It is six weeks since school broke up for a new group arriving on the farm from North London. They arrive by school bus looking sparkling clean, groomed for the city, white trainers and jackets. Boys with smart haircuts for a new school year. There is hubbub and jostling, joshing together to mask the anxiety of uncertainty, and loud exclamations of reproof at the farmyard smells and mud underfoot.
Summer holiday experiences have varied. Not all have been privileged with a trip away, visiting family or different places, breaking the monotony or enabling new pathways. Some tell us that they were spent sleeping, mixed in with extra hours of gaming. Social media provided diversion, a vicarious experience of others’ lives, mostly from the safety of their bedrooms. For some there has been a build-up of physical frustration and emotion with no place to let it out, as the loneliness of their lives enveloped them: isolation from peers; living trapped in the murkiness of unhappy family dynamics. For those with tensions rising, family issues fermenting and a claustrophobia of dysfunctions, the holidays are best survived.
Back at school sees new year groups with new teachers, and as with all transitions, the insecurities rise to the surface. Distraction is a failsafe tactic to relieve attendant anxieties. On the farm now, the energy of the boys is erratic. When they come together – in between farming activities when they are working with purpose in smaller groups – they set off whirlwinds, skirmishes of contact, trials and tribulations, working out their influence and place in the pecking order.
For some of them going back to school has scared them, and reminded them of their inadequacies: to concentrate; to compute the multifaceted demands of a ‘good pupil’; to be sufficient in teachers’ need for productivity and attention; to sit still; to be calm; to be patient and clever. The boys are jostling for power and control, in equal measure to their fears of failure. They set up smoke screens of distraction from what lies within them. The chaos they create is disconcerting.
A few days pass by and the mood is changing. Sitting round the table we are able to hear their personal versions of going back to school. I am struck by the variety, but also what they search for is in common. They long for a sense of belonging, of being liked by peers and teachers. Their teachers join in the sharing and their dedication to the kids comes through. The teachers are open about their willingness to enable fresh starts, for extra support and for tolerance which is balanced with high expectations.
Personally, I have felt stretched and challenged by the children, by their lack of trust, their need for opposition, their untrammelled energy, their boundless individuality. But in a week, there have been changes, a mellowing and a forming. Some more authentic friendships have been evolving. Feeling safe enough to be authentic allowed the best out of these children to start to emerge. I feel lucky to still be learning, to still be surprised, to be excited as well as anxious for them, but most of all to feel connected. It’s that time of year, but I am at Jamie’s farm, and I feel grateful to be transitioning to autumn and the new school year and all the challenges it might bring.
Written by Tish Feilden, Founder & Lead Therapist