Residential experiences can, and often do, have a profound and lasting impact on self-esteem and peer relationships. This case study describes the experience of one primary school pupil, child A, and is written by her class teacher.
“Child A is from a single parent background where she hasn’t experienced many of the things that most children take for granted. These include simple things like going to the beach, walking on sand, seeing country animals close up and being allowed to feed them, or even the experience of staying over at a friend’s house and being away from the watchful eyes of an over protective parent. Things are hard for mum at home, although she tries her best and cares for her children deeply, she simply can’t afford to give her children these enriching life experiences.”
About Child A
Child A comes from a very deprived background. She is the middle child of three children. Her older sibling has social behavioural issues and has difficulties mixing in school. Her younger brother has toileting issues, and this makes socialising difficult. She does not get as much attention from mum because her issues are not as obvious as those of her two brothers. When mum was questioned about Child A her remarks were “Oh, she’s alright she just gets on with things”.
This attitude caused Child A to become withdrawn and isolated. She didn’t mix well and she wandered around on her own like a lost soul. Other children tended to avoid her because she had poor hygiene. Her social skills were non-existent and she was not achieving in school. During playtime she would often play on her own or would be crying. She would never tell staff what was wrong – she would simply refuse to come in or would run around the building crying hysterically. It was a very miserable time in her life, you could see she had no self-confidence and she was a very sad little girl.
A transformative residential experience
During the Learning Away residential, Child A developed immensely and “blossomed as an individual”. The challenges and new experiences she encountered enabled a usually insecure and reluctant child to shine in front of her peers for the first time and gave her a newfound platform from which to develop her self-esteem.
On her very first night, Child A told her class teacher:
“I never want to go home! I feel so alive here.”
The residential provided her with the opportunity to develop as a person and for her to reinvent herself in front of her peers. All of her teachers noticed that during the residential “Child A became the child all the others wanted on their team because they felt she was ‘good at everything’”.
Other benefits – involving the pupils using a co-construction approach
One of the things that made this residential so important for the children involved was the use by both the school and the centre of the ‘Mango Model’ co-construction approach which they used to shape the planning and delivery of their Learning Away residentials.
This involved the children being responsible for their schedule (with unnegotiable factors agreed first e.g. meal times), and then encouraging them to think about their decisions and modify the next day to make it work better for them. Using this approach meant that:
“The children felt trusted and they felt that their opinions were valued, more so than when they were in school and they were told what they were expected to do.”
Some key success factors
- Giving the children the freedom to design their own learning.
- Allowing them to have time to do so.
- Enabling them to discuss and debate on ‘what worked well’ and ‘even better if’’.
- Children spending time together and becoming reliant on each other.
- Different friendship groups forming based on realisations about strengths and weaknesses.
- Providing a base line for all the children – where they all felt vulnerable to the same degree because they were away from their families and homes.
Immediate and longer term impact
When the school came back from the residential, Child A’s mum was amazed. Her first words were “Blimey what have you done to her, she’s smiling!” Mum was also confused because her daughter was now surrounded by the other children, her new friends. Later, mum also confirmed that she had told her all about the things she had done and seen, and mum couldn’t believe the changes in her.
Child A’s behaviour, self-esteem and confidence has continued to develop. She is now in Year 6, waiting to go to secondary school. Her class teacher describes the transformation:
“She is a much more ‘rounded’ individual now. She will attempt any challenge and laughs if she fails. She will encourage her peers to challenge themselves and supports them if they fail. She now has valuable life skills that she didn’t have before the residential.”