Skiing on Real Snow
A story by Kaimes Special School Association
Ten learners from the Kaimes and Woodlands school ski club had an amazing experience staying at Lagganlia Lodge and developing their skiing skills at Cairngorm Mountain whilst their families had respite from their caring role for a week.
What Skiing on Real Snow did
The trip took place at Lagganlia Outdoor Centre near Aviemore. The group skied at the Cairngorm ski area. The trip was run for learners from Kaimes School and Woodlands School, both situated in Edinburgh, who were members of the Friday Ski Club and were keen to develop their life skills and skiing with a week away in the Scottish Highlands. While the young people were having a wonderful week away their carers were able to have a break from their normal duties and recharge in a way they felt was most beneficial.
The project was supported from staff from Kaimes and Woodlands who helped get the Friday Ski club running again after covid-19, developed their own skiing skills to be able to support the young people on the hills, completed ski training and instructor qualifications/CPD, provided equipment where necessary and all the other work needed to facilitate a successful trip away.
The trip addressed multiple Better Breaks priority areas including complex needs, sports and active leisure, independence, transition to adulthood, and diversity.
The week away was a joyous experience for the young people, and the adults supporting them, and it was wonderful to see the confidence and self-esteem of the young people develop over the week and the friendships that were formed and strengthened. The revised project to ski in Scotland, rather than in Europe, went as planned.
What Kaimes Special School Association has learned
For both schools the trip demonstrated how valuable residential experiences are for carers and the young people. The project planning was hard work and was a big learning experience given the break imposed by covid-19. The excursions coordinator at Kaimes school was new to the role and it was my first time organising a residential trip as a group leader. We documented the steps we took and set-up a working group to share our learning with colleagues throughout the school to support the delivery of future residential trips. As a school we hadn't been able to introduce any new learners to skiing for a number of years but we have now re-started this process. The senior leadership team and base class teachers help the ski team identify the learners whose families most need additional support and they are prioritised to join the Friday Ski Club which opens up opportunities to attend future residential ski trips. The trip was an opportunity to work in partnership with Woodlands School. We are keen to formalise our ski partnership to facilitate more success in the future. We took advantage of our stay at Lagganlia Lodge to book a residential trip for next year which opened up while we were there and which we became aware of thanks to chatting to Kris, one of the instructors, during lunch. Kris was also keen to visit the school to work with staff on other outdoor adventure opportunities/activities and we are keen for a summer residential trip. The staff attending the trip have renewed enthusiasm for seeking funding for future residential opportunities.
How Kaimes Special School Association has benefitted from the funding
The funding provided by Better Breaks for this trip strengthened our relationship with the Outdoor Learning team at the City of Edinburgh Council. While we had run ski trips previously it was a new team organising and running the trip this year and it was the first residential trip for three years. Our new strengthened relationship with the Outdoor Learning team hopefully means that the Kaimes/Woodlands ski trip is now an annual opportunity for learners. As a group leader I found the experience of organising and leading the trip incredibly rewarding and the highlight of my year. I developed a lot of new skills and knowledge and I am determined to use this learning to ensure there are more residential opportunities available to more learners in future years. As an organisation the KSSA is undergoing changes to ensure that it is better placed to secure the funding to provide more incredible experiences for young people to help them have fun, develop friendships and learn just how incredible they are (while giving their carers a wee break).
More able and confident skiers across a range of areas/ conditions and along with enhanced physical and mental wellbeing within their schools and home settings. Increased independence, widening horizons of experiencing different cultures, and new friendships.
Skiing at Cairngorm Mountain provided learners an opportunity to explore the mountain together, have fun skiing, develop new skills, work together (accessing the t-bar in pairs), make group decisions, support one another through challenges and have fun outside. The group bonded on the hill, in the lodge and during journeys to the Highlands and daily in the minibus and on the funicular. In the morning the young people demonstrated their organisational and other life skills in getting ready for the day ahead while evening at the Lodge provided time to eat, relax and have fun together.
Greg was initially anxious and dysregulated at the idea of a week away skiing. Greg's mother and staff at school supported Greg to give skiing a chance once the Friday Ski Club restarted after covid-19 forced it to stop and Greg remembered how much he enjoyed skiing, the freedom it gave him and that it was a chance to have fun with his mates. Greg doesn't like being told to lineup and wait and was nervous that the instructors would boss him about. However, Kris and Anna, the instructors, did a great job of empowering the learners to view the skiing as a shared group activity in which they were having fun and exploring the mountain together. Greg loved skiing "on real snow". Greg also enjoyed having breakfast and dinner with his friends and having an opportunity to hang out and have fun in the evenings. Greg was part of the group who told the rest of the school about how great the ski trip was and was proud of all he had achieved. Greg is still a part of the ski club and helps support new skiers who are beginning to learn how to ski and is looking forward to future trips away.
Carers, and the siblings of young learners, will have an opportunity to relax and have different experiences for nights whilst the children are away skiing. After the successful trip away carers will be able to look ahead to future breaks knowing that their child has had a great time away.
The ski trip to Lagganlia Lodge took place after covid-19 had forced many such excursions to stop. For Kaimes and Woodlands school this was the first longer residential trip they had run post-covid-19 and as such was a big milestone for all involved including carers. The schools worked hard to ensure that carers felt informed about the trip and well-supported in helping the young people involved prepare for the residential trip. The trip itself went very smoothly for the young people and the adults facilitating the trip so carers were able to have a real break. Carers had the opportunity to stay in touch with staff (and children) but most were confident that their children were in a safe and secure environment and were having a fun week away. Carers used their time in different ways. For some it was a chance to relax, while others tried new experiences. The trip helped carers catch their breath after a very intense 2020-22 and look forward to future successful trips for their child.
Emily is a long-time member of the Friday Ski Club and a confident skier. Emily was less confident about being away from her parents for a week and had previously chosen not to attend residential trips away. Emily has very specific dietary requirements and the team at Lagganlia Lodge did a great job at communicating directly with Emily's parents and agreeing upon a bespoke menu for Emily while she was away. Emily struggles to get to sleep and has a long bedtime routine. On the first night of the trip Emily was anxious about getting to sleep without her parents. The staff team supported Emily throughout the evening and organised an opportunity for Emily to speak to her parents. Emily successfully got to sleep that first night and the remaining nights of the trip Emily was able to sleep without issue (with support from adults on the trip when necessary). Staff communicated with Emily's parents to let her know how well she was doing and Emily's parents were able to relax and feel confident. Emily is now looking forward to future trips away and wants to support other girls on future residential trips. Emily's parents are also looking forward to future breaks and a chance to enjoy experiences while Emily is away that they normally don't have time for.
Previous experience at both schools has shown any form of residential trip involving young people has resulted in a deepening of trust between carers and school staff. Carers recognise our ability to look after and supported their children and give them a fulfilling experience.
Staff at Kaimes School and Woodlands school recognise the dedication of carers to helping their children live meaningful and full lives and recognise the challenges, and rewards, that carers face especially in terms of the emotional energy and time they put in to supporting their child(ren). Both schools understand that better relationship with carers, and the better we can support them in their roles, the more success the young people we work with will have. A successful residential break, such as the trip to Lagganlia Lodge, can be a 'Pocket of Brilliance' which provides carers with time to recharge knowing that their child is safe and engaged in a joyful experience. Carers I have spoken to have felt rejuvenated after their break and are able to look ahead to supporting their child as they continue to grow and transition to adulthood with renewed energy and enthusiasm.
Blake's carers have had an incredible impact upon his life since he moved in with them around three years ago. Blake's communication skills, emotional regulation, confidence and enjoyment of life have all increased exponentially due to their hard work. The ski trip was an opportunity for the school to provide a residential experience to allow Blake to continue to flourish while allowing Blake's carers to have a well-earned break and look to the future with renewed hope knowing that the school will be able to provide future opportunities for Blake to continue to grow and time for them to relax knowing Blake is well cared for and having fun. Blake's enjoyment of the trip and his enthusiasm for the idea of future trips couldn't have been clearer upon his return and staff were able to let his carers know how successful the experience had been for Blake and how enjoyable we had found spending an extended time with him to be. Blake's carers feel better supported to continue with the amazing job they do caring for Blake each day knowing that there will be future residential opportunities made available for Blake.
We work with these children every day in small settings and it relatively easy to follow their moods and state of wellbeing, regardless of whether it’s positive or negative. We allow them to celebrate success when it happens and communicate this back to carers.
The trip to Lagganlia Lodge and the Cairngorms was a joyful experience for the young people, their carers and the staff attending. The young people enjoyed all aspects of the trip and their success resulted in a noticeable boost to their self-esteem. Learners were keen to share stories from their time away with their carers. In school the group were desperate to lead a presentation on the trip and share their success with the rest of the school. They worked together to create a PowerPoint and presented this together in front of the whole school. They had the confidence to take it in turns to talk and then answer questions from their peers. Many of the learners have had the confidence to try new activities, especially outdoor activities, and are looking forward to future trips away. The young people see themselves as mentors to the young people who are new to the ski club and work together to create a supportive and enthusiastic learning environment. Carers wellbeing has also improved.
Joshua was a school leaver this year. The ski trip provided him with an opportunity to have a great time away with his friends, develop skills and prove to himself he had the skills necessary to succeed as he transitions to adulthood. Joshua took on a leadership role throughout the trip. He supported less confident skiers on the slope and was always keen to help other young people access the tow lifts. He helped organise the group in the morning. Joshua's enthusiasm helped keep the rest of the group going during times when the weather was arduous. Joshua strengthened his friendships with learners from Woodlands School throughout the trip. Joshua came away from the trip with much improved self-esteem and is now looking forward to college and all of his future adventures with confidence which has had a huge impact on the wellbeing of his carer as they support Joshua transition into adulthood.