Superweeks: The Sense of Awe and Wonder to be found in the Great Outdoors

Like several Mums I know, as the school holidays lurch into view, I begin a slightly panicked search through the local papers and online forums to find something which may be both fun and ideally beneficial to fill each available day. It is easy to think that I have to be responsible for programming my children’s time completely and that I will suffer the consequences of ‘bored children’ if not prepared enough. I do this without fail at the end of every half term, despite experience showing me that, first it is almost totally unnecessary and, second, filling every minute with activity can actually stop some of the most magical childhood moments having enough air time to come to fruition.

For more than 20 years I have worked on summer camps for children from across the country and from all walks of life with The Active Training and Education Trust. A lofty and somewhat serious title that to some degree hides what lies at the heart of the organisation and its Superweeks, which I can only describe as ‘the essence of childhood’.  We train our staff really very well and teach them over 100 brilliant things to do with children both indoors and outdoors. We also go to some lengths to help them to understand the importance of and the potential magic held in the ‘gaps in between’ activities, which can lead to some of the most magical childhood moments.

As a young monitor on a Superweek I remember arming myself with a list of outdoor games and the necessary balls, bats, sticks and string which would easily fill the group session before lunch, several times over. My 9 boys and I were right down at the bottom of the grounds on a playing field by the wood and could see for miles. Excitingly we couldn’t see the house, any other buildings or any other people. We started playing the first game on my list, the group loved it and we simply couldn’t stop playing. By the time we had used over half of our time, I was keen to share at least one of the other games I had prepared. Then one of my boys suggested that it would be really fun to see if we could get back to the house without anyone seeing us, a suggestion which lit up the group like a Catherine wheel. So I stuffed my games list into my pocket for another day and we set to, camouflaging ourselves with whatever we could find, working out routes, creating maps and secret alert calls to warn each other of impending discovery. We had an hour to fill and I was a little concerned that we would arrive back too quickly. We set off with stealth. Several of my boys hadn’t spent much time in the countryside before and for one 8 year old this was almost more excitement than he could handle, he couldn’t stop shaking and giggling nervously. He and I followed the others, staying low and holding hands to keep me brave, but, thanks to the incredible camouflage and sneaking skills of the group we lost sight of the rest of the children. Suddenly we heard something akin to a crow call, the signal to tell us to drop to the ground, which we did and continued on our elbows as we had been instructed by our captain. We found our group in the long grass just ahead, heads popping up meerkat like from time to time. Another group had been spotted nearby. We had a quick conference lying in the grass, my nervous friend lying on his back, apparently to take a breather, shielding his eyes from the sun. After a minute or so, he tapped me hard on the shoulder and pointed up at the sky. When I turned over I saw, slowly wheeling low overhead, a Buzzard. We told the rest of the group and they all turned over to see. We lay there.

There were a few questions and lots of whispered “wow”s, but mostly we just watched and took in the sight. The buzzard was joined by another and they danced directly over our heads, later we said that it felt like they were showing off just for us. Eventually I looked at my watch, we were 5 minutes late for lunch. We said goodbye to our Buzzards, left our flattened circle and flew up the hill, hungry tummies leading the way. We ate, camouflaged, in the dining room with the other groups, but all that mattered to us was what had just happened, the rest of the room just seem to disappear. We made plans to complete our stalk at the next opportunity and spent our quiet time after lunch making Buzzard pictures and notices to warn people to ‘keep out of the Buzzards nest’, our dormitory. From that moment on our group was ‘The Buzzards’.

The sense of awe and wonder in our world is definitely to be found outdoors, but even when we get out there, do we allow ourselves the space and time to feel it? My hasty Easter activities list is now stuffed on the shelf (just in case) and the picnic/adventure bag packed and ready the night before (or at least that’s the plan!). Tomorrow we will chose a destination, perhaps the common or the woods, and go. With me I will take perhaps a ball, some string and a penknife and faith in my most reliable and creative activity resources, my children and the outdoors.

Helen Fairest

Mother of two and Lead Instructor for The Active Training and Education Trust.

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