At the time of writing this blog, I am travelling north from Dover back to The Elms in Nottingham on a coach with our Year 6 children returning from a week’s residential visit to Paris. It would therefore seem very appropriate that the subject for this week’s Head’s Blog is the value of such a visit.
Common sense tells us that learning is not limited to the classroom environment. Schools like The Elms, that are able to offer pupils of junior school age a wealth of experiences beyond the classroom, are so much more successful in the classroom. Some schools have found the red tape and risk assessments associated with planning and executing such visits with young children to be a reason not to undertake them, but I believe such schools are missing a trick! Fortunately, at The Elms, we have moved in the opposite direction from this trend. This year not only marks the extension of our residential visits to Year 3 as well as Years 4, 5 and 6, but sees our first international cultural tour, to Paris for Year 6.
But what benefits do such residential visits bring?
For starters, there is the chance to experience new learning with one’s peer group. Learning can take many forms. One form is the planned learning. Visiting the Louvre or Notre Dame (we visited both), asking questions on the Mona Lisa or studying the stained glass windows. Whilst an actual visit enhances learning, it would be possible to study these things in the classroom.
What is not easy to replicate in the classroom environment is the un-planned or incidental learning. Learning about oneself or how to look after others. Learning how to overcome a fear of heights, how to encourage friends and show support through actions and deeds to enable the ascent of the Eiffel Tower. Learning social skills, communicating with French children playing on the same football team or learning how to thank a French boy’s mum for making chocolate cakes for the team refreshments after the match.
Children learn how to cope without their parents for a whole week, learning how to organise the contents of a suitcase or how to live with other children sharing the same bedroom. They learn how to comfort a fellow child feeling a little homesick and they may even learn how lucky they are, not only to have all the material possessions that modern children believe they need to survive, but to have a loving family around them.
Teachers learn lots too. They learn something of the character of the children in their class: the strength of the quiet child and the fragility of the loud and confident child. And children too see teachers in a new light, as (slightly!) more human than they imagined. Returning from such a shared experience, the quality of relationships between children and staff are strengthened and pay dividends for the remainder of the school year.
I would encourage all schools with junior aged pupils to not shy away from the challenges of planning and carrying out residential visits. Residential visits should not just be the preserve of Year 6 children, but I would encourage the benefits of undertaking residential visits to younger children too. I say this, not through rose tinted glasses, but in light of this week’s experience.
The children, and staff, are exhausted and looking forward to sleeping in their own beds tonight. We will all have lots of memories to look back on during this week. Hopefully, a new appreciation of each other, and of home.
And for me….the added bonus of my first ever hoodie, emblazoned with school logo and ‘Paris Tour 2011’. Vive la France!