Kingswood School Journey 24th-26th April 2019

The much-anticipated day finally arrived, no sooner than we’d come back to school after the Easter break. The organisation of families, the nursing team and staff meant that almost all of our medication was transcribed, leaving us set for an early departure from school. As children arrived on Wednesday morning, well-honed systems swung into action, labelling and organising luggage, paraphernalia and children. Many kilos of lugging later, the van was packed with equipment, supplies and suitcases, the final bits of medication had been logged, and we were set and ready to go. This year we had 20 children, thirteen of whom were joining us for their first school journey, accompanied by 17 members of staff.

Children and staff loaded into three mini-buses (and a van, and a car!) and after a double-checked head-count, we set off in convoy down the A2 to Shorne Country Park. There, we piled off the buses and headed over to the adventure playground for some action. There was lots to do, but as always, the various swings and giant slide were popular, while some children and staff made up games to be played out amongst the tunnels and trim trails. After some intensive fun, we’d all built up an appetite and ambled over to the picnic tables for some lunch. Everyone chomped through the food we’d brought along and after a quick toilet stop, we were loading up the buses again, eager to get going to Kingswood.

A little more driving and we were there! This year, they were ready for us and before long, we were unloading the contents of the van, proficiently distributing suitcases to the right rooms and labelling the bedroom doors with our photos. We had a little time to settle in, ‘bagsy’ our beds and unpack our things while exploring our home from home, York House. Then the group leader for our stay, Josh, introduced himself and took us for a quick tour of the site.

We were organised into two groups, Line 22 and Line 23, which allowed us to plan suitable activities at a pace that was appropriate for the children in each of them. There was no time to waste, and we went straight into our first activities. Line 22 had a quick safety talk and warm up before kitting up with a mask and foil for Fencing. As they parried and reposted on the piste, the clash of blades and cries of en-guard rung out. Meanwhile, Line 23 headed outside for an Environmental Art session, collecting natural found materials, such as flowers, leaves, stones, sticks and feathers to create their own masterpieces.

Then an important part of every day: dinner! We had managed to secure the small (quiet!) dining hall, and there we selected a hearty meal to keep us going into the evening. And just as well, because next we had our Campfire. Everyone wrapped up warm and hiked down the field to the fire pit, where Josh met us with an array of songs and chants. While that was going on, we got the marshmallows, biscuits and chocolate ready for an essential part of any campfire: S’mores. Josh toasted the marshmallows, while Willow Dene staff squished them between biscuits with a good helping of chocolate to melt inside. Yum! was the verdict from most children (and adults). Then sticky, smoky and weary, we made our way back to York House for a wash and bed. There were no signs of worry or homesickness and everyone settled – some as soon as their head hit the pillow, while others took a little longer to fall asleep.

Thursday dawned, earlier for some than others, and gradually more and more children and staff gathered in the common room with rumbly tummies, ready for breakfast. As we strolled over to the dining hall, the skies were grey and overcast as forecast, but without the promised rain. Phew! After filling up on a full English breakfast of sausages, bacon, eggs, hash browns and beans (or a selection thereof), as well as toast, cereal and yogurt, it was time for our first activities of the day. Line 22 set off for the Nightline: a blindfolded (or not!) obstacle course, where the aim was to guide, support and encourage our team to tackle the various challenges along the way. Line 23 started with Laser Tag, a game of stealth and wit, with the first rule being ‘Be Sneaky’. Alternatively, it can be played as an all-out battle of determination and tenacity, which was our favoured approach!

Next up, Line 22 donned headgear and grabbed their weapons for Laser Tag, heading into the ultra-violet lit warrens to battle it out with their friends. Line 23 went over to the square for Frisbee Golf. We enjoyed practicing our throwing technique and aiming for the target goal, but we preferred making up our own games and challenges: How few throws can you make to hit the wall? Who will race to pick up the frisbee fastest? Who can throw it the furthest? Then we had some races, which got nicely competitive, before we gave in to exhaustion and hunger.

A quick re-fuel with lunch provided some time to catch up with our friends and get all those other essentials sorted. Refreshed and raring to go again, we had a nice informal Group Games session all together. This offered lots of fun activities and options, from trampolining, to balls (big and small), plate-spinning, giant Connect 4 and chasing.

We stayed together for the next activity, the much-anticipated Zip Wire. Some children were eager to get on harnesses and helmets, while others wanted a bit of time to watch and see what it involved. Ultimately, we were amazed by the number of children who were keen to give it a go and there were only a couple of ‘no thank yous’. There were lots of cheers of encouragement as children whizzed down the wire and equally loud applause for our brave staff that wanted a go. There were lots of requests for more (some while they were still in mid-air!) and we were lucky to have enough time that everyone who wanted a second turn was able to go again.

After all of that excitement, it was time for some more high-octane fun for Line 22, who went straight over to the 3G Swing. Pairs of children and staff wearing harnesses were attached to a large steel bar. The rest of the group hauled them up to unbelievable heights (‘Higher?’ ‘Higher!!!’) before calling out a rallying cry that echoed around the site: ‘1, 2, 3, G!’ (or more often than not, ‘Ready, steady go!’). That was the cue for the rope to be released and the bar (with its victims attached) to plummet towards the ground before sweeping into a high arc and swinging back and forth in the ultimate oscillation! Eventually, the swing slowed to a stop and usually the adult was asking to get off, while the child was calling out for more! Meanwhile, Line 23 remained firmly on the ground as they went to try their hand at Archery. We pulled on bracers to protect our arms, familiarised ourselves with the various parts of the bows, before loading them with arrows, aiming at the targets… and bullseye! (or somewhere close, at least).

Today had been very active and busy, so everyone was ready for a nourishing dinner to prepare us for the evening’s entertainment. Then there was time to go back to York House, wash and get on pyjamas before heading over to the cinema for our Movie Night. This year’s contenders were The Incredibles and Home, as always with a vote from the children determining the outcome. A few minutes after settling into our seats we were watching purple aliens bobbling about on the screen. We cracked out the popcorn and munched our way through the film. An hour and a half later, we trundled sleepily back to York House, brushed our teeth and sank into bed, exhausted.

Then all of a sudden, it was Friday! Our final morning, and there was lots to do before breakfast to ensure we were ready to enjoy the day and return to school. So, after stripping our beds, packing our cases and clearing the rooms, we headed over to the dining hall. Of course, we started with another fry up (with a full continental selection) to set us up for the day. With full bellies, Line 22 went off to High Equilibrium, which involved kitting up with harnesses again, this time to try and scale a high tower to a teetering see-saw high above our heads. Meanwhile, Line 23 went to try their hand at Fencing, and impressed the instructors with their knowledge that had been remembered from last year (for some) and researched on YouTube (for others).

And before we knew it is was on to our final activities: Line 22 to Bushcraft, where the children used flints and steels to generate a spark and create fire! Then we learned how to feed the fire to make it grow and also discussed fire safety. Line 23 got their much-anticipated turn on the 3G Swing, where we challenged each other to go higher and higher, and delighted in hearing each other’s laughs and screams as we dropped out of the sky.

Finally, (with the van miraculously loaded by some sprites while we were having fun), we hiked over for our final lunch, before piling into the buses for the journey back to school. An uneventful journey later and we were pulling in through the gates, unpacking and organising luggage, worn out, slightly grubby, but with a massive sense of achievement and lots of happy memories. Everyone, children and staff alike, were excited to be heading home to see our families (and bed!).

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As always, after the incredible amount of planning and work that goes into a successful school journey (and leaves me swearing ‘never again!’), the trip itself leaves me humbled and grateful that I work with such an amazing and great bunch of children and such fantastic, kind staff (and makes it all worthwhile). Without the unwavering support and hard work of staff who volunteer for school journey, it simply would not be possible, so a huge thank you to each and every one of them. There has to be a special mention for the team who took on the logistical feat of ensuring that all of the medications were organised, administered and recorded safely and competently.

There is also a huge raft of people back at school who help make the magic happen – not least the nursing team who work tirelessly to ensure that we have all of the correct training and competencies, that all our meds are checked and written up and that everyone is confident and competent to support the aspects of children’s medical needs that happen outside school hours and that we don’t usually deal with.

And then there’s the great support we get from the admin team beavering away behind the scenes: working tirelessly to ensure everything is on track and that all of the finances are in order (so we’re allowed to go again next year!); making sure transport and school dinners are cancelled and packed lunches ordered and mini-buses booked so that the logistics are smooth; undertaking the impossible task in terms of cover – we take higher staffing ratio than we have in school, so we always leave gaps behind; and picking up the pieces while people busy themselves with everything that needs sorting.

And not forgetting the premises team who give up their van for us to haul all of the necessities (including luggage) down to Ashford, make sure the mini-buses are prepared with the right number of seats and plenty of fuel, and help with the task of loading and unloading all those suitcases!

And a last, but special mention, to all of our parents, who trust us with their wonderful and precious children, many of whom are staying away from home for the first time.

Claire Barnes