Autumn is almost in the air. Today, I looked out of the kitchen window to see the leaves on the garden tree fall, softly, slowly to the ground. Marks and Spencers have switched their clothes to a new season’s range and ‘Back To School’ stationery, socks, shoes and uniforms are proclaimed across the high streets. To go back to school this year will be a mix of emotions for parents, teachers and students alike. There has been and continues to be so much anxiety swelling and surging through people. The anxiety of Covid, the anxiety of variants, the anxiety of money, the anxiety of a vaccine, the anxiety of other people. We now fear our friends. The arms and hands that once reached out to us in comfort or in play, are now dosed in anti-bac gel before they can feel safe. The impact of this upon children and young people can not be underestimated. They need to feel confident once more, to find their feet in ‘unprecedented’ times of uncertainty and fear.
The good old-fashioned school trip is the perfect opportunity to inspire confidence in students. In one day you can offer a child a chance of a lifetime, memories to cherish and plant a seed of the person they grow to become. Dorset Adventure Park is the perfect place to take schools in a time when fresh air, outdoor activities, fun and adventure are more needed than ever. I held an online poll asking if people thought that school trips were essential to children’s well-being and life-experience. The vote was a unanimous 100% that this is the case. 100% of people also voted that a fun memory of a school trip has stayed with them as adults. Tellingly, one woman recalled, “I always thought school trips would be better without the clipboard and worksheet presented to you when you arrived!” People sharing their school trip stories inspired me to dig out the photo album of a school trip I took to Normandy at the age of about thirteen. Fun anecdote – my parents sent me on that trip with an out of date passport.
This trip, I assume, was to encourage our understanding of another culture, language and history. For some, it would have encouraged them to work harder and give context back in school. However, I think the true purpose of the trip was to give us a little taste of adventure and fun. To feel a little bit grown up, to have the responsibility to be somewhere different. One of the days we went to a water-park in Normandy. Did we absorb French culture from the water park and return as suave, shrugging, aloof youths of impossible glamour? No. Did we have the best fun as we plunged into the water? Yes. Did we encourage each other to try the bigger slides, hold hands when scared, and ultimately gain confidence for trying something exciting and daring ? Oui. That afternoon, we played a game of rounders on the long stretch of a Normandy beach. These beaches are synonymous with the D-Day landings and of the daring, bravery and tragedy of the soldiers who fought and died on those beaches. On our coach, we had driven past the fields of grave monuments to those soldiers. The white stone markers filled the landscape like a crop that grew up from the fields, where the soldiers fell and will never fold with the seasons. Yet, on those beaches, we ran. We hit the ball, we chased each other, we raced, we gave piggybacks and tested our strength – we played. Our teachers joined in. We bonded. The girls in my photographs, taken on a wind-up disposable camera, are the girls who are still among my closest friends today. We have lived and do live across the country and across the globe. Our lives are each different. Some are married, some are mothers, some of us have polar opposite careers and yet, the friendship remains.
As the backpacks are almost ready to be filled and thrown over shoulders once more, it is also the time for schools to take students out of the sterile environment of the classroom. The classroom provides a much-needed structure to learning. Yet, as we have seen there is a very real benefit a change of environment can be too stimulating and encouraging learning and motivation – for examples see blog posts, ‘Why A Team Building Day at Dorset Adventure Park Is The Best Thing You Can Do For Your Business’ and ‘Springing into Action: Why playing outdoors is so important for children and families’. Helen Dodd, a professor of child psychology at the University of Exeter recently told The Guardian, “I think there are many children who’ve got used to being in the house and being with their parents most of the time … they’ve kind of forgotten that the world is out there, and it’s fun to get outside and be active.” Children and young people need the stimulation of activity. It is how they grow and develop the skills to go out into the world. Through being active outside in social groups, they learn skills that mentally add to their tool kit, as well as developing the social skills that have been stunted by the various lockdowns. By giving children and young people the opportunity to get back outside, we are providing a time and space to find themselves again. To conquer fears, fling themselves off inflatable obstacle courses, to laugh together, to team build and cheer each other on as they scramble through the mud trail. It provides an opportunity to bond and to thrive. It might also plant the seed in a child that they can do something they once thought impossible, and it might even inspire the love of the outdoors in another. It allows them to take risks and test themselves, but in an environment that looks exciting but is safely monitored by trained lifeguards. They can climb up and over the obstacle, spread their fledgling wings and fly.
Words and Images by, Olivia Lowry