Why does it matter that we have a co-curricular programme and not an extra-curricular one? It’s not because it’s a catchy alliterative title and it’s not simply a semantic decision. The Downe House experience is so much more than classroom learning with a few extra activities added in for good measure, a solid personal statement and productive use of free time.
The way our girls spend their time outside the classroom is interwoven into their life at School, forming an integral part of their growing up. The research about the benefits of participation in activities outside the classroom is well-documented. Students who take up activities learn a ‘hidden curriculum’ of leadership, resilience and the art of building positive relationships. Not only this, but co-curricular activities are proven to have a positive impact on academic achievement, education aspirations and one’s self-concept.
It’s important to recognise that boarding provides the perfect environment for each girl to make the most of what is on offer. Whether it is horse riding, ballet or cookery, the time and space which boarding opens up means that each girl has a tremendous amount of freedom to choose what she wants to add into her schedule. We can make it work. And we really do.
There’s the girl who plays three instruments and wants to start fencing. And there’s the girl who played volleyball at her old school and wants to join a local volleyball club. We make it happen. Every activity a Downe House girl participates in builds character and teaches values that transcend the agility of fencing or the skill of volleyball. The fencer, only in Remove, has started her own (very popular!) fencing club for the Lower School. She is learning that if she aspires to make something happen, she can really achieve it. Playing for a local volleyball club, our volleyballer meets other young players from across Berkshire. She learns collaboration and has undoubtedly built confidence when meeting new people. Coincidentally, she has recently been selected for the England U19 Women’s team. These stories show that it’s not simply the activity itself that is important. It is not outside or ‘extra’ to learning at School, but compliments and co-exists alongside the classroom.
Superb classroom teaching and learning will always remain essential. Yet much of what our girls learn comes from outside that space. It comes when you are halfway up a mountain on your Gold Duke of Edinburgh and your friend is close to giving up. You take her arm and urge her on even though you’re not sure you can manage another mile. It comes when your ballet routine explores a human experience that has not been your own. Your empathy and compassion for others grow. And it comes when you learn how to make your Grandpa’s favourite dessert in cookery club. You cannot wait to see him next so that you can make it for him.
Weekends hold some of my favourite moments at Downe House. Formal lessons finish at 12 noon on a Saturday and are followed by sporting fixtures or lively active workshops. Then the weekend truly begins. In Lower School the girls have activities and trips planned for them. Our intention is to encourage our girls to try as many different experiences as possible, helping them to build an outward looking approach to life. This could be an optional in-house bake box, a social with a boys’ school or a trip to a high ropes course. In the Upper School and Sixth Form there is plenty on offer such as climbing the O2, cinema and theatre trips, pottery painting, yoga sessions and so much more. At this stage the girls often get to pick what they take part in to accommodate and nurture their developing interests.
Eleven to eighteen is such a formative period in anyone’s life. It is our hope that by taking such a holistic approach to life at Downe House, we can help each girl grow to her full potential as a compassionate, collaborative and outward looking individual. That is why we talk about co-curricular activities, not extra-curricular activities. Surely a co-curricular approach is not just the best way, but the only way to equip each girl for life beyond Downe House.
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