Our first SEAL (social and emotional active learning) break is done, and despite the inevitable British weather we had a brilliant time! Martin, our new SEAL break leader, tells us how it went and why he’s glad to be a part of Honeypot.
The SEAL break was absolutely exhausting, but so worthwhile. I’d been a teacher for sixteen years in the UK and then abroad, which really gave me an understanding of the social and emotional needs of young people, but after coming home I realised I wanted to work in a small-group setting and to be able to work with young people more closely. When I visited Honeypot House I really fell in love with the place, and I’m thrilled to now be leading our new learning breaks.
I used to be teaching 9 to 5, and whilst it was hard work, there are a lot more varied aspects to my current job: looking after the kids 24/7, making sure they don’t feel isolated, and catering for twenty! I was a bit apprehensive about the cooking side of things, but our ‘world banquet’ night was actually a big hit. We had one girl who’d only eat bread and cheese, but at the banquet she demolished a chicken korma! The chance to try new things is a key part of SEAL breaks, helping the children to learn to manage risk in a safe environment.
One of the highlights of the break was seeing how the kids responded to creative tasks. At the beach, we made art from found materials; one girl made a stunning portrait of a woman using rocks and seaweed. We also worked on making self-portraits of ourselves and our interests, thinking about what makes us unique and what we have in common.
Drama was another big success. For vulnerable young people, drama activities can sometimes be intimidating. It’s no easy task to stand up in front of other people. So we worked with freeze frames: for example, “Your mum’s brought you some Oreos! What does your face look like?”. Then we told the story of Snow White in three freeze frames. Both the kids and staff couldn’t stop talking about it afterwards! Activities like this are a brilliant way to get people to reflect on their own and others’ thoughts and emotions and build empathy – all really useful skills for vulnerable young carers.
The transformation you see in some children is amazing: they’re a totally different child when they leave. Many of these kids have put up a wall and struggle to engage in class, so it’s brilliant when we see them getting stuck into SEAL activities. One boy arrived and immediately built himself a cushion fort and hid; we thought he’d spend all week asking to go home, but by the last day, he said he didn’t even need to phone home as he’d see his mum tomorrow anyway. He really came out of his shell, became inquisitive and enthusiastic, and went home with some valuable life lessons.
I can’t wait to see what the future holds for our breaks, and I’m already working on developing more activities and challenges. You can’t separate education from wellbeing. On SEAL breaks, you get to know so much more about a child and to see them as a whole person. I think it’s a much more realistic model for education; if we do social and emotional learning properly, it lays the groundwork for everything else.
Honeypot is the national charity for young carers aged five to twelve. We do not receive government funding and rely on your donations to keep running respite breaks. Please consider supporting us by making a donation, attending an event, or making us your organisation’s charity partner.