Thursday, 29 August 2013

SURE AS EGGS IS EGGS! The Story of a School Visit

Ah well, Bank Holiday Monday’s over and done. My head and notebook are still full of everything I saw when I was visiting London last week. But that’s for another post..

Instead because the Big Back to School Week is almost here, I’m looking at diaries. So this post seems a good space to mention the good eggs.  


Yes, eggs!  Read on!

 I rarely write in detail about any schools I've visited as an author - for a mix of reasons - but I've decided I must use this resurrected blog to tell you about the good egg school, and how very pleased and hopeful that author visit made me! 

For a start, the school buzzed with busy, happy learning. It was a village school, tucked deep within the Yorkshire Moors. Sounds idyllic?  Yes, but rural schools can have their own particular problems. Village school children often return to isolated homes, where they spend long hours on video-games or in front of the tv or computer. A child’s only company may be their siblings. Busy working parents may not have time, travel-time or money for the range of outings possible in cities. Additionally, rural children may grow up meeting very few people outside their own small and remote community, yet that is unlikely to be where their twenty-first century life will lead them, or even their secondary school years.

Yet, because this particular school recognised the need for enrichment, for widening the children’s interests and experiences, they involved the children in music, art and craft. They brought in all sorts of speakers and activities. This school staff chose to give their children the real experiences – not just “interactive white-board experiences” - of the wider world. 

Each year, the children were taken to the theatre in the nearest seaside town and the oldest children went down to London by train for an overnight stay. The staff saw such outings as a way of developing the children’s future independence and knowledge.

During the school day, as I was rather busy, I didn't have much time for idle observation. However, I did see something I haven’t seen for years: school pets! Happy school pets. Those three guinea pigs were the most charming, socialised and well-cared-for pets I’ve ever met, totally comfortable in the children’s arms.. I think I heard rumours of giant snails elsewhere, but I didn’t go searching . . .

Now for the main thing! What I really want to mention was their whole-school initiative., known as "Forest School.” You can find out about it, in general, here at the The Forest School Association

Each term, every school year group makes visits to a designated wooded area nearby, and follows a seasonal programme. This was not just a lazy walk in the woods. During their primary years the children would be involved with such activities as:
Constructing “fairy houses”.
Identifying natural materials
Story boarding using natural materials
Using natural materials to make art.
Tracking in small groups.
Studying the living creatures and animal inhabitants.
Constructing dens
Constructing experiments
Identifying plants and trees
Studying maps and landscape features
Cooking outdoors, from marshmallow kebabs to making and lighting fires.
Reading Books, both non-fiction and fiction, on related topics - from the Gruffalo to Stig of the Dump..
Record-keeping, as well as various forms of account and diary writing.
And real LOG BOOKS – made of split logs, string and laminated paper entries.
Wish I could have taken a picture.
And there was much more I didn’t have time to find out about. 
Think amplified Andy Goldsworthy with much much more attached!

What I particularly noticed was the effect on the children’s body language and behaviour. The children seemed friendly, confident and generally at ease within the school and classrooms. They did not seem to jostle for territorial space and for teacher’s attention. They did not “agg” each other. They did not seem full of stress..

When I commented on this, the teacher explained that the Forest School programme gave children opportunities to show and value a wide range of skills and abilities, far more than those required by a restricted classroom setting. I also felt, as the day went on, that the Forest School fitted in with the school’s whole philosophy of education.

Certainly, such stuff costs, so the school is constantly fund raising to help the pupils. I felt very honoured to be the chosen “author experience”, and hope the children and staff enjoyed the sessions as much as I did. It is also a brave stand at a time when many schools are cutting out anything but OFSTED requirements - yet this programme had been closely matched against those needs. Yes, it was a very very good day!

Over lunchtime, I watched the children playing in “their” field and clambering on the climbing frames. I was told about the school garden and observed the fat brown hens running about in their grassy pen. I must admit it was wonderful to be there, and I almost wished I wasn’t working just to spend more time observing and finding out about this hopeful style of education. 

However, teachers, school staff - and children - are all busy people and the day passed and as I left I was presented with a dozen eggs, laid by the school’s hens.

And over the next few days, as those twelve good eggs turned into an omelette and more, they reminded me of a really cheering day, one that I’m smiling about again right now.

Wishing you all a good September,
Best wishes

PS.. Rather sadly, I’ve heard of urban schools who might have been just as interested if their nearest woodland hadn’t been dangerously full of drug-taking detritus and similar health hazards. So very, very sad! Nevertheless, it’s good to share the happy stories too, despite everything.

1 comment: