A normal day during the Spring and Summer terms is very different to a normal day in the Winter or Autumn, and a normal day for a member of the education team is very different than the normal day for someone who works with the animals.
So! This is a normal, average kind of day for a member of the education team (me) during the Spring and Summer term, on a sunny Tuesday. Got it?
The day starts at 8:20, well, it started before that, I had to get up, get dressed and have breakfast, plus drive to work, but the day starts at the St Madoc Centre at 8:20. For me anyway, the kitchen staff will have been in since around 7:30 getting breakfast ready, and the teachers have been up since around 5 looking after the kids who are too excited to sleep any longer.
So, 8:20 I arrive, the kids greet me with amazing chocolatey moustaches from the chocolate spread on their toast. I ask the kids and the teachers how their evenings were after the education team left the night before. The kids tell me they had an amazing midnight feast and stayed up until 3 in the morning, the teachers assure me the kids were asleep by 11. To start our morning’s activities on time breakfast needs to finish at 8:30, so I hurry the kids along a little, making sure that they’ve all eaten something. Some of the children aren’t used to having any breakfast, so it can be a struggle sometimes to convince them of its’ importance.
The kids put their dishes on the trolley, ready to be taken into the kitchen. I ask for quiet and explain what happens next: the dreaded dormitory inspection. Panic spreads through the children as they remember the mess they’ve left their rooms in, and I give them their 10 minute warning - Abbie and I will be round in 10 minutes to check their rooms for cleanliness and give them a score out of 10. They had one last night, so they know the drill.
Whilst this has been happening, Abbie has been frantically doing the dishes, frustratedly wiping at the chocolate spread which refuses to be cleaned, I go to help with the last couple of loads, as we discuss plans for the day. Our rota’d activities can stay the same, because the weather is good and everyone who’s meant to be here has turned up, which always helps.
The 10 minutes for the kids to tidy is up, Abbie and I head to the dormitories and knock loudly on their doors. Boys room first, shrieking is heard through the door when we knock, followed by loud shushing, by the time the door is opened 10 boys are stood at attention by their beds. We enter, saying good morning as we do. Their bedding and pajamas are strewn around the room, they’ve likely been made this morning, but it seems they may have then been used for a sleeping bag race of some sort. I check their toilet room, not to bad, most of the yellow is in the toilet, so it could’ve been worse. Inspection over we advise the boys to get their old shoes on, grab a water bottle (with water in) and put on some sun cream. We then move onto the girls dorm.
The girls are ready and silently waiting, door open, stood smartly by immaculate beds. The only possibly bad thing is the visible miasma of perfume which seeps into our lungs and tries to knock you out. An excellent effort from the girls. We give them the same getting ready instructions as we give to the boys.
As we get outside we see the boys already waiting. Most don’t have water bottles, some aren’t wearing any shoes, all are covered in so much sun cream they could trek the Sahara and not get burnt. We send them back to their room to finish getting ready. 5 minutes later they come back a couple at a time, seemingly ready. The girls file out soon after, one or two not completely prepared, so we send them back to make sure we’re all ready to go. Whilst we wait Abbie and I get ourselves ready, sun cream on, water bottles filled, and Abbie dashes off to get our shelter building stuff ready. It’s my job to corral the kids and make sure they’re all completely, definitely ready.
It seems like they are, until I ask if any need a wee, they all do, obviously, so off they go back to their rooms. When they get back half have left their water bottles in their rooms, or their shoes, or their t shirts and have to head back to grab whatever it was they left. This process takes us to about 9:30, when I do a final count, make sure we’ve not lost anyone and head to the woods - it’s a short walk, maybe 3 minutes.
We arrive at the woods, amidst moans of ‘are we nearly there yet’, and find Abbie and the various bits and pieces we need for shelter building and fire lighting are ready and waiting. The kids sit around the log circle, and we go over the health and safety stuff. All fairly obvious things, like stinging nettles are stingy, thorns are thorny, that kind of thing. We also don’t allow any tree-climbing, which is always met by a chorus of moans. We also give the kids the ‘game over signal’, the traditional OGGY OGGY OGGY chant, followed by an OI OI OI.
The first game of the day is child hunt, where Abbie picks a child to go hide somewhere in the woods, usually this is a well behaved child, who can be trusted to remain still in their chosen spot. Whilst the hiding is happening, I explain the rules; that the kids must hide with the first child if they find her, I also remind them that if I shout OGGY OGGY OGGY then that means the game is over and they should come back to the log circle. The kids love this game, although two of them do choose to sit in nettles and get stung for their troubles. Abbie checks to see if all of the kids have found the hider, and when they have: OGGY OGGY OGGY, and they all come running back giggling and nursing their stings.
The next activity is the shelter building itself, we talk quickly about why a shelter is important, the four answers I want are; ‘warmth, wind-proof, waterproof and wild animal proof;. The four answers I get are: ‘warmth, wind-proof, waterproof and zombie proof’, which is close enough. After a quick ‘don’t hit anyone with a stick’ chat, the kids head off to make their shelters. Some groups are all thinkers, and they spend a long time planning, and no time making, some are all doers, and they frantically work at cross purposes, resulting in squabbles and not a lot else. Some groups though, are the right combination of thinkers and doers, which make fantastic multi-tiered shelters.
Little Johnny needs a wee, I point him towards the designated wee-tree for a wild-wee. Suddenly all the boys need a wild-wee and queue a sensible distance from the wee-tree for their turn. It is quite exciting to be allowed to wee outside.
Abbie and I ask the teachers to help the groups of thinkers get started, and the groups of doers be a little more thoughtful. Whilst they do this, Abbie takes a group at a time to show how to light a small fire with a flint and steel, and then a fire steel. I really like watching the kids struggle at first, getting the technique and action right, before finally turning sparks into fire. Not everything worth doing will be easy!
Whilst Abbie helps the kids safely light their cotton wool on fire I boil some water and collect some nettle leaves and herbs ready for some woodland tea. We have a kelly kettle, so the whole process is fairly simple. The leaves are collected and chopped, in goes the boiled water and after a little time to brew and cool the tea is ready - as are (hopefully) the shelters.
We get the kids sat around the log circle again and pass out the tea, whilst Abbie lights a small fire in the centre, ready for marshmallow roasting. The kids excitedly sip the tea, and theatrically wretch at the taste of the nettles, some are brave enough to eat the cooked nettles themselves, much to the delight of those watching. Marshmallows come next, 3 kids at a time, sensibly roasting their marshmallows, some like their sticky treat practically black, some prefer only brown, some, worryingly, don’t like them. It’s ok though, I have theirs.
After the treat of marshmallows, it’s time to test the shelters. The bucket of water is fetched, the kids go inside the shelters and the bucket is poured on top. Well, some of it is, the rest is poured in through any gaps we find. The kids scream, they love this bit! All the shelters are tested, all the kids are soaked, some of the grown ups are soaked too.
After all the excitement, the kids head back the their dorms to change and dry off, as well as wash their hands ready for lunch. Abbie and I stay behind to tidy up, then head back to the kitchen to get out the rolls and bits and bobs for lunch.
It’s only 12:30. 6 Hours to go!
So maybe this should've been titled half a normal day. It seems that the rest of the day will have to wait, this blog has gone on far too long, maybe I'll finish it off when next my turn to write the monthly blog rolls around.