Category: Wales


I’ve said before that fun and enjoyment are a key part of learning and must be a priority of any teacher. Well, last week I experienced solid proof of that theory.

I’m in my second year of a Welsh course for teachers which focuses on raising personal Welsh ability as well as providing ideas and activities which can be used in the classroom.  I’ve always enjoyed the course, but at times it has been tough. Particularly during the periods where everything is just so hectic in the classroom. Last week, we were all invited to an overnight stay at Glanllyn as part of the course. Our Head was very generous and allowed us to escape the Christmas concert chaos.

I love Glanllyn and I’m always one of the first to volunteer when 20161125_104317the annual trips come round. The sunrise over Lake Tegid is one of my favourite views – it’s impossible to watch it and feel miserable. What made this trip special was that we travelled down after work, which meant it was dark when we arrived and we were able to forget where we were, making the opening-the-curtains moment the next morning all the more breath taking.

Anyway, I’m sure I wasn’t the only person who was feeling a little…well…tired on Thursday night. A hectic week, Christmas concert costume calamities and a streaming cold meant that I travelled down to Glanllyn feeling exhausted, slightly stressed out and the intention to spend the evening being grumpy.

Thankfully that didn’t last long. We met in the staff parlour, Big Brother-style, entering in dribs and drabs with lots of surprised greetings and anxious exchanges over what we’d let ourselves in for. At eight o’clock we clambered onto the mini-bus and headed to a rural Welsh pub. A clever idea – we had to order all of our drinks in Welsh. This was something that got easier as the night went on.

The pre-Glanllyn gloom soon lifted and by ten o’clock we were singing Welsh songs with the local choir, getting super-competitive over a Welsh quiz and laughing a lot. We also spoke lots of Cymraeg.  So, basically, despite being unenthused on arrival, we were all able to relax, have a fab time and practise our Welsh. It was just what we needed and a rare chance to socialise with other teachers.

The next morning, although some of us were slightly croaky, we were up and laughing by 8.30am (mostly at the ridiculous conversations we ended up having the previous night. E.g, responding to a local mechanic’s comment about how much he enjoyed ‘beicio’ [biking] with emphatic ooohs and aaahhs and cries of ‘Dw i’n hoffi teisen!’ [I like cake]. He soon corrected us.)

The morning consisted of team building activities which, again provoked lots of laughs, plenty of Welsh and awoke the competitive beast inside all of us. We were blindfolded, posted through holes in a giant spider’s web and instructed to build a rollercoaster from bamboo and guttering. There was also a very traumatic incident when the egg we were looking after (named Michelle) was egg-napped by the opposing team. It did not go down well. Cue lots of text-threats (in Welsh) and a dramatic egg hunt that would put the Easter Bunny off his job.

There was lots of silliness but it was such a beneficial experience. I came home on Friday feeling relaxed and rejuvenated, ready to head back to the classroom and test out my new Welsh vocab. Speaking Welsh in that informal environment made it so much easier. We all agreed that it had boosted our confidence and the socialising had brought us together as a group, making us less afraid to make mistakes in front of each other. We also got to share ideas and thoughts about the classroom – so it was also an excellent chance to network and build links.

All in all, a very simple but positive experience. I think if schools were able to run events like this for their staff it would not only boost morale but strengthen those bonds between staff members, which would obviously have a positive impact on the children. My enthusiasm for the Welsh language was reignited and I couldn’t wait to share my skills with the class as well as gush to them about the beautiful environment I had stayed in. If we’re passionate about Wales, then the children will be too.

The week started in London. Packed with people, jostling and bustling, the hub of everything. It ended in the middle of Wales, nothing but green, the odd sheep and the small matter of 24 eight year olds. My surroundings may have shifted but I was no less busy. This was not a jolly holiday where I could put my feet up and enjoy the view. This was a year 4 residential.

Now, don’t be fooled, I love residentials. I only have vague memories of trip to Fishguard in year 6, but I have clocked up four as a staff member so far, and each one has been brilliant. I couldn’t pick a favourite between Nant BH, Pentrellyncymer and Glanllyn – each has been filled with fun and, most importantly, fantastic food. (I mean it – you get fed well at these places. If I had to pick a favourite activity it would absolutely be breakfast/lunch/dinner time).

My home for two nights last week was Pentrellyncymer. As with all three residential experiences, the staff were brilliant, giving expert advice whilst acting as figures of trust (and fun!) for the children and staff. I’ve never met a miserable instructor and this latest batch were wonderful with the children.

I know I’m not alone in believing that learning cannot be limited to the classroom and there is so much that can be taken from residential visits. Children are given the chance to experience activities they may never do. How often do you start you day canoeing and end it gorge walking? Naturally, some of the children are a bit nervous at the start, but by the end they are converted to outdoors warriors. A stand out moment from the last visit was a girl pulling herself over a waterfall, waterproof trousers overflowing with large quantities of river, but with a great big grin across her face. She didn’t complain, she thought it was hilarious. She had transformed into Jungle Jane. Admittedly, I never thought I’d enjoy the kind of activities we undertake on these visits, but from my first trip I was addicted. I love watching the children’s faces as they learn a new skill or conquer a fear and I love getting soaking wet in the river or scrambling to the top of the climbing wall. It’s such a change of environment from a classroom. It’s great for the children to experience the beautiful Welsh countryside too. We’re so lucky to live a short car journey from stunning views and a passion for our country should be instilled as early as possible. Wales just has so much to offer!

It’s a tough job, for the instructors, to convert what can be a frightening experience into one of adventure and enjoyment. They always manage to do it with style. This trip was particularly successful, especially as it was Year 4’s first trip away.  We only had one or two tears and even they were quelled with a mug of hot chocolate and a piece of toast. It’s easy to forget just how scary that first night away from home is, but the centre staff do such a good job that it is rarely an issue.

My favourite thing about these trips (apart from the food….did I mention it’s amazing?) is the fantastic bonding opportunities they provide. You can see connections strengthening between the children as they take part in team building exercises and rely on each other for support during the more demanding activities. I also think it’s a great chance to develop that important teacher-pupil bond. Earlier in the year, I went to Nant BH with year 6 and I certainly felt like my relationship with some of the class had strengthened on coming back. You are their figure of stability and trust more than ever whilst they are away from home. Although the instructors know what they’re doing, they’re strangers to the children at first, whereas you are a figure of familiarity and they therefore rely on you to support them. Sometimes you find the ones you struggle to connect with in school end up softening on these trips. I’ve certainly seen that happen. You also see these children in a different light when they’re away from home. This week I’ve seen an often anxious and nervous girl reach the top of the climbing wall, smiling all the way. I’ve seen a quiet year six boy become the leader of a canoe fleet. (That’s right. He became a Viking.) The change can be incredible and wonderful to witness.

It’s not just the children the benefit! Those late night chats whilst you wait for the children to nod off are the basis for staff bonding – highly important, especially when aided by a buffet of chocolate. We always end up giggling at the end of the day, recounting our adventures and sharing tales. It’s a vital team building exercise!

So, a lot can be learned from a good residential. The children pick up fantastic skills and they also get a taste of independence – being given the opportunity to make decisions and look after themselves in a safe, supervised environment. For staff they are an endless treat and I can’t wait for my next one.