No. 1 for school holiday childcare in the UK: professional camp, or the guy fishing in the canal?

So, my dear reader I must apologise for leaving such a long gap between blogs, but I have been a full time parent for a while, as in all day every day, as a result of my charming son being permanently excluded from a less than super holiday camp. Within 5 days of attending this year he had started bed wetting again and on the 7th glorious day in, he managed to do the following (quoting from the head office’s sales manager emails):

  1. hit a child in the face and used a large stick as a weapon to threaten other children in his group.
  2. received a warning for this however the team took the stick from him and he then ran away to the bottom of the field out of sight.
  3. The camp manager followed him when he ran away to make sure he was safe however he got angrier and ran further and further away.
  4. threw rocks, stones, mud, bottles and a brush at the camp manager, all of which could have caused injury had the staff member not managed to dodge these items.
  5. refused to return to the school when asked and instead ran further away.
  6. The camp manager had to physically stop him getting to the main road by putting himself between him and the road.
  7. kicked, punched, scratched and pinched the camp manager.
  8. continued to throw items at the camp manager and repeatedly kicked the school lockers as hard as he could.

This is the point at which the camp manager called me in the middle of a professional presentation to take him off site forever.

I propose a solution for any unlucky adult who finds themselves in a similar situation. After number 2 happens, and pardon the pun, before the shit hits the fan; you have a situation where an 8 year old child is a long way away from other children and is no longer holding a big stick. He is however, scared and very, very angry, having exercised both fight and flight as hormonal options. The huge rush of adrenaline in his system is going to take an hour to drop back to normal, which is how long it will take before you can have any kind of rational interaction with him. This would be the same for an adult. So just leave him alone. Back off. In fact, a better solution would be to manage a holiday camp for kids where there are not large sticks lying around that can be used as weapons and you wouldn’t even get as far as number 1.

However on the subject of camp management, I wonder if our experience would have been different had our son had a physical disability? Let’s imagine he is poorly sighted and only uses one eye, so has no stereoscopic vision – just like his brother in fact. Imagine he doesn’t cope as well as his brother, and he bumps into doorways, trips over steps and is injuring himself so often that the holiday camp have to exclude him permanently without 1:1 support, as they don’t feel equipped to look after him safely. He twists his ankle one too many times and with the ratios of staff to kids that they operate no-one is there to see the incident, but it’s the final straw. Would we have had four separate emails, containing 1070 words (2/3 the length of this blog post) outlining how rubbish Connor was at walking through doors, going down steps and staying upright? Would we have been asked to take our son home with a warning that unless he could stay out of harm’s way he wasn’t welcome back unless he had 1:1 support with him? Would they have declined multiple requests for a refund of the remaining days booked but not taken?

I imagine they might have been mortified at not being able to keep our child safe.

Bad behaviour is not an acceptable face of disability, so it is socially acceptable to shut it out. You’re allowed to have a behavioural policy at a childcare facility, but you’re not supposed to discriminate on the grounds of disability. That’s not working for me, when the disability is behavioural in manifestation. How about talking to the other kids about how Connor is different and how everyone might be able to help him, just as they might help a visually impaired kid? How about talking to us about how to help him; as their terms and conditions state should happen? How about embracing diversity and bringing it in to the camp with sensitivity, rather than pretending it doesn’t happen on their watch.

I realise this dream isn’t going to happen, this is the camp that can’t keep left over lunch pasta and yoghurt drinks off the floor.

blog lunch on floor small

Instead, the staff give kids constant attention with the often heard phrase, “don’t do that”; training them that attention is received for doing things they shouldn’t, right from the start of the day. It’s staffed by young teachers, probably newly qualified, underpaid and exhausted at the end of a long summer term. Hardly the motivated group you want looking after the most precious elements in your life. Connor says it’s easy to misbehave here because the staff members don’t watch the kids very well at all, so even if you tell a staff member that someone has hurt you, no-one does anything. They’re certainly not busy writing incident reports for twisted ankles or nose-bleeds both of which went unnoticed in my other two kids.

Which leaves me with my fiery youngest son at home now. More precisely, he is cycling with me as I run 10K along the canal tow path, splashing through puddles and playing eye spy with me. This is where we find the guy fishing.

Mr Rugby tots, as his sweatshirt embroidery says, asks Connor if he is already bored of the summer holidays as though this is a perfectly natural response to Connor marching up and talking to him out of the blue, disturbing his fishing peace and quiet. I explain the circumstances that have induced the look of panic on Connor’s face at having to tell him why he is not in a holiday camp right now.

He then turns to Connor and talks to him knowledgeably about how you have to make good choices when you’re in danger of getting in trouble. He treats him intelligently and warns him, that like his son 7 years ago who was also excluded from primary school, if you are always the kid causing trouble, you will get blamed for it even when it’s not your fault. “You don’t want to go through life like that, believe me”, he says. “You want to be a shepherd, not a sheep, doing the stupid things that some people, the “salads”, ask you to do. Connor is rapt and so when Mr Rugby Tots picks up his fishing rod, he does a deal with him. If Mr Rugby Tots can get a fish at the end of the line in under two minutes, Connor has to behave well for the day. The canal is apparently overrun with perch and in under two minutes there is a wriggling fish at the end of the line with a really spiky dorsal fin and orange ventral fins to delight my son with. Connor now has to be good for the day. As an extra bonus, Mr Rugby Tots then teaches Connor how to catch his own fish and he is ecstatic.

blog fishing large

He jumps up and down and says that it is his birthday soon so he now wants a fishing rod as a present. Mr Rugby Tots pulls him up and says “if you want something, you have to work for it. If your mum is OK with it, and you behave for the whole of the summer holiday I will give you this fishing rod”. After Connor gives him a huge hug and I shake him by the hand, Connor spends the whole of the rest of the week checking daily that he is being well behaved enough to get a fishing rod.

This brief exchange has left Connor with a sense of achievement; a genuinely new skill, which we now have to try again on holiday in Pembrokeshire; a goal to work for with a reward that he really wants, rather than points for having fruit in his lunchbox and a new friend that he wants to show his lego to sometime.

There are some people on this planet who “get” kids. They should run holiday camps, and I’m glad to say that Skoolkidz is one such company – Connor is loving it there this week. The manager is not 70 miles away, dick swinging over emails to distraught parents but instead is at the camp laughing with the kids, looking out for and stopping teasing before it becomes an issue.

As many parents struggle to balance family and work for 6 long weeks this summer, choose your childcare cover carefully. I’ll write to Ofsted for you for the first camp, the guy fishing by the canal may be your best start.


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