As the sun was fading over the Hawkesbury River, some 50 children and their families arrived at the old fishing village of Brooklyn to catch a ferry to the “Big Bright Sparkly Days” event, a Rainbow Families’ weekend camp about resilience for school aged children.
The camp program was designed to support children to develop the building blocks for resilience, and space for parents to share their stories and their hopes for their parenting and their children. Many parents saw their children try new things, make new friends, and they themselves made new connections.
For many, it was also an opportunity to feel a sense of belonging and solidarity, to be authentic and be able to share some of the challenges of parenting, our fears and our hopes for our families.
“Spending time with my children, in beautiful nature and in such an inclusive and friendly setting”
We arrived in the beautiful Broken Bay Sports and Recreation Centre, walking in the dark to the main dining room where dinner was cooked and waiting, and a huge fireplace invited us to feel at home.
Resilience as a concept
When we talk about a child’s resilience, we mean a child’s ability to cope with ups and downs, and bounce back from the challenges they experience during childhood. For example, moving home, changing schools, studying for an exam or dealing with the death of a loved pet or even the rejection of a friendship.
During the planning for this camp, we thought about the stormy times that our community faced in 2017 and the importance of offering opportunities to build new skills, particularly resiliency.
Building resilience helps children not only to deal with current difficulties that are a part of everyday life, but also to develop the basic skills and habits that will help them deal with challenges later in life, during adolescence and even in adulthood.
Our camp offered opportunities for children to build these skills in spades. Children were invited to challenge themselves and take part in new things like archery, facing fears like the flying fox, working in teams with activities like raft building.
Children and families were also invited to take responsibility and be part of keeping the camp organised and tidy. Prior to the camp, children were encouraged to pack their own bags and be responsible because being resilient also means taking responsibility for our actions, having a healthy outlook on life, accepting ourselves and moving forward even after failure, disappointment, or other difficulties.
There were lots of opportunities for that during the weekend, even for the adults. A last-minute change of venue proved tricky and confirmed that we can find ways to make things work even when they don’t go to plan.
The Rainbow Families Youth Advisory Council
Our Youth Advisory Council is developing the leadership skills of our children and young people. During the camp the young leaders from the Council acted as cheerleaders and support people to younger children. They were also buddies, and organised the Saturday night special dinner.
In future we hope to develop and expand their role.
The beach setting of the camp
What was special about this camp is that we had the whole beautiful beach location to ourselves. We didn’t have to cook and the camp plan genuinely embraced diversity. Many experienced the camp and its beach setting as relaxing and friendly.
There were 23 family groups comprising of 5 trans and gender diverse-parented families, 6 single-parented families, and 11 families from towns outside of Sydney or rural communities, and for a lot of 9 year old kids!.
Unfortunately the bonfire on the beach couldn’t proceed because it started to rain. So, instead we roasted marshmallows over the indoor fireplace and had a great game of Kid’s Trivia facilitated by Kid’s Trivia Master Paul Upcroft.
Those that attended have reported that it felt safe, supportive and a much-needed event.
‘It was wonderful for my boys to be able to hang with other kids and embrace
a range of positive risk-taking activities, make personal connections and engage
in good old-fashioned fun without parents having to be involved and spoil the experience.’ Parent feedback
‘We loved the fact that there was no technology, which enabled our kids to get creative and make their own games and entertain themselves.’ Parent feedback
Many parents spoke about sometimes feeling invisible as rainbow parents, or judged, alone, or about the weight of upholding a reputation as a perfect parent in the face of some discrimination. Many spoke about feeling they could be themselves at camp.
Children had the opportunity to participate in a packed program.
Many said they enjoyed the canoeing, archery and raft building activities, flying fox, and craft activities. Some enjoyed the bunk beds and the trivia night. All mentioned that they liked being with other kids, making new friends and being independent.
The camp was a technology free space, and during the small times of free time there were spontaneous games of Monopoly, celebrity head, colouring-in, making friendship bracelets, and tip in the dark.
A highlight for many of the children was the self service food, being able to sit with other children at mealtimes, and the very fun time ‘riding’ the cutlery trolley around the common dinning room
Camp organiser Sarah-Louise Hopkins
Sarah-Louise has a background in early childhood education, and has organised many a camp. She organised a packed weekend, ran activities for the younger children and kept the program on track. Children that attended may remember learning to sing “I’m alive, alert, awake, enthusiastic!”
Children and Parent Resilience Workshops
“ How are you like your child self?”
The camp program was designed around the work on resilience by Beyond Blue. As a Social Worker with experience in working with children and groupwork, I enjoyed planning the workshops. During the workshop we used the metaphor of a plane journey. The story resonated for many.
A favourite time of the camp was sitting on the grassy hill beside the beach; a circle of parents talking. We started the session with this question; “ How are you like your child self?” Parents were invited to reflect on their strengths, their support crew and outside events and systems that impact on our lives as parents. While many said they felt nervous walking into a circle with butcher’s paper, there is a desire for more opportunities to have these conversations with each other.
The Children’s workshops were held in two groups. One session was held at the beach and children were invited to think about ways they had surprised themselves over the weekend, and areas of resilience they find tricky. Some kids wanted to work on ‘confidence’, others on ‘organisation’, other’s on ‘ friends and getting along’.
When you ask kids for their opinion and or their feelings, they can be so insightful and can help each other find solutions to tricky problems. They can also be the first ones to point out strengths to a child who lacks the confidence to name it. In the second group, we used Bear Cards and children did just that! Children as young as 5 give advice to older children; from how to deal with bullying or someone who doesn’t want to share.
I came away feeling there is so much more we can do to offer children opportunities to share their stories, their feelings and ideas. Parents too need a safe space.