Thursday, 23 June 2016

Day four in the Big Exmouth house - the colours of our camp ...

Camp is a plethora of colours, a rainbow all of its own, distilled and refracted through its participants, its moods and its outcomes.  Some colours spring to mind and intensify, but some reveal themselves only as you walk away, and realisation dawns on you as the sun light ebbs.

Yes, I am feeling a tad poetic as I reflect on a super week.

The colours change and intensify as we go though our adventures.  What begin as bright, vibrant, almost in your face blocks of energy and excitement diversify and present as huge swathes of boldness with depth and energy.

Alright, I'll be more specific.  And a bit less flowery.

Mud is one strong colour.  Both in the lake into which the children leap fearlessly, and the colour of the boys' toilet floors.  It is the colour beneath us on so many occasions, sometimes turning to clay as we walk along the magnificent cliffs of Orcombe point, and surrounding areas of this beautiful part of the world that always welcomes and hosts us so well.

Brown was the colour of this evening's chocolate cake competition.  Two and a half slices.  Get in.  Lost to a boy in year 5.

White is another one that's important.  In the million smiles we see, down to the crash and turn of the surf.  It is also, of course, the colour that many of the children's clothes begin the week, but never, ever aspire to again.

Black can be seen in the wetsuits that we pour them into, the colour of many of the children after the low ropes course, but never the colour of the night down here, where the skies are wonderful but hardly ever dark.

The irony is that within the heavy storm haven tents we occupy, colours are all over the shop.  I looked in my bag the other day and wondered where that purple shirt had come from, only to discover it was my red and blue t-shirt.  We searched for hours the other day for one boy's blue jacket, only to discover it was the brown / purple / indescribable affair laying at out feet all along.  I tell you, the balck and blue / gold and white dress would be every colour of the rainbow in these tents.

Of course, the colours then become more abstract, and I will not apologise for the vagueness or the floweriness.  There is the sunbeam shine of successes made, challenges overcome, ambitions fulfilled, Camps as good as this one are redolent with the glow of fun had, new experiences enjoyed and hitherto unexperienced pleasures devoured.  Too much that last one?  I agree.

Above all, camp at Exmouth is the green and blue of my memory.  Although we have been slightly too cloudy to see it this week, the Exmouth I always see in my mind's eye is a sea of green - the grass, the tents and the tress, beneath a vast sheet of blue uninhabited by clouds or mist, the two bisected by the beautiful estuary snaking into the distance.  Some people talk about the place of their dreams; I have no need, for when I see and think of Exmouth this is what I think of because I have been fortunate enough to experience it so often.

This camp will always in my mind be the colour of fun.  We haven't laughed so much at camp in years, haven't had so much to celebrate, or so many records broken.  It will be bright and warm, and a rainbow of memories to share.  I sincerely hope all of the children feel the same way, and look back on their week with us in the same colours and light.  If pride had a colour, if determination had a colour, if collaboration had a colour, they would contribute to the final picture.  And what a picture.

From the final cheese board, from behind a very cold can of diet coke, with a face tingling partially from sunburn but predominantly from happiness, that is all.

Except to say, very well done everyone.  It was awesome.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Day three in the Big Exmouth house, and the new fashion is ...

You get to the point where various fashions and fads take over camp.  New cool words and phrases introduced by instructors, or invented by the gang.  Furthermore, the clothing goes through stages as well; neon clothing is big this year, as are fluffy socks.  Naturally, I am the only person here without a onesie.

Then there are those trends that have gone on so long that they have become traditions, rites of passage.  Newer, first time campers trying to wear every item of clothing before tea on day one.  The interminable questioning (see yesterday).  The disco ....

Then there are trends and fashions which only last for a single camp, so special and unique are they to the specific group running the show that year - by which I mean the children.  There are certain things / phrases / actions that are so specific to that particular group of children, from the dynamic often forged on the tentative but oh-so-excited coach trip down, which imprint themselves on the psyche and memory of that year's camp that that becomes the colour tint of the glasses through which you view it.

You will notice from the paragraph above that my unutterably appalling choice of phrases never seems to go out of fashion.  Or, indeed, enter it.

Anyhoo, what fashion are this group forging?  What trends are these guys using as their camp a la mode?  What is en vogue this year?  Well, here's the amazing thing.  It's something we could not hope to teach, something we have tried to weave into a thousand School Improvement Plans, but always manage to lose sight of.  Something intangible, but incredibly important.  Something wonderful.

It is (drum roll please) team work.

What we adults have commented upon repeatedly this week is how well they have worked together.  Wind surfing yesterday they had to do in pairs, one holding whilst the other got on.  They were immense, not only holding the surf but encouraging and supporting one another, reveling in their friends' successes and consoling failed attempts.

Yesterday afternoon the title of the activity was "team challenge", but, as we have discovered in years gone by, this does not always encourage working in that method.  However, we saw nothing but amazing group work - 9 children working together to write on a whiteboard with a pen attached to a gas bottle and several ropes - I'm not making it up.  My group worked on the notorious island challenge, set up for adults, for an hour and a quarter, and then shared in the achievements althogether, posing for shared photos of triumph.

Today, children have collaborated on building huge towers. Nothing special you may say, until I tell you that they were standing on top of it whilst trying to build it!  At the other end of the centre, teams were building, and then sailing and racing, huge rafts.  All four rafts built, with great teamwork and shared effort, floated for over 25 minutes.  Two groups actually managed to pull their rafts together and swap every member from one to the other (with two year 6 boys voluntarily in the freezing water holding them together for everyone else).  Most touching was how they encouraged one another to take the leap of faith, or run of a pontoon into a lake of faith.  One of the year 5 children braved it.  She emerged from the depths frozen, but ears ringing to the cheers of her friends from the group.

This evening, at the annual Willis quiz, the completely jumbled up groups all laughed and giggled their way through questions and tasks.  At the end I asked the teams to choose their most athletic year 5.  One group chose their smallest and possibly least athletic.  They all knew it was ironic.  They all knew it was a giggle.  They all joined in - little one included.

Some fashions are manufactured, predictable, even dull.  Some are priceless, and impossible to engineer without the goodwill of the models themselves.  Some just make you smile a little more, or a lot.

As the cheese board looms, for another day, that is all.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Day 2 in the Big Exmouth House - it's only when you think really BIG ...

We were awoken (all too early) this morning, and camp began to fall into the pattern it often does.  Creatures called "boys" had to be reminded, only gently I admit, about personal hygiene issues.  Older girls had to be gently woken.  The two main noise makers had to be ... reminded / threatened.

And so it was and is that our camp starts to take its inevitable form.  One of these things is questions. "Can I get dressed?"  "Should I get dressed?"  "Do I have to get dressed?"  "Is this my toothbrush?"  We try to make it clear to the children from day one that decision making and problem solving are a big part of the learning on camp, and therefore, don't always expect an answer from us.

Then the questions get a little more needy.  Needy in the sense of "I really need an answer" but also in the "I am in need of a little reassurance please."  The second tranche of questions started shortly after breakfast.  They basically all boiled down to "What activities are we doing today?" and "Should I be a little scared?"

When the time came, I got the gang together and attempted to allay any fears whilst not dipping any expectations, and certainly not sugaring any pills.  Water sports today kids.  Fine to be scared, but you're still going in.  To the very cold sea.

Our swimming cossie march to the beach - yes, the zig zags again - was greeted by the smiley and cheery folk from our water sports providers, whose message was abundantly simple and clear:

You are going to wind surf
You are going to kayak
You are going to stand up paddle board
You are going to have the most amazing time

And do you know what?  They did.

Within 10 minutes of the lesson, 6 of my group of 8 had stood up on their wind surf, holding their mast or their boom, and were stood, a little self-awestruck, in the realization that they were, indeed, wind surfing.  In the midst of this, children arrived in their kayaks amazed at what they were attempting, and achieving.  Further beyond, another group were kneeling and standing on their paddle boards, looking more like travelers on the Zambezi than primary students on the Exe.

And it's all quite simple really.  Brilliant instructors leading brilliant activities with brilliant resources coupled to a very simple mantra: it can be done.  Leave your worries, your negative mindset and above all your QUESTIONS at the shore and come and simply achieve something ... wonderful.  On a Tuesday.  In an unflattering wet suit.

After all, it's only when you think really big that you achieve really big things.

No kidding - about 80% of them wind surfing; 70% of them standing up on paddle boards if only for a second; 100% of them in a kayak.  0 questions answered.  And every single one of them achieving something life changing.

At the end of a thoroughly enjoyable, thoroughly exhausting and extremely long day 2, that is all.

Monday, 20 June 2016

2016 - Day 1 in the Big Exmouth House. It's all in a word

So, day one is over, the animals are caged for the day, and we are left looking back on what has been an extremely enjoyable day one.  There are two or three things that have struck us repeatedly as we have embarked on this year's adventure: firstly, how smoothly everything has gone, from the packing of the coach, to the journey, to the walk up to camp, to the ... you get the picture.  Everything has just been fun, and the children have responded to everything magnificently.  Despite the fact that many of them were soaked to the bone (see below), two people commented on our children' positive behaviour as the strode along the sea front.

Secondly, and you all know how important this is to me, the words that have littered and literally enhanced the day.  "Thanks" has been a common one.  "Mate" has also been on constant usage, especially when saying hello to our new friends from St Werburghs.  But there have also been  a few which have just reminded us how special this event truly is.

One of them was "wow", repeatedly used during our beach trip today.  Mind you, the phrase "that's freezing!" was also in constant usage.  But that's partially the point; as I said to the children one of the big things about camp is that you get to do things you wouldn't even normally think about, such as run fully clothed into the sea at 4.00 on a Monday.

As a result, squelch is a word, and indeed sound, that has provided much of the day's soundtrack.

Zig zags.  Those words get used far too often in this week.  Regrettably, Exmouth town council has not as yet seen fit to act on my suggestions containing the words "stanna" and "stairlift".

Blue is a word we have used a lot today.  We arrived here seeking it intently in the sky, and then celebrating it when it did arrive, bringing a gorgeous afternoon and evening for us to start our week with.

Veteran, I was called at one point, in front of a lot of staff for whom this is a maiden voyage.  I took it with the good grace and nature with which it was offered, another moment in our school year where I am considered the elder statesmen.

So all in all, a great start.  Parents and carers scouring this will want to know the basics - we're here,, we're safe, we're well fed; be assured all is well.  But allow me to finish with one final example of how words improve our day.  I said to one of our first time students, who has been so excited about this trip it is amazing she hasn't exploded, "Is it everything you thought it would be?"

So thought about it, as she does, put her head to on side and replied.  "Almost".

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"It's even more beautiful than I thought."

For day one, I truly think that is all.