Secret Friends

A year ago I went on an Outdoor Learning conference at the beautiful FSC Castle Head Field Centre in the Lake District. I was lucky enough to meet a group of practitioners working in Hungary (Pangea Cultural and Environmental Association) who shared a simple idea that I have used to great success recently and I thought you might like to hear about it.
In Hungary, Pangea hold annual ‘Hedgehog Camps’ for groups of children which last for 10 days. The camps are environmental education focussed. The children who attend the camps do not necessarily know one another so the Pangea volunteers establish ‘secret friends’ on the very first day. Each child is given the name of another child which they must keep secret. It is their job to look out for that child throughout the camp and generally be friendly towards them whilst keeping their identity secret.
I loved this idea and have used it successfully now on many of my training days. At the start of a CPD day I distribute names on slips of paper to delegates. I request that they secretly befriend their assigned person throughout the day. The secret part is quite important; we don’t want to give the game away; we want to be subtle. As a result I have found that a lovely atmosphere of care and respect is established. During our end of day plenary I ask delegates to guess who their secret friend might have been and 80% of the time no one has the first clue! It’s all hidden in offering to make cups of tea, picking up dropped equipment, partnering up with people and offering positive feedback on contributions made to the training. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs suggests that for successful learning to take place we need to ensure that certain conditions are met such as love and belonging, and esteem: secret friends helps to establish a very healthy learning environment where people feel valued and respected.
In a school setting I can see this working beautifully. Maybe at the start of a new school year for the first week whilst you are establishing a good ethos for how your classroom works. Maybe when you go on a residential visit to help ensure that the less confident feel included and cared for during fieldwork activities. Maybe on a day visit to London when the strategy might help to foster a good atmosphere for learning outside the classroom. Maybe in your Eco-Council after school club to help develop social skills of cooperation, communication and care. Such a simple idea that can bear so much delicious fruit!