It was with a palpable sense of excitement that two minibuses packed with Year 4, Ms Bourne, Mrs Rastrick and their luggage pulled out of the school gates to make the journey to Hudnall Park Residential Centre in the beautiful Hertfordshire countryside. Our lovely instructor Nicola met us with a smile as we pulled into the driveway of a white-fronted Art Deco mansion house which was to be our home for the next two nights. After being shown to our rooms and the boys choosing their bunks, we were treated to delicious homemade cakes and biscuits in the dining room whilst Nicola went through house rules.
Nicola had prepared for us an extensive programme of thrilling outdoor activities and challenges. Each one had been designed to promote the value and enjoyment of problem-solving through team-work and active collaboration. The low ropes challenge and the orienteering course provided the perfect introduction to the children about how to work together in order to succeed as a group. It was lovely to witness the extent to which the boys encouraged and praised each other and to watch each of them take on a collective sense of responsibility.
After a well-earned dinner, we sat down to some quiet diary writing and then card and board games in the bean-bag filled lounge downstairs. Bed-time loomed ever nearer as the sky turned dark and 17 weary boys eventually saw the need to go to bed – we had another busy day to come…
A river and invertebrate investigation was set for our Thursday morning activity and we dressed accordingly in wellies and waterproofs. The River Gade was in an idyllic setting and we spent the next three hours using nets, buckets, magnifying glasses and classification keys to catch and then identify a variety of river-dwelling insects before carefully placing them back into the water. Back at the centre, we had lunch and then turned our minds towards the problem-solving challenges. The boys simply loved these activities and Mrs Rastrick and I believed they could have happily spent the whole day attempting to transfer ping-pong balls through cross-sections of drainpipes across a 30 metre stretch of lawn to name just one of the deceptively tricky challenges on offer. Sounds simple, I hear some of you say – nothing could be further from the truth, I can assure you!
Evening time found us building dens in the woods. Nicola, who had been taught this skill by her friend, Bear Grylls, gave us some helpful hints but then left us to the challenge. The boys truly excelled in this activity. Like the problem solving challenges, Mrs Rastrick and I could have supervised their efforts for hours but with light fading we managed to lure them back to the house with the promise of hot chocolate and some playtime in the lounge – we could return to our dens the following morning.
After waking and dressing on Friday morning, it was time to roll up sleeping bags, pack our cases and vacate our rooms. Another hearty cooked breakfast awaited us along with Nicola ready to take us back to the woods for another look at our dens and a spot of ‘bug-bingo’. It was then back to the house for some mud and soil art, which turned out to be our only inside activity. Soon after, Mr Carlisle and Mr Walsh duly appeared to take us all back to school where many expectant parents stood to take their weary, but very satisfied, boys back home to tell tales of woods and dens and rivers and helpful friends…and shared triumphs.