I’ve just survived helping out on a pre-school trip. More importantly, so did the children.
It’s an eye-opening experience which, as a parent, leaves you with even more admiration for the staff who, day in, day out, marshal tiny troops with an impressively calm skill and a militaristic precision. All this they do with a cheery demeanour and genuine smiles.
If I were to become a megalomaniac dictator and wanted an unerringly efficient militia to control the world, without members of the population realising were being kept in line by another force, I think I would start my recruitment drive in the pre-school sector.
That’s a minor digression. Having successfully completed the role of helper on a nature walk with a score of children – and being the only grown up boy, to boot – I feel qualified to pass on this advice.
Sticks. Children will pick up sticks. Children don’t have rear-view mirrors. So it’s best to ensure there’s an exclusion zone around you if sticks are uplifted, because they will be waved, before being discarded. You can try to convince children not to pick up sticks but I don’t believe this is possible. Particularly on a nature walk when you’re encouraging them to pick up other things.
Use your cunning. When the task in hand is to collect certain items, half of which you don’t have a clue how to recognise despite the handy fact sheet being carried by one of your two mini-compatriots, use your brain. If it’s a nature walk, it’s probably being led by someone. That person will probably point out lots of things and will then want to pass the said leaf/acorn/dragon toenail to someone else. Make sure you’re there to carry it for them.
Never show your fear (1). Children are like dogs, in that respect. If they spot it, you’re in trouble. You’re probably reasonably comfortable in the presence of your own child. Suddenly you may be in charge of another. Make sure with this other child that they believe you’re the boss. Your own offspring will know this is nonsense, but it may take the other one a while to work this out.
Make things up. It’s always a good distraction technique. But you must have the commitment to follow it through. My son and his pal spent half of the walk through a wooded glen keeping their eyes peeled for a Yellow Elephant who, it turns out, was away on his holidays.
Singing. Pre-school staff will have overcome their fear of singing in public a long time ago. You will not have. This will not be helped by the probability of songs to which you do not know the words. Bluff it and, unless you have a baritone of stunning quality, use a comedy falsetto voice. You’ll get children Wonside through laughter with a rendition of The Lion Sleeps Tonight and they’ll take over the Wim-Ma-Ways when your voice disintegrates under the strain.
Never show your fear (2). Half way across a bridge is not the time to remember you don’t like heights. Don’t show it. The same applies to spiders, but at least on a nature trail you can just walk away from those.
*Just in case there is any cause for doubt, none of the pre-school staff I have met would ever contemplate working for a megalomaniac dictator, they are far too nice for that. Nor, as far as I am aware, are any of them soldiers.
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