I have 4 children and since they were very small they have wanted to have birthday parties. Birthday parties can be a nightmare and I honestly don’t understand really why we do it, but at some stage in the process it seems like a good idea! From the very first party I organised for my eldest daughter (now in her 30s) I realised that the only way to get through this unscathed and ensure that everyone enjoyed themselves and the adults were not too frazzled, was to keep everybody occupied at all times. This meant that there was no chance of any child feeling bored and then getting into mischief (my 6 years of kindergarten teaching re-enforced this ‘rule’). So from the moment the kids arrived there was a programme and activity followed activity (I even had an activity for those early arrivals to do while we waited for everyone to get there – usually making a party hat). The result was that everyone was accounted for at every moment and everyone also had a good time as there would be at least one activity that they could throw themselves into!
As the children grew, I found that this principle still worked, only the activities changed. Even as they grew into their teens (my youngest had her final (I hope) 18th birthday party just this year) when there are certain ‘dangers’ that can present themselves, I found that my ‘birthday party method’ of organising the event worked well. All parties went off without many issues and many of my kids’ friends told me that they really enjoyed our parties – a compliment indeed from a 17 year-old!
When we received our first teenage students 10 years ago I was a little concerned that living in such a rural area may not appeal to them and that they might easily feel bored so I decided to utilise the ‘birthday party method’ and to date it has served me very well. It basically means that almost every part of the day is ‘organised’. This allows me to ensure that the lessons in the mornings deliver the maximum value to the students, meals are ready on time and enjoyed by all and we can include a variety of activities and excursions that will appeal generally to everyone and they will all be able to enjoy something each day. In microcosm each lesson and activity is organised along the same lines, so we will do a little grammar, some listening, some reading and plenty of puzzles and interactive games and for the activities we choose places where there is a variety of different things to do and see.
The result is excellent English progress, lots of fun, a certain amount of tiredness which makes for a good night’s sleep and, to date, very positive comments from the kids and their parents.
Don’t get me wrong it isn’t a boot-camp, just a way of organising things to keep everyone happy, busy and content and it works for the adults too.
One thing I have noticed is that even when there are no native speakers engaging with them, those kids who have shared a common language (and we often have siblings), speak English to each other by and large.
Although most days are pretty busy, there is some personal time for catching up with family and friends on phones and tablets if they wish. I had one French student who refused point blank to speak to her mother as she did not want to speak any French while she was with us! We also set a little homework each day which they have space to do and we would never compel anybody to watch a movie with us or engage in any activity around the house if they really didn’t want to but I have to say this rarely happens. If somebody doesn’t feel well and can’t go on a visit then somebody will stay behind with them.
I usually send out a weekly email with news and pictures to parents so they can keep up with what we are doing and how their children are getting on just in case there isn’t time for the students to do this regularly and the first thing we always do after the students arrive is to get them to call or message home to say they have arrived safely. However, the days are busy and active and our main focus in every activity is how can we get them to use English and mixing with local kids when possible is not only the very best way to do this but it gives them new friends who enjoy doing the things they enjoy too.