Fresh Air and Fun

I was a week late in submitting this article due to a culmination of events over the course of a week that had left me rather time short so Stephen was kind enough to swap weeks with me. It started with Wick Harbour Day which is the main fundraising source of income for Wick RNLI. My job is to man the ice cream stall – hectic in a heatwave but still busy in a downpour as children always want ice cream regardless of the weather! This year it was misty; as I left my house on the north eastern edge of Wick Bay to walk the cliff path down to the harbour, I could hardly see in front of me and once there, there were only a couple of instances where the other side of the marina could be viewed through the haar. Yet still they came, locals and visitors alike, to sample the infamous burger stall, buy the freshest crabs in the county or to tour the lifeboat, Wind farm water taxi or the lovingly restored Fife, Isabella Fortuna. Over 200 ice creams later, we had made a small contribution to the incredible amount of £12000 that had been raised that day for the local RNLI funds. With two children off on a fieldcraft expedition at Fort George, another child’s birthday party and 2 birthdays in the house, the week finished with the local junior triathlon.

These are popular events up here along with fun runs. Children tend to take part in them regardless of ability as the promise of a T-shirt and medal at the end irrespective of time is deemed worth the physical effort and exhaustion that is endured. Distances can be short but it is obvious to spectators that every young athlete puts their all into the race and strives for a good finish time. It is heartening to see children from as young as 6 take part and although every competitor does receive a medal, distinctions are still made for the fastest as there are trophies for the top 3 boys and top 3 girls in each year group; everybody feels encouraged and success is celebrated. My elder two enjoyed marshalling, helped by the hot weather, and my youngest enjoyed competing although she did not find the heat so pleasant! Our MSP was there with her young son and we enjoyed a catch up about what was keeping her busy in Edinburgh along side local issues.

The following day, I left the family behind and headed down the A9 to Loch Insh near Kincraig accompanying 40 children on their rite of passage; the P7 school trip. The heavy rain forecast did not materialise but even if it had, nothing would have dampened the enthusiasm of those on the bus. We made good time, explored the accommodation, got given our groups and began our first activity before our evening meal. Canoeing, kayaking, sailing, paddle boarding, archery, mountain biking and dry slope skiing were interspersed with problem solving and team building activities, companionship and fresh air.

For many on the trip, this was the first time that they had been away from home for any length of time and with that came the added pressure of shared accommodation and regular communal dining. Other schools and visiting patrons were there too and instead of school staff being in control of the activities, they had to learn to quickly adapt to listening to instructors that they did not know. For most, myself included, the activities were also a new experience and very possibly a slightly scary prospect but fears were soon overcome and self confidence and pride became the overwhelming emotions as the children realised that not only could they do the activities, they were actually quite good at them.

In an age where today’s young people are often bemoaned for their lack of manners or ill discipline by older generations wearing their rose tinted glasses or missing the point that it is the generation that they raised who are now raising the “feral” youth of today, it was heartening to see the camaraderie displayed during the week and the respect shown to all. Our children are lucky; they come from a school heavily invested in nurture and frequently undertake outdoor learning either in the spacious outdoor areas around the school, Forest school or visiting places in the local community to study or undertake inter-generational activities. The belief that all children have something to offer and that academic success doesn’t always have to only be measured in exam results strengthens the position that the school plays in the life of young people today. Family backgrounds can be difficult and fractured with everyday poverty a very real situation that they have no control over; increased traffic and decreased green space means that many children no longer have the freedom to roam that previous generations enjoyed; and parents working longer hours or living without support mean that many others spend time indoors either in after school clubs or on a “safe” activity such as a computer console or television.

To spend the whole five days outside in fresh air, and much of that on water, not only assisted their own self-worth, the health benefits cannot be underestimated. Physical activities, mental activities, group working, curtailed screen time, structured mealtimes, unlimited food and 8 hours sleep each night will have had a massive impact on the mental wellbeing of those attending as well as fitness levels. Loch Insh itself was founded by someone who understood these principles only too well and I’m sure would be proud to see his legacy being continued though his children; the Scottish Government continues to invest resources to promote the ethos of holistic education and will be explored further in my next blog piece.