How far do you live from the sea? A stone's throw or a short car ride? The furthest distance anyone lives from the sea in the British Isles is 75 miles (120 kilometres), making it possible for most schools to visit the coast for a day.
- Build a mound of sand and pebbles, mixing as many different particle sizes as possible. Use buckets to pour water over the mound and observe how the flow of water separates the fine and large particles as the mound erodes.
- Plan to be at the beach during low tide. Build a castle and watch the advancing tide undercut and wash it away.
- Dam a stream that flows down the beach. Observe its new course and watch how it erodes and deposits material on its route to the sea.
In the bucket
- Stash items from a treasure hunt. Clues could include: jetsam (a bottle or an oil can), natural objects that show erosion (rounded pebbles, pebbles with a hole or broken shells), or man-made objects showing erosion (smoothed glass, frayed rope or driftwood).
- Collect some sea water and take it back to school to evaporate on a saucer and observe salt crystal formations.
Back in the classroom
At the high-tide mark, the line of washed up debris that snakes across a beach is called the "strandline" and it holds "treasures" - Jshells and rounded pieces of glass that have been tumbled by the sea for years; cuttlefish skeletons, as well as pieces of frayed rope and whitened driftwood, perfect for making collages.
Empty drinks cans and polystyrene boxes might make you overlook this treasure trove that changes daily, but delve in and find a selection of artefacts to make a strandline display on a base of sand or pebbles.
Children can identify and speculate on the origin of the components, sort them into natural and man-made materials, and guess how long each item would take to degrade in the sea. Paper takes about a year, wool about 10 years, leather about 100 years and glass around 1,000 years. But how long does plastic take?
The 7,000 miles (11,265km) of the UK's coast offers headlands, bays, spits, islands, estuaries and harbours all shaped by the sea and, in many places, managed and protected by man. It's tricky to give explanations for coastal features without it becoming an endless catalogue of physical geography definitions. However, a research project organised by groups of children can illustrate contrasting coastal landscapes through active learning.
Children could first locate the nearest coastline on a map of the UK, drawing a line from the local area to the coast and extending it to the opposite coast. The two coasts may vary in their exposure to the force of the sea, probably have a different geology determining the rate and manner in which the coastline is eroded, and different human influences. For example, if you live in Reading, the nearest coastline is to the south where Hayling Island, a busy holiday resort, has a sand and shingle beach with protective groynes, built to prevent erosion. Directly north, on the opposite coast is Bamburgh, where a castle stands on a wild cliff above a beach with treacherous rocks. Its claim to fame is Grace Darling, the heroine of a shipwreck rescue in 1838.
Sets of photographs or postcards, a story or a news item could create a stimulus for research. Children can present maps, pictures and written accounts to illustrate their findings concerning coastal landscape features and why the area is famous - because of a person, place, event, for example.