The issue - How to have a nice trip

30th January 2015 at 00:00
Residentials are tough but worth the effort. Try our survival guide

You spent the morning canoeing in the rain and the afternoon coaxing 60 children along a four-mile hike. Lunch was a limp cheese sandwich eaten in the drizzle and your after-dinner plans involve some team-building games before a bedtime of overexcitement and tears. You will then spend large portions of the night sitting in a corridor, intermittently ordering children to return to their bunk beds.

Welcome to the residential trip. It's a great opportunity to really get to know your pupils - and one of the biggest selfinflicted headaches in teaching. Survival requires stamina, both mental and physical, but you also need the skills to move the pupil-teacher relationship out of the classroom.

Children on residentials are an unknown quantity. Your toughest classroom miscreants can be as good as gold once you get them into a pair of wellies in the countryside. And your most biddable kids can surprise you with their wayward behaviour. You can never predict who is going to struggle - it's often the most confident members of the class who are sobbing down the phone by teatime. If you're setting off on a residential trip any time soon, here are some things to bear in mind.

Be sensitive to homesickness

For some students, being away from home overnight is completely overwhelming; I have never been on a residential where I didn't have to deal with homesick children. Keeping them busy helps (homesickness is often worse during periods of free time). If a child is really suffering, assign a couple of their kindest friends to looking after them; don't try to comfort them yourself too much, as extra attention from adults who aren't their parents can exacerbate the problem. Remind them what they would miss out on if they went home and how glad they will be that they stayed to the end of the trip.

Make sure families keep their distance

For many parents, this is the first time that they have been parted from their child overnight. The anxiety and stress often comes from them, not their children. You can help to reassure parents with a pre-trip meeting in school and a designated "phone home" time every day (preferably using a payphone). Primary-aged children should never be allowed to bring mobile phones on trips, but make sure all parents have a 24-hour contact number for emergencies and stick to agreed times and channels for communication. On one trip, I unwisely let some children use my mobile to call home - the result was one mother sending me hourly texts asking for updates on her daughter.

Push pupils' boundaries

A residential should be an opportunity for children to broaden their horizons and notch up new experiences. Try to get every pupil to do something outside their comfort zone, whether it's abseiling, canoeing or just being in the countryside (some of the kids will never have been this far from a KFC before). Obviously, if they go white and shake with fear it's best not to push it, but ladling on the encouragement can work wonders. Their sense of achievement when they accomplish something they thought was beyond them is fantastic.

Stay strict

You've had three hours' sleep in the past 24 and have finally stopped for a cup of coffee and a chat with colleagues while the kids are playing. So when you hear a child name-calling or spot someone walking where they've been told not to, it can be tempting to let it slide. But children need you to maintain the same level of discipline that you do in the classroom. Quite apart from the health and safety considerations, consistent discipline will help them to settle and feel secure.

Show your human side

In school, you may be a fervent follower of the "don't smile before Christmas" rule, but on a residential it's OK to show your human side. You will never be more in loco parentis than you are at this moment, so the children need to see that you care about them and you are going to look after them, which means it's fine to chat, share jokes and take part in games without worrying about keeping an icy professional distance.

Stockpile the caffeine

Residentials are knackering, but they are always worth it and often bring out the best in both adults and children. You could teach your pupils for weeks in the classroom and not get to know them half as well as you will on a 48-hour trip up a mountain in Wales. But that doesn't mean you can survive without help - strongly caffeinated drinks at regular intervals are a necessity.

At the end of the trip, both you and the children will be exhausted, but the result will be that you see each other in a new light. That's got to be worth the effort.

Jo Brighouse is a primary school teacher in the Midlands

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