“ Making education fun and adventurous. Several centres in the UK. „
We've had quite a busy morning today. At two o'clock we waved our ten year old daughter and twenty one of her school friends off on a residential trip to Kingswood Outdoor Activities Centre which was quite good timing as my suggestion to write a review on this place has just been accepted. I was a little bit envious as I waved them off as for the previous four trips I have gone along as party leader but with a very demanding 13 month old at home, I conceded the leadership to another teacher this year.
** What is Kingswood? **
Kingswood is a provider of residential educational activity holidays, primarily aimed at schools, but also providing for other groups such as Scouts, Guides or sports teams. There are a number of centres across the UK, including ones in Northumberland (where my daughter has gone), North Wales, Norfolk, Buckinghamshire, Cumbria, Isle of Wight, Staffordshire and South Yorkshire. They cater for children of all ages, from Key Stage 2 to Key Stage 4. The children that go from our school are all in Years 5 and 6, so aged 9-11 but I have seen both younger and older children visiting the centres.
** Activity Programmes **
At Kingswood children get to experience many activities that they wouldn't normally get to try at school. There are two main programmes, the Discovery programme and the Activity programme. Both involve a lot of physical activities but the Discovery programme also includes some ICT modules. The programme our school opts to do is the Discovery programme.
** General Activities **
Not all activities are available at all centres. Some centres have access to water and can provide swimming, snorkelling, raft building and canoeing activities but the centre I stayed (Dalston, in Cumbria) at doesn't provide this. Other centres, including the one in Northumberland where my daughter is staying, have high rope activities, including treetop trails, ziplines and the very scary sounding Leap of Faith where children (and their teachers if they wish) leap from a platform onto a small ledge high in the sky. My daughter is very much hoping they will be able to do this; I don't know if I would have the nerve myself! Some centres also do caving activities, but again this depends whether the centre has the facilities; I have done caving at Kingswood on several occasions and it is wet, cold and dark but the children mostly seem to enjoy it.
All centres provide a wide variety of activities designed to promote team building. From having to "spot" their partner while travelling on low ropes, to carrying a ladder across an obstacle course (while each team member has to constantly keep a hand on the ladder - not easy!), to trying to create the highest stack of milk crates with someone standing on top of them, to Nightline, a blindfolded trek through a mini-obstacle course, where everything seems more scary because you can't see what's ahead, children learn over the trip to trust their classmates and how activities can be completed more successfully when children work together. It can also help with speech and language as often children have to discuss what they think they should do. No-one is pushed to do anything they don't want to do, but children are challenged to try and improve each time, for example children who are scared of climbing are asked to just put one foot on the wall. if they manage that they are asked if they think they can manage to put the other foot on, and so on. Sometimes children who have said they didn't dare climb can get quite far up the climbing wall with gentle encouragement and every effort is applauded, not just the most successful ones.
The only downside to many of these activities is the mud. Lots of it! I generally advise parents to send really old clothes and to pack waterproofs as many of the activities involve mud, mud and even more mud. It doesn't seem to bother most children though!
Most centres also offer a range of "fun" activities, the ones that the children look forward to the most before they travel, although often their favourite activity turns out to be something unexpected. These activities include quad-biking, laser tag, climbing and abseiling.
Interspersed during the day are indoor pursuits, which can include the Sensory Room, an investigation into the senses, mini-beast investigations, fencing or parachute games, which for anyone who hasn't spent time in school over the last few years, is nothing to do with falling from the sky, but involves using a giant parachute for many uses including making a giant tent, trying to keep several balls bouncing without them jumping off, hiding underneath while the people around the outside flap the parachute to hide the person while someone else crawls around on top trying to find them or playing a particularly rowdy game called sharks and lifeguards where you have to avoid being pulled under by a shark. It's a lot of fun, but really you need to see it in action; I'm sure my descriptions don't do it justice!
One surprisingly popular, and cost effective, activity is indoor initiatives, in which children sit in a circle and are challenged to solve a number of logic puzzles, such as "A cowboy rode into town on Friday, stayed three days and left on Friday. How is this possible?" It's amazing to see how the children begin to think more laterally as the session progresses.
If groups want to add an even more educational aspect to their visit they can opt to do some sort of field study, such as a river study or weather study. Again this depends upon what is available at that particular centre.
** ICT modules **
The centre provides a range of ICT activities which are designed to complement the national curriculum for ICT. Each module is targeted at a specific age range and can include animation activities, multimedia presentations, modelling and controlling models, writing programmes and creating simulations.
One session that always goes down well is CSI Kingswood, where children are informed that there has been a robbery at the centre. They are shown photos of the alleged crime scene and taken to visit the outside of the office where the robbery has taken place, where tiles are missing from the roof, footprints are evident in the soil below and police investigation tape flutters in the breeze. This is followed up by being told there are five suspects, all of whom are Kingswood staff. Children read statements by the suspects and have to decide who is telling the truth and who is lying. They also take casts of the footprints and investigate a mystery red substance smeared on the safe which has been robbed. Could the red substance be tomato sauce left there by the Kingswood chef? Or is it blood from the climbing instructor with the bandaged hand? Or maybe, red paint left by the maintenance man? This programme runs across the whole week, with the children sworn to secrecy about the investigation in case it "tips off the suspects". I truly think many of the children believe the investigation is real and the poor "suspects" have to put up with a lot of giggling and whispering if they are around. What I really liked about this is, at the end of the stay, just before the children go home, the "criminal" is unmasked by the centre leader and chased out of the dining room and arrested!
** Evening Activities **
Evening activities mostly take place indoors and can include a disco, circus skills, a movie, Hotspots (think giant Twister!), a campfire singsong, Who Wants To Be a Millionaire quiz or Scrapheap Challenge, where children have to build things out of a heap of junk!
** Arranging the activities **
Children are kept busy across the whole day. Before the visit, group leaders specify which activities they would especially like to do and Kingswood arrange this into a timetable for each group. Up to fifteen children can make up a group; any more than this and groups are split. Activity sessions take place all day, with breaks only for lunch and dinner. Between nine am and nine pm children are on activities. Each session lasts seventy minutes, ten minutes for a safety talk and sixty for the actual activity, with a ten minute break in between to move between sessions. It can be quite exhausting but means that no-one gets time to be homesick.
** Staying at the centre **
Although many groups can stay at the centre all at once, children will only be in activities with children from their own school. Once they are in a group, they stay in that group or the whole trip. Children are housed in dormitories and again they don't mix with groups they don't know. The children sleep in bunkbeds and the dormitories can contain four, six or ten children. Teachers' room are in the same buildings; usually children's rooms are interspersed with teachers' rooms so they are never unsupervised. Some centres have shower blocks in the dormitories but the centre my daughter has gone to has all en-suite rooms, which she is quite pleased about.
Food is served throughout the day in the dining room and again different groups have timetabled slots. The food is very similar to school dinners, with a couple of choices including a vegetarian option. It isn't haute cuisine but it's more than edible.
** Safety **
At all times adults have to wear an ID badge and adults without them are challenged by staff. I know this is definitely true as I forgot mine one morning at breakfast. All activities are staffed by at least one Kingswood staff member and this rises to two on more dangerous activities, such as climbing or quad-biking. The school staff are also required to be at most activities. Each session starts with a safety talk and helmets and harnesses are all well-checked. Cars usually aren't allowed on-site and dormitories have outer locking doors. The centre provides risk assessment advice and encourages pre-visits by staff.
** Arranging a visit **
If you are a group leader and are considering arranging a visit, it is quite easy. Kingswood send a rather natty information pack, in a fetching green backpack, often with Kingswood memorabilia in it, such as pens, bookmarks, and on one occasion a stress-phone! All the necessary paperwork for arranging and booking a visit and informing parents is included. The pack contains a DVD to show at parents' meetings and a representative from Kingswood will come along to answer questions if required. The pack also contains savings cards so that the cost doesn't have to be paid all at once and packing lists and Good Conduct Codes to photocopy.
** Pricing **
Really this will depend upon how many children are travelling, at what time of year and for how long. My daughter is visiting Sunday until Wednesday and the cost was £120 but this includes travelling expenses and insurance. Prices are higher in the summer and lower in the winter.
** Would I recommend a visit? **
Absolutely! If you are a teacher or group leader I would heartily recommend Kingswood for a residential visit. It always seems effectively run (although activity leaders sometimes moan about management when you get to know them a little bit better!) and the children have a great time. The instructors are all young adults and are usually very enthusiastic and get on well with the children. The experiences offered are fantastic. It's a wonderful sight to see children who don't do well academically suddenly excel at something, or to see how children will learn from their experiences and become a team over the stay. Just don't offer to do the washing when they get back!
An educational learning centre outside the classroom.