A dolphin Rainbow sleepover

One of the many things I love about Guiding is the friendships and connections you make, and how these can be sustained often over many years and miles.  I left my Rainbow unit last year as I started a new job at a different university, but I was invited back for their sleepover this year, an invitation I gratefully accepted.  I hadn't seen the leaders or girls for several months but it was as though I'd only seen them last week.

The trefoil design on the hall floor
I am a big fan of 'big' events - I like whole day trips, large scale sleepovers, weekend trips, long residentials.  But this sleepover was going to be quite a bit smaller.  We had four adults (including me), one Young Leader (who funnily enough came to Iceland with me last year) and just five Rainbows.

Rainbows are aged 5-7 and it can be quite a difficult age in terms of managing girls and their parents.  For many families, this is the first time their daughters have been offered the opportunity to attend a sleepover with non-relatives, and at just under 24 hours in length (which is the maximum time a Rainbow event can last) I do appreciate it is a long time for parents to give their child's care over to someone else.  I've been involved with Rainbow units in different parts of the country, and I have many friends in other parts of the country who are Rainbow leaders, and we have similar experiences of parents not wanting, for whatever reason, their daughters to attend the sleepover.  Which is absolutely fine - whilst I don't have children, as I've said, I do understand that it's a big thing to sign your child up to.  What this means is that often, Rainbow sleepovers are planned but can't go ahead, as the low uptake means that the event doesn't reach its minimum number of participants, or becomes too expensive.  Our sleepover cost all five Rainbows £30 each - this covered all activities, venue hire, and food costs, and also covered food costs for the adults.  I am a firm believer that volunteers should not have to pay to volunteer.  Someone once said to me that I would be eating that weekend anyway, and so I could contribute to my food rather than covering those days in my weekly food shop.  Well, yes, but at home I eat what I like, when I like, without small children present, and I'm not worrying about cleaning up spills, or monitoring what everyone is eating, or jumping up from the table to refill the water jug, or then waking up at 5.41am when I can hear the girls giggling.  I volunteer because I love it, but I don't want to pay for the privilege.  

So this was an unusual event for me - just five girls, with nearly a 1:1 ratio.  This meant that one person could always be in the kitchen (not always the same person) dealing with the constant stream of food prep/washing up/clearing up/food prep/drink prep/cleaning that seems to go with a sleepover and someone else could be prepping an activity/tidying up/having five minutes to hide in the toilets for a teeny bit of peace and quiet, leaving the others to run the activity.  As such, it was a lovely and relaxed weekend.

The leaders arrived about an hour before the girls, at the Guide hall where we were staying.  There was a decent kitchen, a large hall for activities and meals and also where the girls would sleep, a smaller room at the back where the leaders would sleep, and then toilets and a separate room for our YL.  We had an underwater theme and we sorted out decorations, first aid, the kitchen, before the girls arrived.  They were a mixture of excited and nervous (girls and parents!) but we quickly got their beds set out, outdoor shoes off and indoor slippers on, check of health forms, kiss parents goodbye and then straight into an activity.  The trick with residentials is to keep the girls busy - no time for homesickness!  Our first activity was brilliant - each girl (and me and the YL) had a shoebox each and we were to make a diorama - an underwater scene.  On the floor we had boxes and containers and big piles of craft stuff: fabric offcuts and recycling and paper and paper offcuts and cupcake cases and styrofoam pellets and tinsel, paint and glitter and sparkly things, and lots of types of glue (stick, PVA, glue gun (that one obviously controlled by an adult!)) so we could stick anything to everything.  It was so much fun - the girls had absolutely free rein over what they wanted to do, and off they went.  As an activity, it was pretty much free: the shoe boxes and materials had been collected, and many of the materials would have been thrown away, scraps of fabric with no use other than to be turned into little sharks to hang in dioramas!  The high ratio we had meant that there was lots of space, and adult attention, for the girls to take their time and not have to queue to use things like the gold paint or ask an adult to use the glue gun. 

We then cleared that activity away and started making dolphin-shaped biscuits.  Again, the small number of Rainbows meant that everyone really got a chance to participate in mixing the dough and rolling and cutting it out.  With a larger group, of course you make sure everyone takes a turn, but with this small number, every turn felt a little bit more meaningful.

It was soon time for lunch, and so the Rainbows laid the table and we had sandwiches and crisps and fruit.  The weather was a bit drizzly, but we decided we all needed some fresh air and a run around, so we headed to the park.  The Rainbows were quite surprised we were going out in the rain, but they soon realised it wasn't really that wet, and the park was (unsurprisingly) deserted so we had the whole place to ourselves and took a gorgeous group photo spread all over the climbing net!

One leader had stayed behind to clean up from lunch and cook the biscuits, we messaged her to say we were on our way back and so when we arrived, she was ready for us!  We took our wellies and waterproof jackets off in the hallway, then the girls got changed into clean and dry clothes (as did some of the leaders, who had wet bottoms from sitting on the wet swings!) and we all had a hot drink (squash for the girls, tea for the grown-ups) and a bit of a sit down whilst we all made sure we were toasty warm after our run in the rain.

The afternoon featured more crafts, all slightly complicated but because of the number of adults we could sit with the girls and really take our time with them.  On a sleepover, unlike in the one hour weekly meetings, it doesn't matter if our timetable goes slight awry, or activities are moved around.  Are the girls happy and safe and warm? Yes? Marvellous, carry on!  We also decorated our dolphin biscuits from earlier, and set them aside to take home.

For dinner we had salad bits and pieces and chicken nuggets and chips, followed by that classic of jelly and ice cream.  We had good conversations with the girls, and had great discussions about dolphins and whales and sharks and fish.

In the evening, we had a treasure hunt in which the girls had to find out different facts about dolphins to fill in the blanks on their sheet.  They had to work together and we made it more exciting by sticking the facts on pieces of paper, stuck to CDs, turning off the lights and giving the girls torches to shine around and see where the CDs were! Is everything more exciting when you turn the lights off?!

It was soon bedtime, and the girls were relatively quickly in their PJs, with brushed teeth, and into bed.  We said goodnight, with one leader staying in their room to read a story.  The rest of us went into the smaller room down the hall where we had tea and cake waiting for us.  After the final leader said goodnight, and lights out, we let them have maybe ten minutes of being all excited (and not sleeping) before one leader got a bit more strict with them and then they were asleep by 9pm!  Another good thing about having a small number of girls - there are fewer girls to be kept awake!

The evenings on residentials are always good fun for the leaders once the girls are asleep.  We laughed, chatted, sat together cramped round a small table in a small room, occasionally sshhh-ing each other if our laughter got too loud!  We were all asleep by 11.30.

At 5.41, I woke up.  There was giggling coming from the main hall.  Another leader was awake, and I volunteered (I'm nice like that) to go and see what was going on.  Three of the girls were still asleep but two were in the same bed and chatting and giggling away.  I reminded them it was still dark outside, too early to get up, and could they get in their own beds and go to sleep.  I went to the toilet and when I walked through the hall a few minutes later, they were in their own beds and already asleep.

And asleep they stayed until 7.10! Well done girls!  I was on breakfast duty and we had cereal, fruit, toast and eggy bread.  All the girls tried it and most of them liked it!  Then we packed up our things (another good thing about a small number of girls - fewer items to go missing), finished the craft activities and tidied up.  The parents soon arrived and we gave out badges and thank yous.  All the Rainbows had had a lovely time and had a huge armful of things to take away with them.  They said goodbye, chattering to their parents as they walked out, telling them everything they had got up to in the past 24 hours.

We didn't have much more tidying to do, just a thorough sweep and clean of the kitchen.  We packed our cars, said our goodbyes, and then we were on our way too.  I've been invited back to the next sleepover, and hopefully the five who attended this one will tell their friends how much they enjoyed it, and the parents will talk to other parents, and so maybe we will have more girls attending next time.  It's lovely to spend so much time with Rainbows and leaders and really get to know each other better.  Now to put a date in the diary to do it all over again!


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