“Either push your limits or suffocate in your comfort zone”. Arun Purang
When it comes to school trips, seeing children grow, mature and push themselves out of their comfort zones is what matters. I see this happening on every trip I am involved in, whether it be clambering across the ruins at Farleigh Castle, volunteering for role play at the Mary Rose Museum or riding the rollercoasters at Paulton’s Park. However, it is the residential trips that really allow children to open up and push themselves and these are the trips I wish to focus on here.
I totally understand that staying away from home for the first time can be a daunting prospect for even the hardiest and most confident of children, but I am yet to be on a school trip where a child doesn’t sleep, or where a child doesn’t eat or where a child doesn’t smile. After all, they are surrounded by friends (who are remarkable at rallying around even the most homesick of children) and by experienced staff; most of whom are parents themselves or have vast experience working with children.
A lot of children’s worries come unwittingly from their parents, “I won’t be there to listen to you read, is that ok?”, “I’m really going to miss you whilst you’re away, will you miss me?” are all sure-fire ways to make your children worry about the impending residential stay. Turn it around your heads and it will turn in theirs; “what a great adventure you’re going to have with your friends”, “you’ll be fine without me, you’ll have your friends with you, it’s a giant sleepover” might perhaps be the better approach. There will of course be children with more-complex social or medical needs and we will always plan for these by discussing them with parents and putting together a strategy. We have heard about most things and it doesn’t faze us; and as the saying goes, ‘to be forewarned is to be forearmed’; if we know about it then we can plan and we can help.
As educators we see the importance of educating the whole child in a holistic way and it cannot all be done in a classroom, on a stage or the sports field. We need to encourage the children to push their limits and not let them suffocate in their comfort zones and this is done by taking them away from the perceived safety of familiarity; sleeping in a new bed, following a different routine, sharing a room with peers, eating unfamiliar food and using a different bathroom all contribute to this. Add in trying to organise one’s own belongings, remembering to hang out wet clothing and muddy shoes, packing your own day bag or remembering where you last had your teddy all add to challenges children are able to overcome. We don’t however expect the children to do all this for themselves; the children might think they do but I have lost count of the bags of wet clothing I’ve found lying in the corner of a drying room that are miraculously dry in the morning.
We are very much looking forward to the Year 5 & 6 adventure trip to North Devon and Year 3’s outdoor learning trip to Devizes; there will be those children who look at a climbing wall and say “I can’t climb that” but will manage to get to the 10th rung on the ladder, there will be others who fly up the climbing wall but then freeze when it is time to do the ‘leap of faith’ and there will be those children who can climb up and jump without a second thought; but all of them will finish with a smile on their faces having overcome their own personal challenge.
We will also see the emergence of leaders on trips; there will be a large number of those children who look out for their friends, quietly hanging out their wet clothing for them or helping them find their lost teddy. There will be those children who suffer from homesickness but shortening the time between ‘activity’ and bedtime always helps, give them a job or some responsibility or a challenge to live up to or speak to them about their achievements and they will be fine.
As we are emerging from COVID lockdowns and restrictions many of these children will have not been exposed to our carefully planned, deliberate progression to residential trips at Heywood. It is normal that Year 3 attend a one-night residential close to home, Year 4 go on a Sports Tour for a night but further afield and usually visit a few different venues for fixtures and training (this really tests the personal organisation, especially when we change sports on the second day!) and then Year 5 & 6 will attend a four-night residential each year.
So, how can parents help their children to prepare for a residential trip? With COVID restrictions we understand that children won’t have had sleepovers with friends or at grandparents and it is important that these opportunities are offered again, tell the children they will be fine, tell them it will be fun, pack their favourite teddy and send them on their way; by all means worry about them but don’t show the children you are worrying. Give them the kit list and ask them to pack their own bags for their stay, see if they remember to put their coat in the car when you go out on a family day trip, task them to pack their own school bags, make sure they’ve got their own shin pads and gumshields for fixtures and carry their own bags to and from school; all these things will help with autonomy and personal organisation. Of course, they won’t get it all right and will forget things, but you, as parents will be like me in the drying room; mopping up behind them and making sure they are fully prepared for the day.
I am looking forward to helping organise more trips for the children at Heywood. After all, there is nothing better than a mass bedtime story in the common room with your friends in your onesie sharing a hot chocolate at the end of a fun-filled day. Oh, and if they forget their teddy they can borrow mine, he’s called Rolland (the rat from the TV programme- remember him?) and is as old as me; he goes on every residential trip and has helped lots of homesick children! Roll on Devon and Devizes!