Visits to historical sites are, of course, fantastic for bringing history to life. But trips to such locations don’t just have to cover the history curriculum – they are also great for helping students develop key skills and mindsets in numerous other areas, often without them even noticing.
After all, any field trip is a multi-sensory, hands-on learning experience – from navigating around the site using a map and cooperation in team-based activities to being respectful of the environment, peers and other visitors. And with school budgets tighter than ever, being able to bring your class to an English Heritage site for free means these opportunities are still accessible.
Here are four key ways in which these types of visits can develop a whole range of skills in young people.
1. Using STEM in real-life contexts
STEM subjects, particularly maths, are traditionally taught in the classroom. However, visits to historical sites provide many opportunities to apply the theories students learn in school to real places, consolidating and linking learning to their understanding of the world.
This year, a project at Tintagel Castle in Cornwall is building a bridge that recreates the historical crossing from the mainland to the island, and improves access to the castle for visitors. Not only does this make the site easier to visit, it is also an interesting example of how engineering, technology and maths are used in large construction projects. The Ironbridge Gorge Museums in Shropshire is another location that fuses history, geography and STEM subjects into a fascinating learning experience while the designs of geometric forts and castles are also excellent maths studies. Orford Castle in Suffolk is a great example of this – it was carefully designed using simple geometry.
Considering questions like, ‘How is the bridge built and how can it take the weight of people using it?’, and ‘How does the shape of this castle make it strong?’ all help to enhance learning outside of the classroom.
2. Experiencing culture, the arts and heritage
Historical settings offer unique opportunities to experience culture, arts and heritage, helping to enrich learning for children and young people. Placing art into context and understanding heritage helps children to develop a sense of their place in the world and in society, while adding to their knowledge and learning experience. Visiting historical sites opens the door to access these experiences, which are difficult to replicate in a classroom.
Historical sites like Kenwood in the centre of London, the Horniman Museum in South-East London or St Fagans National Museum of History in Wales are a cornucopia of social history, art collections, heritage and much more, making them the perfect place to explore new concepts, spark inspiration and have intelligent discussions with students. Visits to historical sites also take students out of their comfort zone, and challenge them to think beyond their own experiences of the world.
3. Teamwork and communication skills
Group activities exploring historical sites are a fantastic way to develop teamwork and communication skills. Learning how to work well with others can open up new possibilities for students, and encourage them to build the skills they will need to succeed as adults.
Drama, role play and presentations help to increase children’s confidence, as well as allowing them to explore a historical site in a new way, imagining they were really there, at a great battle or royal court. All English Heritage Teachers’ Kits include role play and team building activities, which require students to work in groups to solve problems and complete tasks.
Most locations will offer similar educational kits that can help teachers ensure trips to historical sites are more than just a day out and offer engaging, stimulating and memorable experiences that can have a truly long-term impact.
4. Improving personal wellbeing
Student wellbeing is hugely important. Outdoor experiences are a refreshing change and a chance to experience the world. Visits to historical sites provide opportunities for students to work with each other and connect to local places. For younger children, they are also a way to learn about the world, exploring key science topics, e.g., plants, while being able to see and touch for themselves.
The new outdoor education centre at Walmer Castle, for example, encourages schools to explore the environment around the castle, and provides different learning opportunities around the grounds, thereby benefitting to the mental and physical wellbeing of students learning in an outdoor space.
Fran Gibbons is National Education Marketing Executive for English Heritage.
Find out more about the learning opportunities available at English Heritage sites here: https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/learn/school-visits/