Managing free time activities safely
Free time activities are an area of high risk when it comes to incidents occurring, here's some guidance which can help you manage these activities in order to reduce risk.
Published March 2023, replacing May 2020
A large number of incidents occur when members are undertaking free time activities, this could be at the beginning or end of your meeting, during break in the normal section programme or time before bed on a camp. This guidance is designed to provide leaders with some suggestions of how to manage these free time activities in order to reduce the potential for incidents and injuries.
Directly before and after section meetings
It is easy for leaders to be distracted whilst talking to parents and setting up the meeting place; this could result in the young people not being supervised.
Try dividing responsibilities to leave a leader or Explorer Scout Young Leader with the task of occupying the young people when they arrive and before they leave. This could be with a game or a quick activity, even something which will help them get ahead in a programme activity later that evening. Make sure games allow for people to arrive or leave throughout and avoid more boisterous activities. Remember that although this activity is at the start or the end of the session it is still part of the meeting / activity so should have been correctly risk assessed. Risk assessments | Scouts
In between activities
Often young people get distracted between activities when there is nothing to focus their attention. Planning your programme to have a smooth transition, with different leaders taking the lead on each element, will allow for this to be seamless. Clearly communicate with the young people explaining what the next activity is so that you keep their attention. Plan the programme to be challenging, relevant and rewarding and promote positive behaviour amongst the group. Training modules you may find beneficial are Promoting Positive Behaviour and Delivering a Quality Programme.
Free time during nights away activities
Many sections programme in a free time slot into their event, allowing the young people more freedom. This is great for allowing the young people to explore the environment, play games or rest but can result in young people over stretching their abilities and incidents occurring.
Setting clear boundaries will help remove some potential hazards, be clear on rules and expectations and have some supervision, although this could be more indirect than normal. Have someone on hand to run some games or simple activities if the young people start to get bored or stray outside of the agreed area, rules etc.
For example: some Scout and Explore groups chose to allow Scouts to use knives during free time for whittling. If so, you need to carefully consider how this activity will be assessed for risk, supervised and the storage of the knives. For further guidance visit Scout Knife Safety Guidance | Scouts
As a leader make sure you’ve used the Safety Checklist for Leaders; this will help you identify risks and find suitable ways of managing them.
Unsupervised evening activities during nights away activities (i.e. In rooms or tents before bed)
Young people will be excited about being away from home and having the freedom of being unsupervised: this can lead to unsuitable behaviour. Set clear rules and expectations and monitor, pop by and check that everyone is ok periodically.
Having some quiet activities or encouraging young people to bring their own can make for a calmer atmosphere in the evenings and help reduce incidents.
Free time during trips and outings
The older the young people are the more likely they are to want independence; giving young people the freedom to explore in small groups is part of helping them to develop and grow. Be sure to do this with some clear boundaries and expectations in place. Ensure each group of young people knows how you will communicate with them.
Consider how leaders will supervise this activity, how close you will be, this will depend on the age and maturity of the young people and the location you are in. The activity would still need to be risk assessed but the young people could be involved in this process.
If you’re unsure as to how to manage your situation, seek advice from your ADC Section, Group Scout Leader or DESC or other experienced leaders.
If you have any concerns over the safety of an activity, don’t do it, find an alternative and re-plan at a later date.
If you need advice on what training is available ask your GSL or ADC to put you in touch with your Local Training Manager.
The Safety checklists are aimed to help all adults working with young people to fulfil their role and responsibilities in managing and supporting safety in Scouting.Read the checklists
Risk assessment exampleCheck out the example risk assessment for free time activities
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