Windy Ridge Boys Farm - Filed under 'Articles

By: Windy Ridge Boys Farm  05-Apr-2012
Keywords: Literacy

Article In Mahurangi Matters 

As news reports all too frequently remind us, an increasing number of boys
are being referred to health professional by their parents and teachers
because of their disruptive behaviour and poor literacy rates. It's a
message that comes as no surprise to Graham Crawshaw, 76, who runs a camp
for boys at Windy Ridge, south of Warkworth. For decades, Graham and his
wife Joan have devoted themselves to giving boys back their boyhood. His
efforts were recognised in 2003 when he received a Queens Service Medal
for community service. Here he shares his passion to see literacy rates
improve in NZ and his vision for the future ….

I had a privileged childhood. I was born in Leamington, Cambridge, where

my father was the school principal. The only cup I ever won was for being

the first baby born in the school house there. We shifted to Thames in the

early 1930s and then later moved to Mt Eden, in Auckland. At that time, Mt

Eden was a boy's paradise – it was like a mini farm and we had pets, huts,

trees to climb, trolleys to race and all the other things boys love to do.

There was a real sense of community, whether you were mixing with family

or friends, neighbours or just the local butcher. People socialised a lot

more and I think we under-estimate how much we learn from this everyday

contact with one another. Contact through technology is artificial.

I'm a compulsive learner and I'm certain it is my upbringing that fostered

that. My parents, shared my upbringing with many others, who were more

than just teachers or sports coaches to me. They really listened to me and

understood my need for adventure and activity. From the age of seven or

eight, I started visiting farms owned by family friends in the Waikato and

Northland. I would catch the bus or train by myself and spend the school

holidays with them. Being able to make these farm visits had a huge effect

on my education.

At 17, I headed to university, undertaking first a medical intermediate

course in Auckland and then moving to the dental school in Dunedin. But

during my dentistry training I realised I wanted to be a farmer. I think

it was the happy memories of my childhood farm visits which convinced me

that that's where I wanted to raise my future family. At secondary school,

I'd always been criticised for changing courses but my parents were more

understanding. They said "go for it". I think we do boys a disservice when

we put them in a straitjacket so that they feel they can't change their

minds. My advice to them has always been not to be afraid to make a change

in direction, because dreams and ambitions are much more valuable than

NCEA marks.

I started working on a farm in Rangiora and then moved to my uncle's farm

in Dargaville. I then leased-to-purchase a 162 hectare sheep and dairy

farm at Arapohue, a little south of Dargaville, which I converted to sheep

and cattle. Joan and I married in 1959 and had three daughters and a son,

Richard. We encouraged all our children to be independent and when Richard

was nine, we sent him to an uncle's farm in Gisborne. It was a chance for

him to experience the farm life I'd enjoyed when I was a boy.

About this time I decided to establish the Arapohue Bush Camp concept.

Joan shared my vision, which was to provide boys with the experiences they

were missing from their home environments. We held our first camp in 1962,

with nine boys camping in our house. Two more camps were held that year,

utilising a woolshed, where a loft was constructed for the sleeping

quarters. The boys loved it. Later on, they helped us build 10 rough

cabins – it was this hands-on approach, as well as our focus on activities

designed particularly with boys in mind, that made us different from the

many other camps that were around. The boys came to us from the Auckland

Baptist Tabernacle – some were very hard cases. We could see the camps

were making some radical changes in them. You could see the delight in

their faces when they were doing things they enjoyed. Camps were held

regularly from 1962 through to 1991. We also set up an alternative school

for boys and girls from 1978 to 1982, with 87 children attending over the

four years, but this stopped due to the difficulty of staffing the school.

The year 1991 was a key time. We had 42 boys at a camp and I decided to

test their reading ability. We were appalled at some of the results. The

problem cut right across wealth and ethnic boundaries. Although I knew

nothing about teaching reading, except my memories of the good primers we

had had at school which taught phonics, I decided to try to do something

to help the boys who had such low reading ability. It was a case of trial

and error. We started with the 10 poorest readers. Then, in 1995, we held

our first reading adventure camp in Titirangi, which was attended by about

30 boys. Girls didn't seem to need the camps as much as boys - they seem

to have been better at surviving the whole language (look and guess)

methods used by schools. I realised that conversation is an integral part

of literacy learning and there is a marked absence of conversation in many

boys' lives. We hear of boys disrupting the school, but I sometimes wonder

if it is the school system disrupting the boys' learning style. Since then

we have held 70 reading camps, now called Farmstays. I still believe the

level of illiteracy in our nation is a national scandal. No boy should

pass his seventh birthday without being able to read. If there is a

problem, such as dyslexia, Irhlen or Asperger syndrome, then they need to

be diagnosed early so teaching can be adjusted accordingly.

We bought the Windy Ridge Bush Camp, now called Windy Ridge Boy's Farm,

south of Warkworth, 12 years ago. It's a 14 hectare bush property and we

have added 'boy friendly' buildings with no electricity, long drops and

bunkrooms with minimal furnishings. It's a 1900s zone. The boys we see

come with a lot of 'baggage'. They are often very angry so we spend time

with them trying to work through their issues. We give them alternatives

to angry behaviour, offering them activities involving the three key

elements boys love – mud, fire, and water. After awhile, they forget to be

angry. Fairness and justice are also an integral part of what we teach.

We've held five programmes at Windy Ridge, one of which was filmed by

Maori TV, but there are still many challenges ahead. We hope to eventually

have available a manual for tutors to help standardise our programmes. We

are looking for new tutors, people with a real heart for boys. Funding is

also needed to help run the camps and other services we plan in the

future, such as free reading tests, an 0800 literacy hotline, training

courses for parents, tutors and teachers, special programmes for those who

have dyslexia and other syndromes and adult literacy programmes. The

environment we raise boys in is crucial in determining the young men they

will become. Camps like ours are helping to give at least some boys the

chance to get back on track so that they can lead happy and useful lives.

Keywords: Literacy

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Windy Ridge Boys Farm - Filed under 'newsletter

Because statistics show that youth delinquency and adult imprisonment are often correlated with poor literacy levels, our mission is to raise awareness and offer the successful program that we have developed to more children and adults in Auckland and Northern regions.