A Learning Situation

This week we stumbled inadvertantly into a learning situation. Had I pre-empted it, I might have tried to manage it differently but, as it is, it snuck up on us and perhaps taught us more as a result.

Our eldest son (11) is currently flexi-schooling as I have mentioned in previous posts. He enjoys school as one learning context amongst many and, to him, the day a week he attends is worth it to play football at break time! Last term, we booked his place on the school's outdoor pursuits residential week. He wanted to go, and has been looking forward to it. He has been away from home on several occasions, including a number of scout camps, and he enjoys these kinds of outdoor activity, so we did not anticipate any problems. His scout leaders have always said what a helpful member of the pack he is, and I have never had reports of bad behaviour, so it was quite a surprise to us when, on Wednesday, half way through the week, we had a phone call from the head teacher summoning us to collect our boy and bring him home. I was mortified! What could he have done to justify being sent home from the school trip? With trepidation, we set out to collect him, our minds seeking plausible explanations. Had he been influenced by the group to behave badly? Yet we have been encouraged recently at his seeming confidence and self-assuredness. We felt he was really growing comfortable in his own skin, so would not be swayed to try and fit in - as he once might have been. What could have happened?

We reached the camp, found the teachers in charge, and sat down to talk to them. They had many positive things to say about our son. He is so interested and enthusiastic. But during a walk along the canal, part of a session on map reading, he had taken things into his own hands, and walked ahead of the group, leading several other children. The teachers couldn't catch up with him. He didn't stop at the bridge they were heading for but, reading his map, led the other children on to the next bridge, which he could see was nearer to the activity centre. But he couldn't exit by that path, so had to return, rejoining the group. Rightly, the teacher responsible was furious at this bid for leadership. Unfortunately, our boy had not understood the rules of this school group. He isa competent map-reader, but school is not like scouts where independence, risk-taking, initiative are acceptable, even welcomed. It is not like home education where, I realise, likewise, these qualities are to be encouraged. In the school context, the teachers - and the activity leaders - are responsible for the group of children, and health and safety regulations must be followed. He should have stayed with the group. The poor teacher must have been worried sick. What if ....????

I felt awful. I felt awful for the poor teachers who had had to manage this loose cannon of a boy who could not be relied upon to do as expected. And I felt awful too for my son. It had not occurred to me that I needed to explain to him the 'rules of play' for this school context. I had just expected him to know, to understand, that in different places, different rules apply, different behaviour is expected and accepted. Having driven him home in a silent disgrace, I made him hot chocolate and we talked about this. He was the most chastened and remorseful I have ever seen him, but I do not think he had understood the teachers' position. He has never been strong on empathy, and he needed to understand their stress to see the error of his behaviour in that context.

I think he might have been forgiven this episode, and allowed to stay on the camp, had not an incident of overt disobedience occurred the following day. His teacher explained how well he had participated in the morning activity of den building, showing his skills in a really positive way in the group. But the children were told not to return to a particular area and, later, in play, our boy inadvertantly 'found himself' in the forbidden part of the woods. Well, that was just disobedient, I told him. Yes, he acknowledged. He has an issue with not listening and not doing as he is told. So I am glad that he realised it is not just Mum, Dad, Grandma and Grandpa who ask for his obedience. His teachers do too - and the camp activity leaders. Especially in outdoor pursuits, it is a safety issue. And a sorry will not cut it, there are consequences. He was sent home. I am glad the teachers are able to act and to exclude where behaviour does not meet their expectations. I am glad for the learning experience - both for our son, and for us.

What a thing - to be sent home from the school camp. He had to write letters of apology, letters which showed he really understood what he had done wrong - and that took some discussion - to the two teachers involved, to the head teacher of the school, and to the manager and staff of the outdoor pursuits centre. He is also required to pay us back half of the money we paid for him to attend the camp - for the half of the week he missed. Reflecting, he said, "I think I have learned something from this." Let us hope that is true.