It was wonderful to return to our school residential program this year, after two years of restrictions due to the pandemic. Once again, the pattering of eager feet and squeals of excitement were heard echoing round the walls of Craigower Lodge (and around the lochs and hills in the area). We welcomed a generation of children impacted by the psychological and sociological effects of lockdown and watched as anxieties fell away and a sense of freedom and exploration was restored. With our aims for the school residential weeks being centred around developing confidence and resilience, and enhancing an appreciation for the outdoors, the residentials really helped kids break out of their lockdown shells and shine with the exuberance that we love to see.
The psychological effects of lockdown on children were, in many cases, quite negative. Mental Health charities warned of the rising levels of anxiety and depression in children. Even for those less severely affected, there was still a sense of loneliness and separation from the world. In the golden years of ‘being a kid’, many missed out on the opportunity to play with others, or even get outside to explore. They have also been deprived of the regular social interactions that going to school provides for them and haven’t had as much of an opportunity to grow the skills normally acquired in these younger years. There has also been an increase in separation anxiety, as kids have grown accustomed to being with their families all day, every day. Suddenly being away from the comfort of the family bubble and a familiar daily routine was quite daunting for some. As lockdown ended and children returned to school, some couldn’t wait and welcomed it with happy smiles, but for some it was an anxious and stressful time and something they are still adapting to.
As an instructor working with the school residentials, I could see the program working as a catalyst to get these kids back on track. Mental wellbeing was nurtured and confidence flourished. For many it was the first time in two years that they had been away from home and though there were definitely highs and lows, the independence this gave them was invaluable. The kids’ teachers watched happily as they saw individuals who had obviously struggled with the effects of lockdown beaming with pride and joy during the activities.
Our school program gives the children (and teachers) many amazing opportunities that they may never have had before. We inspire them to try something new and exciting, to challenge themselves and conquer fears, and to work together to develop socially and form bonds.The advantages of outdoor education are extremely valuable, and our program is designed specifically so that every day builds on these benefits. There are activities that teach individuals to conquer fears and build on self-confidence and resilience, leaving pupils with a great sense of achievement. Other activities focus on teamwork, problem-solving and communication. There are the obvious physical and mental health benefits from hill-walking. Encompassed in every session that we run is our passion for the outdoors, which teaches the kids to be environmentally aware and learn about our impact on our surroundings. The list of educational, physical, and mental health benefits that the school residential program offers goes on.
Our River Explorer Day encourages a sense of adventure and a chance to explore and learn about their environment. They embark on a journey down a beautiful section of the River Spey on a mixture of single and tandem sit on top kayaks. Communication and teamwork are important to navigate the river. There is also the simple enjoyment of bouncing down rapids and getting out to have a splash around.
The Mountain Challenge Day provides a chance to push themselves mentally and physically, and a day that most come away feeling very proud of their accomplishments. Half the day is spent walking for a few kilometres through the stunning scenery around Newtonmore and up to summit of a local mountain. The other half of the day is spent rock climbing at the local crag and inspiring bravery with an exciting abseil.
The Paddlesports day is an introduction to canoeing, kayaking and paddle boarding, giving the opportunity to check out some new sports and develop new skills. They get a chance to try out tandem canoeing, touring kayaks and solo SUPs, and then finish the day with some games on the legendary Mega SUPs. There is usually a lot of splashing around in the water, as well as the activities based floating upon it!
The program also includes evening activities that range from team challenges and working together to solve problems; wide games and the freedom to run around in the fields and forests of Newtonmore; and the excitement of gorge scrambling and the chance to test out that bravery on the big jump!!
There is nothing more fulfilling than seeing kids grow in this environment. A few of my favourite moments:
Doctors prescribe exercise and getting outdoors to relieve stress and anxiety, and over the last three months of school residentials, you can really see why. Every child has gone home enriched by the experience and instilled with a reignited passion for being outside, being free to explore the environment, and practicing the fine art of play. Here’s to getting back to the golden years of being a kid!