A month seems a long time out of school. It probably seems even longer to the pupils of Auckland's St Cuthbert's College who spend a month in a remote outdoor education centre in the Bay of Plenty without smartphones, iPads or any access to the internet that seems so necessary to life today. For 14 and 15-year-old girls it must be particularly disorienting. They have grown up with the internet. The devices that connect them to the world and each other appear to occupy all their waking, and walking, moments.
Yet they do fine, principal Lynda Reid says in our feature today. "You do without social media for a month and you realise you are not defined by it. The vast majority of girls come away understanding they have greater internal strength and resources than they realised."
It still seems a big bite out of a school year, but Reid says it does them no harm. She cites a year-by-year improvement in their exam results over the 10 years the month-long outdoor education experience has been provided.
As schools re-open this week, many teenagers will be looking forward to a camp or some other school programme to take advantage of the settled February weather. It is often said the school year should end later and start later to suit New Zealand's oceanic climate. The sea is reaching its warmest temperatures of the year about now, which makes this long weekend and next week's ideal public holidays. But our warmest month is not wasted if schools ensure pupils are occupied outside and not sitting in stifling classrooms.
In fact, schools that organise camps well away from familiar surroundings and leave the phones at home are making better use of the summer than most of their pupils would if they were at home on holiday.
There were fears late last year that school camps might become victims of health and safety liabilities in new legislation. It is to be hoped that was an overreaction. Principals and boards should trust the good sense of those who apply the law and not let it deprive students of the fun and friendship that comes from a trip away together, cooking, doing chores and getting out in the fresh air.
If the phones are off, so much the better. It may be a groundless adult fear that young people are not developing the arts of face-to-face conversation, with relaxed eye contact and listening. Teenage males were in their own world before new technology. Social media is their new world and it is not going away.
But even a week without it would be a useful reality check; a month would be an achievement. With any luck the experience will last for life.