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Beach school: why every teacher should try it

Forest school sorted? It is time to get your bucket and spade out and try beach schools, says this teacher

Some disadvantaged children have never seen the sea

Forest school sorted? It is time to get your bucket and spade out and try beach schools, says this teacher

Forest schools and forest school sessions are now the norm in both early years and the education system as a whole, with even the most urban London schools adopting this outdoor play approach and utilising their local parks in order to facilitate this new phenomenon.

While forest schools continue to grow in popularity, are we missing other vital elements of our natural world?

For example, what about the beach?

What is a beach school?

If you are within a coach journey of the coast, it’s time to get your bucket and spade out.

Beach schools and beach school sessions place significant emphasis on holistic development and, as with the principles and overall benefits of forest school learning, have significant benefits on personal and social wellbeing, as well as providing incredible learning opportunities using minimal resources.

Beach schools tend to follow the same principles as forest schools, whereby children are encouraged to explore the natural environment with its constantly changing appearance, offerings, and potential learning experiences and opportunities.

The general idea of beach school session is to not "plan" or facilitate learning but rather to follow the children’s curiosity in their findings of the natural world and meet their learning and developmental needs through the invaluable opportunities the natural world has to offer.

As a result, no two beach school sessions will ever be the same.

How do I plan a beach school trip?

As with any new outing or learning experience, everything must be carefully risk-assessed and safety is paramount. This increased need for safety due to being in the sometimes unpredictable environment of the seaside is a vital learning experience in itself, with essential life skills being gained as children learn how to protect themselves and act responsibly when exposed to open water and swimming opportunities.

Following the same principle as forest school sessions, boundaries should be set and revisited at the beginning of each session so the children, regardless of their age, develop an awareness of the need for safety when exploring the elements independently.

it is a good idea to set a parameter on the area in which your sessions will be held; allowing the children adequate space and freedom to explore independently, but keeping them safe.

Similarly, it's really useful to have a signal that all children will understand, hear and recognise, which indicates to them they must return to your "base" immediately.

It is important to note that beach school should not be a good-weather experience saved just for summer. The natural world changes with the seasons and this in itself is a valuable learning experience for the children.

Beach school: what is the teacher’s role?

The educator’s role within these sessions is that of the "knowledgeable other": we should merely facilitate and support the children within the new environment; allowing children’s curiosity and investigation to be totally child-led, only stepping in to introduce new words, skills and support safety.

Our setting launched our weekly beach school sessions in January 2018; amid bitter winds, the biting cold and even snow as the winter progressed, and despite their initial reluctance, the children are now completely confident within their beach environment, have a full understanding of the beach and it’s varying appearances through the season, and ultimately a respect and understanding of the sea and basic life skills when it comes to open water and exploring such risky environments.

Any research to back this up?

This Tes article from the summer explores the research backing daily doses of nature for young people, with some really encouraging results from studies across the world. 

Top tips for Beach School

1. Plan enough time

This should not be a five-minute wander but a substantial learning experience. Some children may take some time to get used to the environment and giving them that space is key.

2. Don’t dodge the weather

This is an all-weather activity and so it is important children come well-prepared with the clothing they require. This may involve a relaxing of the uniform policy to ensure every child is protected, but some schools have also bought (or had donated) wellies and coats for children who do not have them at home.

3. Make it regular

If the beach is a 10- or 20-minute drive away, then this is something schools should try and do as often as possible – perhaps once a fortnight or once a month. For those further away, once a term may be practical. The key is that this should not be a one-off and that children should see the beach in different seasons and conditions.

4. Let them explore

We all have targets and accountability pressures but let the kids enjoy the process of exploration and you will see a return in your lessons back at school.

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