Peeled Potato in the Sky smile down upon us and it started to drizzle. It was more mist than rain – just enough to make a sound on the roofs of the tents, not enough to soak through an Irish wool sweater jacket. Within two minutes all the kids were in their tents. 10 minutes later the drizzle stopped. 20 minutes after that, all was quiet.
It would have been the perfect moment for that missing six-pack.
Day Two. After a long and relaxed breakfast around the campfire, the morning consisted basically of taking apart all the work done on Day One. Rafts were unbuilt. Tents were taken down. Tables and benches were returned. Clothes and sleeping bags were repacked. It was at this point that I realized we could use a few more motivators like the Holy Potato Peeler. The kids had taken more responsibility for planning and realizing projects this year, but there is so much more work involved that they don’t recognize. And there wasn’t a lot of spontaneous volunteering going on. So we teachers just kept asking whatever unfortunate kid was nearest us to do this or that. Sometimes it got tiring.
One group was particularly oblivious. They were sitting around the fire as the camping site was slowly being dismantled around them. As one bench or chair after another was carried off, they fought over the last remaining seats, piling up two or three to a chair. Each time I walked by, I pointed out to them how all the other kids were helping, and each time that got a few more of them to pitch in. Finally there were just two left, one boy sitting on the last remaining chair, the other boy on his lap. I walked past them and then stopped and turned around.
“I hate to interrupt this special moment you two are having, but that chair has to be brought back to the house now.”
They were out of that chair so fast it made my head spin. They carried it together to the house, laughing the entire way.