Known colloquially as ‘Parents Get Lost’, PGL is actually named after its founder Peter Gordon Lawrence, who, after being inspired by a canoeing holiday on the Danube, set up the adventure holiday company in 1957.
The idea of a weekend packed full of adventurous outdoor pursuits appealed enormously, so when a home ed friend of mine advertised such a trip, I jumped at the opportunity. Normally, children participate in these PGL activities in groups without their parents, as part of a school or scout outing for example, but in this trip, the parents were allowed to come along and join in all the fun! Hallelujah! Apart from the lady who organised the weekend and her children, we didn’t know any of the other 55 people in our group, consisting of a wonderful mix of home educators and school children with their families. This didn’t phase the children though and, accustomed as they are to being thrown into situations where they don’t know a soul, they immediately got stuck in and made some fantastic friends.
On arrival on the Friday evening, we first headed to our basic, but clean and warm rooms and then set off together for our evening meal, a canteen style affair with plenty of food. OK so it wasn’t the healthiest of food options, but hey we were going to be doing a ton of exercise, so it would be all fine, right!
After dinner, it was PGL games night. Here we were split up into our smaller groups for the weekend’s activities and set to play various games of rounders (which were fairly feisty, with the PGL leader wiping out two of the adults, one of whom was MrJ, in an effort to get them out!) followed by tug of war, a game clearly designed to bring out the competitive spirit in everyone. It was an enjoyable evening and start to our weekend and we were matched with two delightful families in our smaller group, who suggested after the games had finished that, in the interests of team bonding, a visit to the bar might be in order! Oh yes, my kind of people! The children also hit it off straight away, forming a lovely bond between the six of them, which developed further throughout the weekend.
Saturday heralded an early start for breakfast (7:20 ouch!) and the first four of our activities for the weekend. First up was Aeroball, a cross between basketball, volleyball and trampolining. I’ll be honest and say that since having children, trampolining has never been quite the same for me (I really should have been better with those pelvic floor exercises…), but this activity turned out to be excellent fun. There were four trampolines arranged in a square with a 6ft high barrier between them. The aim of the game was to bounce on your trampoline and throw the ball over the barrier and into a net on the back of your opponent’s trampoline. Then, your opponent can pick up the ball and attempt to get it into the net on your side. You worked together in groups of two on the same side of the square competing against another two on the opposite side.
The children quickly paired up and I joined forces with the other lady in our group, whilst the two men formed a team, instantly making it a competitive affair! Our lady’s group (the Blue Footed Boobies!) surged into the lead, but sadly the men had a late comeback to take the winning spot. Despite the competition between the men and women, from the outset it was a very supportive group with everyone cheering success for all of the children, particularly if they’d been struggling and subsequently managed to score. The children looked out for each other and if someone hurt themselves, they were quick to ask for a stop to check they were OK and swap in for each other if required. It was physically quite a hard activity given the number of games and yet no-one gave up; everyone tried their best showing grit and determination.
The second activity was canoeing, which was hands down my favourite. We were blessed with exceptionally beautiful and sunny weather, so with a smile and a happy heart we took to the water in our groups of two (the children swapped around in their groups but us men and women were hell bent on beating each other so we stayed in our same groupings!). The instructor first showed us how to paddle properly and how to turn (an important skill as it was really quite a small lake!) and he set us off to practise, before introducing the games for the session – shouting out a position on the lake for us all to race to with a forfeit for the loser, and classifying the boats as different countries and sending us out to convert the other boats to our country by tapping on the end of their boat.
Finally he approached the adults and asked us whether we minded getting wet. “No,” was our resounding response! So then the games became wilder (carnage in fact!). Firstly, he threw plastic ducks into the water for us to catch and throw into the other boats. If a duck landed in your boat, one team member had to stick out a leg, so unbalancing the canoe. Some of the children fell into the lake during this game, but as we adults remained securely in our boats, he raised the stakes and told us to both sit right at the back of one end of the boat so that the front of the boat stuck up out of the water. What he failed to mention and what we clearly failed to consider, was that once one person had moved to sit on the bow of the boat, it made it extremely unstable for the other person to move back towards the bow. So inevitably and actually in slow motion, we ladies rolled our canoe into the ice cold water. Feeling the goose poo squelch beneath my toes brought me back to earth and made me slightly regret my earlier gung ho attitude! The kids loved that we were in the water though, so it made it all worth while. And then the men, having managed to position themselves at the same end, canoed for a short distance like this, before slowly sinking the boat! We all roared with laughter! As we all dragged our soggy bodies from the lake to pose for a group photograph, the group dynamic felt that much closer. There’s nothing like shared discomfort for bringing people together!
After showering and lunching, we regrouped for our third activity – abseiling down a 10m tall tower! Now I’ve shared on this blog before about my fear of heights, but after strict instructions from MrJ about not passing on this anxiety onto our children, I was determined to conquer my fear and attempt this challenge. To be honest I was far more afraid about the children doing the abseiling than I was about myself so, once they had both bravely climbed to the top of the tower and dangled themselves backwards over the side inching their way down the tower, I felt a lot better and somehow I managed to summon up the courage to tackle the activity myself. Feeling extremely in awe of the children (who all made it down the tower), I gave myself a stern talking to, reassured myself that I was attached by several ropes and therefore not going to fall, and just sat back in my harness over the side and shuffled my way down to the bottom. I felt ridiculously proud of myself, which gave me a taster of just why these activity weekends are so important for children and can have such a big impact. Conquering your fears is an extremely powerful way of improving your self esteem and confidence and can make you feel ten feet tall. Obviously I didn’t feel the need to do it again though; once was quite enough!
Our final activity for the day was zip lining! No explanation needed. Just pure unadulterated fun! As there weren’t enough harnesses for everyone in the group, we let the children go on first, but all of them offered me their harness after their first turn and they all made sure that everyone got as many goes as they wanted. By the end of the day, our little group was working as a solid team and it felt good 🙂
It’s worth saying at this point just how impressive all the PGL instructors were. They were calm and friendly, giving clear instructions for the activities and highlighting any safety issues to note. I felt completely safe throughout, reassured by their capable manner, which given my heights phobia, says quite a lot.
After dinner, our day closed with a campfire, PGL approved songs around said fire (no impromtu songs allowed sadly…) and the obligatory marshmallows to fill the children full of sugar just before bedtime! The PGL leaders were a little distressed by our mugs full of wine, but they turned a blind eye and the singing was all the more enthusiastic for it. A perfect end to an awesome day.
Sunday started quite slowly for most of the adults, probably due to the beer and wine consumed the night before… First on the agenda was rifle shooting, which I’ll admit to being a little bit nervous about given our family’s tendency to clumsiness! But I was wrong to fear. All the children listened carefully to the instructions, repeated them back to the instructor and in this way, learned how to effectively load and shoot the rifles, taking careful note of the safety features (well most of the time; Bean7 still persisted in sticking his fingers in his mouth after touching the lead shot, but at least he didn’t swing the rifle around in our direction!). Once the instructor had explained how to use the sights to improve your aim, all of us managed to hit the targets, and again encouragement was spread throughout by all team members. One child was particularly resilient; he struggled at first to hit the target until the instructor realised he was left handed when it came to shooting, and once adjustments had been made, he turned out to be an ace shot.
Second, we had archery, which was fun, but energy levels were seriously flagging by this point.
After our strength had been renewed by lunch (possibly too greatly renewed in my case), we tackled our last challenge: the giant swing, another wonderful activity for people with a fear of heights! Here you’re harnessed into a two seater swing (really quite uncomfortably so), while the rest of your group work together to haul you up to 10m high. Once at the top, you pull the release cord and come plumeting towards the ground….oh joy! The children again showed their mettle, bravely opting to go up to the full 10m in most cases and screaming with enjoyment/adrenalin on the way down! Finally it was our turn. Unfortunately I’d been paired with MrJ who told me in no uncertain terms that he’d be extremely disappointed with me if we didn’t go to the top. So I gritted my teeth and up we went. Sadly though the shock of the sudden fall, caused me to let forth an unfortunate stream of words not really suitable for young ears. They just sort of popped out…sorry about that children! But despite this and the steady rain, we all had a fantastic time on this activity.
There was an opportunity for one further activity – orienteering – but we were all so exhausted by this point and, given that MrJ had an early flight the next day, we opted to head home early at 4pm, only missing out on the last activity and dinner (much to the annoyance of Bean7 who didn’t want to leave his friends).
The weekend was a resounding success. All of us had a fabulous time and made some life long friends. Bean7 even professed it to be on a par with Singapore in terms of the enjoyment factor. I wouldn’t go quite this far, but it was definitely an experience I’d love to repeat as soon as another opportunity becomes available. As well as being oodles of fun, there was so much learning to be had in our short time at PGL. The children (and adults) learned skills in perseverence, tenacity, grit, team working, listening, communication, empathy, how to support and encourage each other, and risk assessment and control. They also improved their self assurance and confidence, as well as practising facing up to and overcoming their fears. They acquired new physical skills such as how to canoe, abseil, shoot a rifle and arrow, trying different strategies and improving the way they control and coordinate their bodies. And all of this completed in the beauty of the great outdoors – a perfect weekend for your budding adventurer 🙂