Encouraging Your Child to Make Friends on an Activity Trip
There are many benefits of visiting an activity centre like ours, such as helping with anxiety or improving mental health. An activity break can also give your child a chance to make new friends, helping to improve their confidence in making friends elsewhere.
Talking to new people can be scary whatever your age, yet for many children connecting with others can be difficult or frightening, especially if they have disabilities. To help, here is our guide to encouraging your child to make friends on an activity trip…
Encourage them before travelling
It can often be beneficial to prepare your children for their trip, from helping them pack to talking about the exciting activities and fun games they’ll be doing.
You could also mention that other children will be there too, possibly doing activities in your group or sitting near you during meals.
You could then suggest that your child talks to the other children, or give them a positive goal, like to find out other people’s names.
Some children may be anxious about this idea, some may not understand the point, whilst others will look forward to it. Whatever your child’s reaction, listen to their response and give them gentle encouragement to interact with others.
Doing this before your arrival gives them time to process the information and be more prepared to communicate with others.
Work out some ‘opening lines’ together
It may be a good idea to practice saying hello in various ways, especially if you predict your child will need extra encouragement to make friends. To assist them further, try to create some opening lines or questions your child could use to start a conversation.
Examples could be ‘My name is- what is yours?’ or ‘I like your jumper’ or ‘What did you enjoy about today?‘
Practising and rehearsing social skills in a safe and warm environment will support your child by teaching social cues. Planning out what they could say can make them feel that bit more prepared to meet new people.
Lead by example and encourage them to follow
Once you have arrived for your activity break, strive to speak to others in a friendly manner so that your children can pick up on it and possibly follow your example.
You could even use the opening lines you created to show them how they can progress and add prompts for your children to contribute or carry on the conversation.
By modelling positive, friendly behaviours, you can guide your children to do the same.
Talk to them about feelings and encourage empathy
Parents can help children develop social skills during a short activity break by focusing on feelings and empathy, which will help build friendships.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the thoughts and feelings of others. Developing feelings and empathy is a complex process that starts from birth and continues throughout our lives, but it is a key factor in making friends.
- Identify feelings, both positive and negative – It’s important to put a name to what your child might be feeling whenever you can. Saying something as simple as, ‘You seem happy/excited/joyful/upset/angry/scared‘ helps a child identify what they are feeling in themselves and can be all they to hear to express their emotions
- Identify feelings in others – In the same way, saying ‘That person seems happy/angry‘ helps children see emotions in others and allows them to identify with them. This can be developed further by using them as conversation starters.
Use feelings to start conversations
During an activity break, giving children prompts increases empathy and provides an opportunity to start a conversation, laying the groundwork for friendship.
For example: ‘They seem happy they did the activity, why don’t you say well done and ask them what they enjoyed the most?’ or ‘That child looks upset, perhaps they are scared of doing the activity. What would you say to them?‘
Likewise, questions related to negative feelings could also allow them to start a chat and connect.
If these prompts lead nowhere, that’s fine. It’s best to not force the situation further, instead make suggestions and allow the children to connect in their own way if they wish to.
Notice and praise caring behaviour
Whether with your prompts or not, make a point of praising your child when they show empathy and engage in a caring way.
You could say how proud you are when you see them being kind and thoughtful to others. State why it was positive behaviour and talk about how it might have made the other person feel.
Positive reinforcement will give them belief in themselves and motivate them to do it again, hopefully increasing the bond between children.
Other issues that children often struggle with are sharing and taking turns. Or they may have difficulty being in a team. When they get these things right, however, it will increase their social skills.
Adventure activities can often be a combination of group work and solo participation. So an activity break is a perfect opportunity to practise their sharing skills and general communication with others.
Here at Calvert Trust Exmoor, we have groups no bigger than 10 people, meaning it’s easy for children to talk to others and participate in group activities.
Highlight when and how they shared correctly or gave help to others. They may not have realised they’ve done something positive, so nice comments on how they behaved will support their future interactions.
Experts recommend providing immediate positive feedback, that’s kept brief and simple.
Encouraging your child to make friends on an activity trip – Summary
- Prepare them before the trip so they have time to process the fact other children will be there to talk to
- Practise greeting others and prepare some opening lines
- Lead by example and start conversations, aim to include your child
- Identify positive and negative feelings in other children
- Guide your child to relate to other people’s feelings and to use empathy to prompt them to start a conversation
- When you see your children exhibiting friendly or caring behaviours, such as sharing and taking turns, praise them – this encourages children to repeat the positive behaviours
Finally, parents shouldn’t place social expectations on children and force friendships to emerge from nowhere. They could make one or two good friends during their stay with no need to worry about them being the most popular kid on site.
With over 25 years of adventure breaks at Calvert Trust Exmoor, many children have come out of their shell and made new friends during their stay. Sometimes with help from the ideas above, and sometimes all on their own.
However your children make new friends on an activity trip, it is a magical moment that makes the stay even more worthwhile.
We welcome many families time and time again, on weekend and midweek breaks. They come for the activities and facilities, and also for the chance to meet new people. See more about our family breaks in Devon for additional information.
Residential trips are an opportunity for children to learn, grow, and have fun. Yet for a parent, watching your child leave for a residential can be a daunting or worrying experience. Many parents wonder how their child will behave and will they be safe?
In this news piece, we hope to ease your worries with guidance on how to keep your child safe on a residential trip, even if you will not be by their side…
Learn about the residential
It’s essential to carefully plan for a residential, which starts with knowing all the details. Teachers or group leaders will be arranging the trip but parents, guardians or carers should be involved in several ways.
You could talk to the people planning the residential. Schools commonly hold pre-trip meetings to inform and take questions. If not, consider contacting them directly.
It can seem scary entrusting your children in someone else’s care. So knowing timings, travelling plans, locations and sleeping arrangements will settle your nerves. You can also inform the residential leaders of important information about your child to keep them safe and well.
Talk with your child about their trip
When you have all the details about the residential, you can pass it on to your child in a way they will understand. This helps them get excited whilst also contributing to their safety on the trip as they will be better prepared.
Talk them through where they are going, what they will be doing, and how days will be structured. Listen to any concerns they may have and add reassurance.
Perhaps your child is nervous or unsure about going? The more your child talks about it, the better they will feel. We have compiled some extra tips on how to get them excited for a residential trip.
Discuss safety and boundaries
Another area of discussion is what they must do to keep safe.
Talk to your child about the importance of staying with the group – close to their teacher, group leader or other authority figures, such as activity instructors.
It can be helpful to explain that a residential is fun and thrilling but that they still need to follow the same rules they follow when at home, at school or walking on the pavement.
It’s often beneficial to add extra boundaries unique to their residential. Examples could be emphasising that they must stay in the centre, or that they can’t use the activity facilities until told to by an instructor.
The more conversations you have, the better children will understand the rules, even though you won’t be there to supervise them.
Check out the location
If you know where the residential is taking place, why not spend time with your child looking at it online? Search for the location and see what comes up. There may be galleries on their website or good images on the search engine to go through.
If brochures or itineraries are available, you could go through them together to help get your child excited. Plus it gives you extra opportunities to establish the rules of the trip. If there are maps or plans of the grounds and accommodation, use them to set boundaries, showing where they can and cannot go.
Pack their bags as a team
Get your child involved in the packing of their bags. Since you both know what the residential involves, you can ensure they have everything needed for a good time whilst looking after themselves.
Depending on their age and abilities, kids can contribute in different ways. Let younger ones see what you are packing and explain why each item and piece of clothing is essential. They could then add fun and comforting extras, such as a toy, book or accessories.
Older children could pack their bags themselves, with supervision and guidance if needed. This teaches them to plan ahead, increases independence, and makes them think of their own wellbeing and safety.
Packing together reassures them, and you, that they have everything needed to feel prepared, safe and secure.
See our guide on things to pack for a residential trip.
Make them stand out
One more point about packing is to dress your children in brightly coloured clothes that stand out and avoid dark colours that will blend into surroundings. This will make them easy to see and remember in a crowd or against a natural backdrop.
The colour of their clothing is unlikely to be an issue during a Calvert Trust Exmoor visit, as activity groups are small and supervised by the same instructor throughout. But elsewhere on other residentials, it may be beneficial for their safety.
Make sure contact details are up to date
Confirm that the group leaders have your correct contact details before the residential. Provide one or two additional emergency numbers if you may not be reachable – just in case.
Have faith in risk assessments
Schools and residential leaders will have your child’s safety as their highest priority. They will conduct rigorous risk assessments for every activity and location, whether it be a day out or week away.
A risk assessment must be carried out for each residential, which will help teachers identify and remove any of the potential risks. Schools must adhere to set staffing to child ratios and will keep individual physical, medical, social and behavioural needs in mind before and during a residential.
Schools must also have an emergency response plan to follow if an accident or incident occurs during a trip.
Plus, residential centres have their unique risk assessments and safety procedures with trained staff and instructors who also have everyone’s safety as their highest priority.
Many sites are also audited or inspected by independent boards. For instance, here at Calvert Trust Exmoor we have…
- The Learning Outside the Classroom Quality Badge
- Five-star activity accommodation status awarded by Visit England
- Been certified by activity bodies such as British Canoeing, the British Horse Society, and more
Residential breaks at Calvert Trust Exmoor
At our activity centre we welcome children of all ages and specialise in accessible breaks for people with physical, learning, sensory or behavioural disabilities. Our residential breaks are based at our remote centre in North Devon, meaning the group stays safely inside the grounds away from busy roads.
The stay will include activities throughout the day, then access to group swimming sessions, the sensory room, and social areas in the evening. Activities, accommodation, meals and facilities are all on-site and included in the costs.
Wherever they are visiting, keeping your child safe on a residential break starts with good communication and ensuring children understand what they should and should not do to keep themselves safe. The residential leaders and centre staff will take it from there to make sure everyone has a wonderful break.
Can outdoor activities help a child with anxiety? Here at Calvert Trust Exmoor we truly believe that the answer is yes!
Read on as we explain why adventure breaks and outdoor activities help with anxiety in children of all ages.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is an emotion that is perfectly normal to experience. It can be described as a feeling of tension alongside worried or negative thoughts. Which is something we all go through occasionally.
However, anxiety can become more than an emotion and start to influence our lives. For example, people with anxiety may avoid situations they worry about. Others may constantly find their emotions hard to control so it affects their lives more dramatically, leading to many anxiety-based disorders of varying degrees.
Those with anxiety disorders frequently worry about and fear everyday situations at intense, excessive, and persistent levels.
Anxiety disorders and mental health are closely related and often influence each other.
Why would a child have anxiety?
There are many reasons why children could be feeling anxious. Key causes of anxiety include…
Separation – younger children tend to experience separation anxiety from parents or loved ones and do not want to be away from them.
Phobias – irrational fears such as heights, bugs etc.
Life experiences – remembering past events that they believe went badly or reflecting on negative feelings can cause anxiety in similar situations.
Social settings – being shy and not confident when meeting new people, or expecting to feel embarrassed, silly, or rejected by others.
Life changes – anxiety can be brought on by changes to the everyday routine, new settings, unfamiliar situations, moving to a new house and school, or the loss of a close relative or friend.
What are the signs of anxiety in children?
Each child displays their anxiety differently, but common signs include…
- Becoming irritable
- Having difficulty sleeping or having bad dreams
- Finding it hard to concentrate
- Losing appetite or not eating properly
- Constantly worrying or having negative thoughts
- Asking lots of questions or needing reassurance
- Feeling tense and fidgety
- Complaining of tummy aches and feeling unwell
- Lack of confidence to do everyday things
- Avoiding activities they previously enjoyed, such as seeing friends, going out or going to school
How can disability contribute to anxiety?
Anxiety can affect any child or adult, but children with a disability may be extra prone to feeling anxiety.
Depending on the disability or condition, a child may have additional difficulties in social settings and may face further struggles with change.
It’s also likely that their life experiences are unique to them and different to those without disabilities; they may feel that no-one else understands what they have gone through and that they can’t do what others can. Many people with disabilities feel social isolation and loneliness.
Therefore, their anxiety rates are high, leading to additional disorders.
It can be difficult for children with learning disabilities to express their feelings of anxiety. They may not understand their feelings and what is causing them, so cannot easily talk about them. Trying to express anxious feelings with limited communication skills can lead to misunderstandings, causing anxiety to intensify.
10 ways outdoor activities can help a child with anxiety…
1 – An improved sense of wellbeing
Outdoor activities usually take place in quiet places, away from the hustle of everyday life, especially at adventure centres like Calvert Trust Exmoor located in the countryside next to a national park.
Just by being in an environment surrounded by nature brings on an improved sense of wellbeing and is relaxing, reducing anxiety in general. Fresh air, trees and pretty views put the mind at ease even at a young age.
2 – An acceptance of new experiences
Structured outdoor activities can encourage an openness to new experiences. Doing new activities helps children learn that they can do things they didn’t think possible. Which reduces fears, worries and anxieties.
The support and encouragement of those around them improves their experience and helps them overcome phobias, improve social confidence, and build positive memories.
3 – A new way of thinking
By going through new experiences, children can develop a new way of thinking.
For example – a child abseiling for the first time has probably never thought about how to abseil before. In the build-up, they may nervous and worried about falling. Yet with the help of Activity Instructors and those around them, the child will learn about the equipment, how the ropes work, and will take on important information. This makes them focus on how to abseil rather than worrying about whether they can or not, reducing anxiety.
Also, overcoming outdoor activity fears can develop resilience and mental toughness whilst creating positive memories, reducing anxiety in the future.
4 – An increase in confidence and independence
There is often a huge sense of accomplishment and excitement during outdoor activities which improves confidence and self-belief.
Completing an activity teaches a child that they are competent and good enough to do it, acting as an inspiration to attempt other goals. Feelings of self-doubt are overcome and replaced with perseverance – improving confidence and lowing levels of anxiety.
Many children also feel a sense of independence. This could be because they become open to doing activities and exercises that we may not regularly do. An effect of this is a freshly engaged mind and fresh determination.
5 – Different stimulation
Being outdoors doing activates provides different and new stimuli. By embracing them, children can increase their ability to be in unfamiliar places. Seeing, smelling, hearing and doing new things becomes less overwhelming, and the idea of somewhere ‘new’ doesn’t seem as daunting.
6 – A connection with others
A sense of belonging and community can form between children when in an unfamiliar environment. The process of doing new activities together connects children, especially when several of the group are anxious.
This shared feeling of anxiety is what bonds children who have just met, and they can quickly form a team or friendship.
7 – Acquiring new skills
By doing outdoor activities, children can learn skills whilst improving general coordination and motor skills. In the long run, this improves self-confidence and allows them to see themselves in a positive light.
Anxiety reduces as they build confidence and experience different ways to learn and succeed.
8 – Reduced stress
It is well documented that stress and fatigue, caused by any number of things, can contribute to anxiety. A stressed child could struggle to deal with their feelings, so anxiety grows.
Outdoor activities help overcome phobias such as heights, encourage socialising and offer positive life experiences, reducing stress and lowing anxiety levels.
9 – A feeling of responsibility and control
As listed above, children can have anxiety because of what they are going through at that moment in time. Giving them the responsibility and control over the situation helps reduce fears.
During outdoor activity sessions, the children always feel in control of their own actions. A child may be encouraged to take part, but it is ultimately their decision if they do or not. Subconsciously this reduces anxiety as they always feel in control and make their own decisions.
10 – An improvement in mental health
As previously mentioned, anxiety can have an impact on mental health and vice versa. We have another news piece focusing on how breaks at an adventure centre can improve mental health and therefore help with anxiety.
At the Calvert Trust Exmoor centre, we often meet anxious children who do not think they will enjoy their stay or are worried about doing certain outdoor activities.
Then they have a wonderful time and love every activity. The children conquer their fears and leave with a positive mindset.
If nothing else, children spending time with family or friends causes them to relax and enjoy the experience, helping them to understand anxiety and developing their skills to get past their worries in other settings.
We provide outdoor activities in a safe environment, with trained instructors who really get to know the children, which also helps with anxiety.
There is an abundance of things to do in North Devon, throughout the year.
Whether you are in the area for a day, are looking for holiday inspiration, or are planning on staying at the Calvert Trust Exmoor centre for a residential activity break, browse our guide about what to do in North Devon and Exmoor.
Exmoor National Park
Exmoor National Park is a stunning place to spend time. The picturesque landscape consists of rolling moorland and wooded areas, home of roaming ponies, Red Deer and postcard-worthy beauty spots.
Exmoor is one of the smallest national parks in the UK, so the area is easy to explore in a short time on foot and by car.
Whilst exploring, it is likely Exmoor ponies will make an appearance. These adorable and distinctive animals are endangered, so they are well looked after despite roaming free. Ponies can be seen on the moors, often crossing the roads as they please.
We recommend visiting these places to experience what Exmoor has to offer…
Right beside the Calvert Trust Exmoor centre, Wistlandpound Reservoir may be just outside the national park, but it is a popular attraction for those who enjoy walking through nature. The accessible paths zig-zag their way around the water and through woods. Whatever the time of year or weather, this is a beautiful place to escape the real world for a few hours.
In the middle of a valley, lies a historic clapper bridge – made of large stone slabs and boulders. At 55 meters long, Tarr Steps is the longest bridge of its type in Britain, possibly dating back to the Bronze Age. The bridge forms a part of a short circular walk through the wooded valley and along the riverbanks. It’s a popular location and walking across the bridge is a must-do. Technically Tarr Steps is in Somerset, but it’s not far from North Devon so we’ll include in our list of things to do.
Similar to Tarr Steps, Watersmeet is a place to see rapid rivers at the bottom of a valley. Named due to its location where two rivers meet, there are waterfalls and paths along the sides of the river, plus routes around the surrounding area. The river is home to otters and salmon, or look inland for Red Deer, herons, wood warblers and jays. There is also a National Trust tearoom, providing a place to relax amongst the surrounding nature.
Valley of Rocks
Found near the village of Lynton along the Exmoor coastline, the Valley of Rocks is a well-known tourist destination for families and walkers who enjoy the stunning views. The dry valley is home of feral goats that roam the steep hills and the stone towers that rise sharply into the sky. Paths loop around the area, providing views of the sea and cliffs that make for stunning photographs.
Great Hangman – England’s highest cliff
Found near Combe Martin in North Devon, the highest cliff in England is in Exmoor. Combe Martin is a good place to park (just 10 minutes from Calvert Trust Exmoor) before walking along the coast and up to the height of 1,044 feet. The views of the surrounding moors and cliffs are worth the hike up the sometimes tricky incline.
The highest point on Exmoor and the second-highest point in southern England, Dunkery Beacon is 1,704 feet above sea level. On a sunny day, it’s possible to see the Bristol and English Channels, the Brecon Beacons in Wales, Bodmin Moor in Cornwall, Dartmoor in Devon and even Cleeve Hill which is nearly 90 miles away in Gloucestershire. The beacon is found in the remote heart of Exmoor, surrounded by barren but beautiful moors – luckily the car park is just half a mile away from the peak.
Popular North Devon Tourist Attractions
North Devon is home to many family-friendly attractions, which are perfect for quick visits or complete days out.
Here are some top North Devon places that are worth a visit…
Quince Honey Farm
The home of honey and bees, Quince Honey Farm is 20 minutes from the Calvert Trust Exmoor centre, in South Molton. This small and quaint family attraction provides beekeeping courses and experiences, guide tours, honey tasting, candle rolling, critter encounters for children and more. There’s also a play area and a restaurant to round your visit off.
This conservation zoo is home to a range of animals such as wolves, cheetahs, African wild dogs, bugs and snakes, monkeys, kangaroos, and many varieties of cats including the famous ‘Exmoor Beast’ – black leopards!
Combe Martin Wildlife and Dinosaur Park
Another family-friendly zoo, with the added twist of electronic dinosaurs. There is also an indoor soft play area for younger children. Animals include lions, penguins, sea lions (who do daily shows), wolves, monkeys, Amur Leopards and more.
Arlington Court is a National Trust property with a historic house, formal gardens, a carriage museum and acres of land to explore. The grounds are open all year round for walkers, with paths that go through forests, past lakes, and around fields where deer are known to forage.
The Big Sheep and The Milky Way Adventure Parks
These two theme-park type attractions are each a day out for all ages. They both have indoor and outdoor play areas, rides, live shows, games, and all-round family entertainment.
A visit to The Big Sheep includes cuddly animals and fun sheep racing!
Whilst The Milky Way has a space theme with bumper cars and a new ninja family area.
The village of Clovelly is unique, as it’s a working fishing village with no cars and historic cobbled streets that tumble down the hill to the harbour. A trip here starts at the visitor centre, before walking through time down the main path, past old houses, shops and museums to the sea below. Donkeys once pulled carts up the hill, but these days the donkeys enjoy the easy life, living in the stables and meeting passers-by.
Marwood Hill Garden – Tucked away in a quiet valley near Barnstaple, the 20-acre garden at Marwood is made up of three ponds surrounded by a collection of plants and trees, a lovely haven to relax and enjoy nature.
RHS Rosemoor – Just outside Torrington is the RHS Garden Rosemoor, a year-round attraction for the whole family. There are beautiful formal and informal flowerbeds and plantings, separated into many different gardens, alongside woodlands and meadows.
Castle Hill Gardens – Home to the 15th generation of the same family, Castle Hill is a grand building that dominates the hill it sits on. The 50 acres of gardens and parklands that surround it are open to the public, made up of woodland and formal gardens brought together by the family since 1730.
Towns and Villages to Explore and Shop
From small and quaint villages to large bustling towns, you’ll find a friendly place to spend time wherever you go in North Devon. We’ve listed just a few of the most popular here, but there are many more to be found, and some hidden gems tucked away…
Lynton and Lynmouth – Lynton is perched at the top of a hill whilst Lynmouth sits below at the bottom, connected by a 130-year-old Cliff Railway – the world’s highest and steepest water-powered railway. Lynmouth has a stone beach with a dramatic coastline and seaside town feel.
South Molton – known as the gateway to Exmoor, South Molton is a small and historic market town.
Barnstaple – the unofficial ‘capital’ of North Devon, Barnstaple is the place to shop popular high-street brands and independent retailers.
Ilfracombe and Verity – the seaside town of Ilfracombe has a little bit of everything; shops and restaurants, family attractions, striking coastal views, rock pools and beaches. The picturesque harbour is the focal point of the town, where a historical chapel overlooks the modern statue of Verity by Damien Hurst – the second tallest statue in the UK.
The North Devon beaches are always worth a visit, at whatever time of year. They are popular because of good surf, long golden sandy beaches and the stunning surrounding countryside. Some dominate the landscape. Whilst others are small, secret and hidden away.
Looking for a long sunny day on the beach? Or want to blow the cobwebs away with a walk by the sea during the winter months? These are some of the beaches you could visit…
Saunton Sands is a classic beach, with three and a half miles of sand that disappear into the distance, blue seas and dramatic dunes. Facilities include a large car park, café and beach shop for a full day out. Lifeguards are on duty for most of the year, making it a safe place to swim, surf or play on the beach.
Woolacombe beach is multi-award winning. Like Saunton Sands, there is a long expanse of sand and sea, with lifeguards, shops and facilities. The beach is backed by the village of Woolacombe, which has additional shops and restaurants.
Again, Croyde is a sandy beach, popular with surfers and sunbathers alike. This beach is perfect for rock-pooling as it’s set in a small bay, with rocks on either side of the sand. Facilities are on site, with lifeguards in summer. Croyde village is nearby, with coastal walks to the village and around the bay.
Now for something different. Broad Sands is not a large and well-known beach, it’s a secret gem that many locals wish to keep to themselves. Broad Sands is a small cove hidden on the coast of Exmoor, and it’s an adventure to get to. It’s not reachable by road, but by parking at the top of the cliff and taking a path and 200 steps down to the sand. The path goes through woods and offers spectacular views. Once at the sand, the beach is quiet, remote, picturesque, and perfect for a swim.
Ilfracombe Tunnels Beaches
Found in the town of Ilfracombe, the Tunnels Beaches are unique. Originally a historic Victoria bathing bath, the shingle beach has a ringed rock formation that creates a natural swimming pool, with the rocks separating the still water from the sea. To get to the beach requires walking through the cliff, using the large hand-carved tunnel. The pool is a calm place to swim. Tunnels Beaches has Blue Flag beach status and the Quality Coast Award. There is also a lifeguard on duty, and it’s been listed as the safest beach in North Devon.
We’ve summarised just some of the many things to do in North Devon, there are plenty more places and attractions to be discovered.
If you would like to visit and need accessible accommodation in North Devon, enjoy an activity break at Calvert Trust Exmoor. Stay for a weekend, Monday to Friday, or for seven days and you’ll have time to visit some of the places we’ve mentioned, in between doing exciting activities.
Phone 01598 763221 for more details and to book. We look forward to welcoming you in for a North Devon break soon.
‘A Special School’ is a BBC documentary series that stars the students and teachers of Ysgol Y Deri, the UK’s largest special education school.
Included in episode 1 of this series is the school’s visit to Calvert Trust Exmoor, which is available to watch on iPlayer.
59 students and teachers from Ysgol Y Deri, near Cardiff, visited between 30th September and 4th October 2019 to enjoy a residential break.
With them came a production company, filming the observational documentary series about the school. Slam Media were commissioned by BBC Wales to make the series, ‘A Special School’ and they were eager to include the annual visit to the Calvert Trust Exmoor centre.
The television series captures the reality of life in Britain’s biggest special needs school and is an experience that will leave viewers smiling, laughing and crying.
During their stay, the staff and pupils took part in canoeing, biking, horse riding, archery, crate stacking, abseiling and zip wiring. These fun and exciting activities helped to improve physical and mental wellbeing, created wonderful memories and helped the Ysgol Y Deri students accomplish far more than they ever knew possible. By taking on personal challenges with help and encouragement, the pupils developed new skills, built self-confidence and gained greater independence.
The school were also filmed enjoying the on-site facilities including accommodation, swimming pool, dining room and social areas.
The programme is a joy to watch and it is an honour to be included in their lives, even for just a short period. We wish everyone at the school all the best for the future.
A question often asked during the booking process is “can we really do activities like abseiling, even with disabilities?” – and the answer is always a big YES. We’ve seen time and time again that a disability doesn’t stop anyone from doing accessible abseiling.
Abseiling may traditionally be seen as a ‘daredevil’ stunt down tall buildings or cliffs, but in reality it’s a fun outdoor activity that can be enjoyed by everyone.
The Calvert Trust Exmoor facilities
We have a wide range of exciting accessible activities, and abseiling is one of the most popular.
Abseiling takes place outside on a specially designed outdoor wall, whatever the weather.
We use and maintain our rope and safety equipment every day, and the expert instructors provide a safe activity for everyone to experience, adapting to all disabilities.
Anyone can do abseiling
Instructors will work with each individual to find a way for them to have a go, using harnesses, safety equipment and ropes to walk down the wall – or a manual wheelchair can be used if needed.
Any doubts and worries quickly disappear as the group cheer each other on and the instructors provide advice, guidance, and reassurance throughout.
How accessible abseiling sessions work
At the start of a session, the activity instructor will lead the group to be fitted out with harnesses and helmets and any other equipment needed. They will then go to the viewing area at the top of the wall for a full safety briefing, before taking it in turns abseiling.
Instructors ensure each person is secure and that they understand how to travel down the wall. Two people can abseil side by side, or individuals can go down on their own.
There are several variations on how the activity can be adapted for disabilities. We haven’t listed disabilities here but aim to provide some information on what you can expect in most circumstances.
Abseiling support for wheelchair users
We use the term “abseiling wall” but describing it as a steep “ramp” is also appropriate. The ground at the start is a level surface, then the top and the bottom are curved to allow a wheelchair to easily roll over it.
We have a specialist wheelchair that is designed for abseiling, and most guests choose to transfer into it manually or with a hoist. Other manual wheelchairs may be suitable depending on a decision from the instructor. Sadly, electric wheelchairs cannot be used for accessible abseiling. Instead, participants will be hoisted into our abseiling chair.
Guests in a wheelchair can control their speed down the wall with their hands, using the rope system. Anyone unable to hold or use the ropes will be controlled by the instructor.
Anyone using a wheelchair to abseil will have someone beside them throughout for additional encouragement.
Abseiling support for those with sensory disabilities
For those who are deaf or have a hearing impairment, instructors can create a system which encompasses rope tugs as a means of communication. The instructor will be in sight of the guest at all times for constant visual cues.
Guests who are blind or have a visual impairment will be guided down by the voices of the instructor and the person abseiling beside them.
Abseiling support for those with learning or behavioural disabilities
We understand that it can be difficult for people with learning or behavioural disabilities to concentrate and focus on the task at hand or to fully understand what they are being asked to do.
With abseiling, we find the process of putting on harnesses and helmets before going to the top of the wall breaks the session into several stages, so not to overwhelm. This gives guests time to adapt and allows instructors to constantly talk and repeat what will happen.
The group will see the wall from the bottom before walking to the top, so everyone has time to process what is taking place. Instructors will patiently repeat what needs to be done as many times as needed to see the whole group abseiling successfully. Children or adults with learning or behavioural disabilities can also abseil first if they wish before focus is lost.
What are the benefits of abseiling?
Abseiling is excellent for developing problem-solving skills, motor skills and coordination – due to the process of travelling backwards whilst using the hands to control speed.
It gives the feeling of accomplishment and boosts confidence
There is often a huge sense of accomplishment and excitement after guests have achieved something they may not have thought possible. This improves confidence and self-belief. Here at Calvert Trust Exmoor, our expert team is always on hand to make sure everyone feels their best, especially when abseiling for the first time.
It helps build trust and communication
Guests will be with their group and their instructor throughout their stay. Everyone bonds to ensure that individuals are comfortable and that each person knows what they are doing in activities. So guests will inevitably build up a good rapport with those around them.
When abseiling individually, the group will watch and provide support. Or if abseiling in pairs, talking to each other is essential to abseil side by side. The activity encourages friendships and builds relationships, whether abseiling with friends, family or other members of the group.
Having a disability should never hold anyone back from doing accessible abseiling, or any outdoor adventure activities – which is why Calvert Trust Exmoor is a fully accessible site where everyone can enjoy themselves during a stay and do a full range of fun activities.
We would like to say a BIG THANK YOU to Richard, who has been volunteering to give our courtyard garden a makeover.
Richard is a gardener at the popular RHS Garden Rosemoor in Great Torrington, near our centre in North Devon. Whilst on furlough leave due to Covid-19, he decided to put his green fingers to good use and gave our courtyard the love and attention it so thoroughly needed.
Our thanks, therefore, go to Richard for his time and effort. We look forward to welcoming him back again soon, possibly on a monthly bases – so we also thank RHS Rosemoor for allowing him to do so.
Other people deserve a ‘thank you’ as well.
Fresh mulch was supplied by Wedgewood Buildings Ltd in Devon. It was delivered to the centre by Pip from nearby Quince Honey Farm, using their vehicle and trailer. So our thanks to owners Paddy and Ian for arranging the delivery.
How’s the garden looking now?
With the sensory garden left to do its own thing recently, the courtyard was looking ‘wild’ and overgrown.
But now the stinging nettles and weeds have gone, with colourful flowers and bushes remaining!
Here’s Richard making a start on the first of the flower beds…
They were was all stripped back ready for new plants to grow and flourish…
The bushes behind the benches were overgrown…
But once again they’re a pleasant place to sit…
Can you spot the pots amongst the green?
With the overgrown plants removed, you can see the pots and water feature again…
With the area cleared, Richard can continue working on it in the future…
There are some more images of the courtyard garden in the gallery below. Our accommodation is based around this courtyard, so it’s easy to spend time looking at the flowers and plants during an accessible break.
We can be reached on 01598 763221 if you have any questions about the accommodation or booking a break at Calvert Trust Exmoor.
In July 2020, Sam and Tyler (Calvert Trust Exmoor activity instructors), walked around Exmoor National Park looking for 26 markers spread out across the remote moors. It took them 5 days and almost 200km of walking to complete their Trig Trek.
Orienteering played a big part in their adventure, as the pair had to understand where to find the markers, how to navigate the terrain and which routes to take across the moor.
Without knowledge of orienteering plus a map and compass, finding the markers simply wouldn’t have been possible.
But what exactly is orienteering and how can anyone have a go, including those with disabilities?
This news piece takes a general look at how orienteering is more than simply hiking over remote places, but can be an exciting activity for all.
What is orienteering?
Orienteering is the term used for finding specific locations or points using a map and compass.
The aim is to travel between checkpoints marked on an orienteering map, working out the best routes to take.
As orienteering usually takes place over open ground (such as moors) or through wooded areas, there is no set route, so getting from A to B however you decide is a fun challenge that takes concentration, practice and skill.
Orienteering can also be a competitive sport, with runners racing to find the markers first. The marker in competitive orienteering is a square with white and orange/red triangles.
People who have experience in orienteering can use a standard map and compass to plan their routes and find their markers, like Sam and Tyler did with their trek across Exmoor.
But competitive orienteerers or orienteering groups will use a special map highlighting where the set markers are. Orienteering maps are also very good for beginners, as they include colour co-ordinated information about the terrain with different symbols to guide you.
The benefits of orienteering for people with disabilities
Orienteering can be an activity enjoyed alongside friends or family, at a leisurely pace.
It involves travelling over longer distances, either by foot or with a suitable wheelchair or scooter, and can be enjoyed by all abilities – as long as individuals are able to travel over uneven ground and rough terrains such as pebbles, rocks, grass, mud or water.
Benefits naturally include being outside and exercising. It is well known that there is a positive relationship between outdoor exercise and the improvement of physical and mental wellbeing.
For people with physical disabilities, travelling over rough terrain helps improve fitness, co-ordination and stamina. The task of map reading also takes the mind off exercising, providing a set goal to focus on.
Map reading and using a compass to find markers also takes a lot of mental concentration. Which may benefit anyone with behavioural or learning disabilities.
We wouldn’t recommend individuals orienteer by themselves for safety reasons, instead see it as a fun group activity. Benefits include social interactions and working together as a team to find the markers.
People with disabilities can be involved in any number of ways, such as: recognising map colours and remembering what they mean, helping to hold the compass and find north, watching the surroundings and looking out for buildings or land features, or shouting out the numbers on markers.
How orienteering is adapted for people with disabilities – TrailO
TrailO – or Trail Orienteering – a competitive form of accessible orienteering where all levels of physical ability can compete on equal terms. TrailO is designed to reduce the physical elements of orienteering, with more focus on puzzle-solving.
Unlike normal orienteering, there is a set route to follow, as shown on a map. The challenge is to find the right markers, among many.
Participants use map reading and navigational skills to complete the course and find the correct markers as they go along. Several markers can be found at a site but only one will exactly match the required description and position.
In TrailO competitions, individuals have to find markers and decide which to record on their own, with no help in the decision processes. But they are allowed as much physical help as they require to move around.
5 top tips from our instructor
We asked Sam to provide his top 5 tips for orienteering so that others can enjoy walking through the great outdoors – including people with disabilities.
1. Use your tools, the map and compass!
“Figure out where on the map you are before going anywhere. Often the starting point is identified on an orienteering map, but if not you can do this by looking around you.
Roads or paths marked on the map that lead north are a great way to identify your location, perhaps things like a split in the path with one route going north. Check your compass to make sure.
I like to orientate the map so the path I am currently on is in line with where I am going, this might mean turning the map so the path points in the same direction of travel. Make sure to keep north in mind and to turn the map northwards are regular intervals.”
2. Plan your route!
“Pick the first point you have been tasked to find and before moving off, plan where you are going. It is a good idea to visualise where you will be going at all times. I find identifying a shape useful. For example, if you know the overall route is a rough circle then most of the turnings will bear in the same direction.
Say to yourself and the other people in your group things like ‘OK so we take this path, then a left and after some distance we should see a gate’ as you go along.”
3. Keep locating yourself on the map!
“A control point or marker is great for confirming your location. Once you have found and confirmed it you will be able to say with certainty where you are on the map. You can then use your compass to orientate yourself in the direction of the next control point and plan the next leg accordingly.
However, it’s very important to check that the point you have found is the correct one. It’s easy to see a marker on the way to another and to then assume your position, which could cause navigation errors or to lose your place on the map.
Relocation – finding your position on the map if lost – is not simple and can seem scary. Often there is no single way to relocate your position on the map straight away, so continue onwards until you can find features which you can relate to on the map.”
4. Use your surroundings to your advantage!
“Landmarks; buildings, roads, hills, lakes are obvious features both on the map and when looking around that can help guide you in the right direction.
‘Line’ features (paths or fences) visible on the map can be followed or used to orientate yourself in a direction
This is useful in relocating yourself if you have gone wrong and are lost.
Again communicate with each other and ensure you have shared goals as you travel: ‘We need to keep this hill on our left-hand side as we cross this field’ -‘the next marker should be on the other side of that stream’ and so on.”
5. Figure out distances, and don’t rush!
“It is very easy to overshoot and miss a set point or marker, especially early on when excitement and energy levels are high.
If you know the next point is say, 100m along the path, then keep this in mind and if you feel you have gone farther then you might well have missed it and gone too far. Time to turn around and relocate!”
“Orienteering is a great sport. It is accessible to everyone who can read a map, and even those who can’t still enjoy the journey and finding points of interest. It’s a great way to make a simple walk more engaging for kids and adults alike!”
How to get started with orienteering
For complete beginners or those wishing to do orienteering for fun, the first step is to find a course or club near you. They will provide maps, compasses and details of the markers.
We recommend starting with the British Orienteering website, which has lots more information on orienteering, including updates on clubs and events around the UK.
By attending events and doing courses, it gets easier to read maps and gain confidence. Competitive orienteering is then an option for those who feel they have advanced enough and wish to give it a go.
Orienteering at Calvert Trust Exmoor
Alternatively, give basic orienteering a go during a stay at Calvert Trust Exmoor during an accessibility break in North Devon!
We have Disney and cartoon character markers around the sight for guests to find. Guests will partake in a range of activities and orienteering may be one of them depending on the type of group and the disabilities included.
Learning to navigate and read maps on our trails around the centre is a great way to develop teamwork while learning new life-skills, such as problem solving and self-confidence.
Guests are also welcome to ask reception staff or instructors to do orienteering in their own time.
Or perhaps young children can bring their own compasses, with walks around the reservoir to learn about directions.
Discover the full Calvert Experience to learn more about what our disability breaks include.
You may know Sam and Tyler, two of the activity instructors at Calvert Trust Exmoor.
Their Trig Trek has so far raised more than £400 for the charity, which we are very thankful for! Anyone wishing to add to the fundraising total can do so by visiting this Trig Trek Just Giving page.
Take a look at the gallery below to see some highlights of their adventures.
Trig markers, points, or pillars are positioned on the high peaks of Exmoor National Park and were used by the Ordnance Survey to determine the shape of the land.
Sam and Tyler walked to each of the 26 remote trigs, only using a car to reach the moors from the Calvet Trust Exmoor centre where they have been living on furlough since March.
Before starting the Trig Trek, Sam said…
“We’re helping to raise money for Calvert Trust Exmoor, that brings outdoor adventure activities to people with special needs and disabilities. Any donations would be for the best of causes, keeping the wonderful place open as they have struggled during the lockdown.”
Over the five days of walking, they experienced both high temperatures and torrential rain, bumped into snakes, and endured lots of blisters.
Yet Sam and Tyler are proud of what they have accomplished. Sam says…
“It was a lot harder than we thought it was going to be.
“We hoped to do the walk in five consecutive days and had the route all planned out. But a combination of sore blistered feet and unpredictable weather meant we needed to take a couple of days off. Plus some of the trig points could not be easily found or reached which threw the planning out the window a bit. Yet it was a brilliant experience and I’m glad we’ve done it.”
Whilst Tyler added…
“It was really nice to explore Exmoor and discover the areas most people don’t usually visit. We were knackered afterwards, but the walks were worth doing to test ourselves and to raise money for the charity.”
Andrew Laming, Centre Director at Calvert Trust Exmoor, has high praise for the activity instructors.
“It’s wonderful that Sam and Tyler have gone above and beyond to raise money for the centre. I would like to thank them for their fundraising efforts and say ‘well done’ from the whole team.
“All the money raised will contribute to the running of the centre once we re-open on the 21st August.
“I’m looking forward to seeing Sam, Tyler and the other centre instructors leading guests through activities once again.”
The Calvert Exmoor Challenge was created to encourage fundraisers for Calvert Trust Exmoor during the lockdown and beyond.
Fancy doing your own challenge? There’s still plenty of time.
We invite you to create a unique challenge that best fits your current lifestyle and conditions. Sign-up today.
We discussed what autism is in a previous news piece: Understanding Autism.
This is a follow-up guide on how to improve communication with autistic people.
Everyone is different, and we all talk and behave in unique ways. It’s what makes us, us! Which is a wonderful thing, but it can also make communication confusing, especially for autistic people.
Understanding how autistic people typically communicate is one of the most helpful ways to reduce confusion for everyone.
By having a general knowledge of autism and communication, it’s a lot easier to discover the joy of good conversation with someone who’s simply talking in a ‘different’ way – whether they’re a family member, friend, work colleague or somebody else.
Understanding autism and communication
It is widely perceived that people with autism struggle with social skills, that they are shy or unfriendly, or that they cannot feel or express emotions.
These are unfair and untrue myths.
Instead, an autistic person may be unable to find the right words to start a conversation, they may not understand body language and social cues, and they may deal with emotion internally rather than expressing it outwards.
Autistic people cannot quickly adapt to conversations or respond to words in the same way neurotypical people do. Instead, they are simply communicating in their own way.
Because autism is a spectrum, there is always variety in the way autistic individuals will behave. Autistic people are not deliberately being strange or unsociable, but they are constantly finding the best ways to express themselves.
How autistic people may communicate
People with Autism Spectrum Disorder can use several different techniques to communicate and learn how to converse…
- Non-verbal communication – pointing, gesturing, physically moving someone to the thing they need, writing words
- Sounds and crying – due to not understanding, feeling frustrated or being unable to use the right words
- Echolalia – the term given to repeating phrases and words they have heard in the past, hoping these phases ‘fit’ the current situation
- Picking out keywords or phrases – then focusing on the literal meanings and responding accordingly to those words only
For an autistic person, focusing on the literal meaning of specific words creates a reply that makes sense to them, but it may seem out of place in the conversation to a neurotypical person. The analysing of words and not tones is why people with autism can have trouble understanding sarcastic language, metaphors, and humour.
They may also…
- Change topics quickly – it can be difficult for individuals to stay on topic as they deal with incoming stimuli. It may seem like they are avoiding something or are unfocused. Yet it is usually the other way round, as the mind moves quickly to deal with each input as they come in.
- Make no eye contact – autistic people can talk with you but may struggle to talk to you, often not making eye contact. Again this is not an unfriendly action.
Avoiding eye contact may help an autistic person talk clearly as it takes away all the stimuli that come with looking into the eyes which can cause an overload of information. Some people with Autism Spectrum Disorder may prefer to speak with their eyes shut, to focus purely on the words of the conversation.
Children with ASD may have their unique mannerisms such as…
- Using made-up words, which are called neologisms, instead of words they don’t know or when they are unsure how to express themselves.
- Using the same words over and over.
- Muddling up words and pronouns, for example referring to themselves as ‘you’ and other people as ‘I’.
These are often a child’s attempt to make some communication happen, but an adult may not understand. This may lead to tantrums, aggression or self-harming behaviour because they are misunderstood, confused or frightened.
How to talk to an autistic person
By looking at how people with autism may communicate, we know that their understanding of conversations relies heavily on language and words (or lack of words) and not the use of others facial expressions, body language or subtle tones.
One of the best ways to accommodate this is to speak with clear and concise words, saying simple and plain sentences that cannot have more than one meaning.
For autistic children
This is especially true for children, who have not yet learnt about metaphors, double meanings and sarcasm.
Language is often simplified for all children, but it is perhaps more important that autistic children are spoken to…
- Using short sentences and blunt instructions
- With less mature language, using sounds like ‘yuck’ and physical actions
- Alongside visual cards or tablets with pictures
- With an exaggerated tone of voice to make a point and highlight important words
- With gaps in sentences for them to fill in and finish
- Using prompts and questions to encourage responses
- With patience and time to respond
- At the right moments when they are not engaged with something else and are calm
For autistic people of all ages
Several things can be done whilst talking…
- Say their name at the beginning of a conversation, question or important statement
This makes sure they are paying attention instead of blocking out background noise. If you don’t know their name, take a moment to find out (which is also polite and makes a connection). The signs that someone is paying attention will be different for different people.
- Make gentle eye contact if they will allow it
This encourages nonverbal communication and helps autistic people develop their skills in understanding facial expressions and emotion.
- Say what you mean and be direct
As previously mentioned, autistic people can be literal when it comes to wording, so using figures of speech can be confusing.
Instead, speak plainly with no unnecessary details. Be clear and concise with no slang, nuance or sarcasm. Don’t dumb down the language for adults but keep in mind they may analyse every word and work out the best response.
- Don’t use open-ended questions
“Did you have a good day?” is an open-ended question we all hear and ask regularly. But it can be difficult or impossible for someone with autism to answer open-ended questions like this and they should be avoided.
Questions which are necessary and require a specific answer are much better. It is also good to include options or choices to allow them to come to a sensible answer.
- Avoid ‘information overload’
An autistic person can struggle to filter out less important information which can lead to them being overloaded and nothing is processed.
If it seems like this is happening, or the person is anxious, say very little. If something must be said, use minimal words very slowly with pauses and no questions. This allows them to catch up and deal with stimuli.
- Be patient
If it’s necessary to wait for a response to a question, then give them time. If someone does not respond straight away, it could be they need more time to absorb and process the information.
- Accept the unexpected
We know that autistic people may use gestures, sounds, echolalia or that they may process and respond to specific words. They may communicate with some or all of these.
So if an individual does or says something unexpected, or changes the subject, do not be alarmed or try to fight it. It’s important to listen and work out what they may mean. Keep being patient, go with the flow of the conversation and allow the individual to communicate in their way.
- If speaking doesn’t work, try writing or getting visual
People with autism are often happy to restart the conversation again on paper, using written words or perhaps drawing fun pictures to keep the situation light-hearted. Big movements can also help.
Provide support and help with communication
It’s always good to provide meaningful feedback, at the right time in the right way. Such as when teaching children how to communicate or helping an adult after they unknowingly communicate inappropriately.
Autistic people, generally, welcome feedback and would rather receive direct, honest help instead of working out what negative facial expressions or body language mean.
Providing support that is non-judgmental and clear can help someone with ASD learn to safely navigate social interactions and develop their communication skills.
More tips for communicating with autistic people
- Avoid using terms of endearment
For example, “honey” or “love” or “mate” as they can be confusing like sarcasm and slang. Although the speaker may mean nothing by these terms, an autistic person may be uncomfortable or may take them literally.
- Talk about what they want to talk about
This is especially true for children. Trying to force the conversation in a certain direction is not a successful approach. Instead, talk about what they are doing and let them lead the subject.
Another trait of autism is obsession, which means talking a lot about one particular thing. Sticking to the topic they want to discuss keeps the conversation going and helps them develop.
- Keep ‘information overload’ in mind
As we have already mentioned, an autistic person deals with stimuli as it arrives and can find it difficult to filter out the less important information, causing overload which may result in any number of outcomes.
We discussed speaking slowly with pauses if needed, but if it seems like a conversation is becoming distressful it can also be helpful to remove visual communications. Whilst eye contact and movements are usually a good thing, during an overload they become an unwanted stimulus.
It is also good to be wary of the surrounding environment. Could background noise be causing overload? Are too many people talking at once? Finding a quiet place reduces sensory input and will help avoid overload.
- Address him or her as you would any other adult
An autistic person may understand every word said but then may have difficulty responding verbally. It is therefore important not to assume the person has limited skills or abilities – they should be treated the same way a neurotypical person would be. It’s also important to remember not to speak as if the person is not in the room when in a group setting.
As everyone is different, we can use these points only as a guide and should get to know a person to fully understand how to communicate with them.
This is something we keep in mind at Calvert Trust Exmoor during our accessible breaks. Guests have the same instructor throughout their stay which allows a bond to build, which helps autistic people enjoy the activities.
We have many examples of people with autism enjoying a break with us over on our Guest Stories page.
If you’d like more information about how we are autism-friendly, please call 01598 763221.