Learning outside the classroom

“Learning outside the classroom is about raising achievement through an organised, powerful approach to learning in which direct experience is of prime importance.  This is not only about what we learn but importantly how and where we learn”. (Learning Outside the Classroom Manifesto)

Kathy Grogan is not a big fan of “virtual” technology. “We all know that children standing in front of a TV screen waving a console about are not getting anything like a real experience of sport, such as playing tennis on a court, in the park or even the garden. The same is true of environmental education. If you really want to understand nature, you have to get outside and experience the real thing!”

As Education Officer for the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust on the Isle of Wight, Kathy aims to give Island children memorable and enjoyable learning experiences outside the classroom and, with its wide range of special coastal and countryside sites, the Island has a wealth of habitats to explore. “The Isle of Wight has some of the best chalk grassland sites in the country, rich in wild flowers and butterflies; our woodlands are strongholds for endangered mammals such as the red squirrel, dormouse and many species of bat; and not a summer goes by when I don’t discover something in a rockpool I’ve never seen before – the diversity of the Island’s wildlife never ceases to amaze and inspire!”

In order to meet the Trust’s Mission, “To conserve wildlife, restore a landscape rich in biodiversity and to connect people with their local environment”, the Isle of Wight team offers a range of opportunities for people of all ages to learn more about the Island’s wildlife. From bird watching and botany field trips to puddle splashing and bug hunting, events are planned to suit every age group and interest. May is a busy month when the Trust’s staff host visits to all their Island Reserves during the Walking Festival, and Family Events throughout the year offer activities such as bat detecting, dissecting owl pellets, small mammal and invertebrate surveys and the popular Marine Week events on the Island’s coast. WATCH, the junior arm of the Wildlife Trust, has a fledgling group on the Island which meets on one Saturday each month; a range of activities is available to suit all ages with games and activities on Trust Reserves, at Parkhurst Forest and other wild places. A new initiative, Wild Tots, offers parents and pre-school children wildlife themed visits to Parkhurst Forest for stories and games.

Kathy offers School Visits to local nature reserves, coastal habitats and, in partnership with the Forestry Commission, Parkhurst Forest. As well as Science based investigations, activities can be linked to other areas of the curriculum, such as Language and Literacy and Art and Design. Advice and practical help on improving school grounds for wildlife is also available, as are on-site interpretive sessions such as pond dipping and ‘minibeast safaris’. Under the Access to Farms Scheme, Kathy has undertaken training to deliver educational visits to local farms; and as a fully trained Forest School Leader, she is also running the Isle of Wight Forest Schools Project which, in its first year, has enabled over 300 children to experience a six week outdoor learning programme.

“I am a huge fan of Forest School. It’s the antithesis of the games console!” says Kathy. Forest School takes place in an outdoor classroom, preferably a woodland, where young people are given access to learning throughout the seasons and in all weather. “Last winter gave the children some excellent opportunities to investigate ice and snow, and Autumn is a brilliant time to be out in the woods”. The programme combines practical skills and activities, such as using tools to make things from wood, campfire cooking and shelter building, with techniques to encourage independence, raise self confidence and self esteem and manage behaviour. Six Island schools and three pre-schools have taken part so far and bookings are currently being taken for the coming year.

“The IW Forest Schools Project has had a brilliant first year”, says Kathy. “It’s been hugely popular with parents, school staff and, of course, the children who have been able to take part. As well as schools, we’ve worked with after-school clubs and hosted ‘Dads and Tots’ sessions with the Newport Children’s Centre”. Currently half way through the two year project supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Wildlife Trust is keen to see Forest Schools continue on the Island to benefit more children. The Trust has lent its support to four members of school staff from the Island to do their initial Forest School training, and two who are currently training to become Forest School leaders.

“It comes as a surprise to some people that Forest School isn’t extra-curricular”, comments Kathy. “Most of the curriculum can be delivered outside just as well as indoors – in fact, for some subjects it’s clearly an advantage, especially investigations into plants and animals. Using tools and building shelters are excellent Design and Technology projects, and woodlands can be truly inspirational when it comes to Art and Literacy. We had a Music session at Whippingham Primary where the children made instruments and sang wood camp songs and the children at Chillerton and Rookley Primary had an archaeological dig on their site”. The Forest School programme supports children’s learning by tapping into their individual learning styles, so it can be particularly beneficial for those of us who learn by “doing”.  “There have also been some magical wildlife encounters” says Kathy, “like when a hare raced through the Forest School area at Niton Primary School, and when children from Barton Primary lay in the leaf litter and watched a red squirrel feeding in the forest canopy”. Now that’s something the indoor classroom can’t compete with!

If you would like to know more about Environmental Education visits for Schools; Forest School; WATCH; Wild Tots; or our Events Programme, please contact: Kathy Grogan, Education Officer (IW)

Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, Forest Office, Parkhurst Forest, Forest Road, Newport, Isle of Wight  PO30 5UL

Telephone: 01983 529199, Email: kathyg@hwt.org.uk or www.hwt.org.uk/pages/isle-of-wight.html.