This Summer, 27 young people aged 13 to 17 have been taught leadership skills, team work and the a-z’s of Children’s work as a part of YMCA LSW’s Junior Leadership Programme.
The scheme, which is based at YMCA Hawker, ran twice over the summer holidays; first 16 new students took part in the year one beginner’s course and then for the second part of the summer, 11 year two returners took part in the more advanced course.
I met with Programme co-ordinator Lesley Wilson, Children’s Work Co-ordinator Myke Catterall and the eleven year two returners on their last day of the programme, for a chat about play work, confidence and a mythical Dragon roaming the forest by the River Thames…
The last day of the programme is dedicated to the young people undertaking mock interviews for a position as play worker.
I met up with Chloe and Ellie just after their interview. They said: “They were assessing our knowledge as play workers and we were asked what we would do if we were to bring the children to play outdoors in the forest”.
Jane was asked by Myke and Lesley about how taking part in the course had benefited her. She said:
“I’m more confident with working with children than before. Setting up play for them made me feel quite independent and allowed us to use our own imagination. I’ve also learnt to be professional in a working environment”.
Building up confidence
Jane is not the only one who feels that the programme has helped her confidence. Lesley said she had seen a change in several of the Junior Leaders, including Emily:
“Emily has changed a lot over the last few years, and we are very proud of her. She has been driven by her dream of working with children and the YMCA scheme has certainly helped her along that path”, said Lesley.
Emily said: “I’ve definitely gained a lot of confidence from the scheme. The first year I sat back and didn’t really say a lot. Now I feel more confident both in talking to the children and the other Junior Leaders”.
A highlight of the programme this year was the Forest School, which was led by Myke.
Here, the Junior Leaders made up a story about some ‘little people’ living along the river path going up towards Teddington from YMCA Hawker. Also in the story, was a Dragon who roamed the forests, destroying the small people’s homes.
Both Junior Leaders and Camp children had a great day out letting their imagination run free.
Henry said: “Making the walk up to Teddington Lock with the children was great. We let the children use their imagination and it was fun seeing them play and be imaginative”.
“A lot of children spend so much time inside”, said Ellie. “Going outdoors and getting away from screens make them use their imagination more”.
When asked about benefits of the Forest School in her mock interview, Jane also said:
“The forest is a different setting from the safe, enclosed environment the children usually play in. Here, they are in the wilderness, exposed to risk. This can help them become more independent”.
However, the Junior Leadership programme is not all fun and play.
“It’s been really fun, but we’ve also learnt stuff, like risk assessment”, said Zindzi.
Ellie and Chloe said: “We’ve also learnt child protection. And we’ve learnt when to intervene, when to just let them play and when to let the children come to you. We’ve also learnt about physical and sexual abuse and neglect”.
Also, the Junior Leaders said that skills gained at the course are transferrable to other areas in life as well.
Chantel said: “I don’t think I will want to work with children, but I still find the skills I’ve learnt here very useful, like time management, budgeting, patience and how to be cooperative and work in a team”.
Future careers in Children’s and Youth Work
Although Chantel may have other plans, several of the Junior Leaders said they would want to work with children. Emily is about to start a children’s work course in college.
She said: “Doing the Junior Leaders Programme has been great, because it has made me prepared for my college course. I really hope to be working for YMCA LSW one day. The children I have worked with at Camp have already asked me when I will get a green t-shirt like the ones the Children’s work team are wearing!”
Henry too, believes Junior Leaders has helped him achieving his goals. He said: “I want to do Camp America, and I think getting the qualification as a Junior Leader can help me in achieving that”.
Ellie and Chloe would also like to become play workers, preferably at YMCA St Paul’s Group:
“We are both considering a career in children’s work, preferably with the YMCA, because all the staff and the people here are so friendly and welcoming and we really enjoy being here”.