Christine Harrison on videos which encourage pupils to explore the environment. The first-hand experience of nature, soil and rocks can be very exciting for young children, but a full curriculum, cost of transport and the paperwork associated with school trips prevent many teachers from venturing outside the classroom. These tapes of the Channel 4 series, Nature in Focus, bring the world of nature into school to encourage children to explore their environment.
Each tape contains three films about Chris, his friends and mum (played by Alison Steadman) as they explore the meadows, pools and woods around their home. The family dramas are interwoven with interesting facts about animals, plants and various habitats and spectacular microscopic filming. I watched Beetles and Fungi with my nine-year-old daughter and friend and can vouch for their interest level.
Both girls wanted to try the activities and go out and look for some of the wonderful creatures, such as ladybird larvae. It was the wrong time of year to collect fungi and make spore prints, but we did find a two-spotted ladybird.
The excellent micro photography sets up expectations that are impossible to achieve, even when you find the organisms on the film. It's important that teachers use the video interactively, through discussion, questioning and reviewing, so that children understand what the film sequences are trying to show and what they can undertake themselves.
The videos maintain the difficult balance between presenting accurate factual information while maintaining an interesting storyline. The children respond well to what they observe and ask appropriate questions. I felt the mother was rather bossy and boring in the way she poured out information, but my co-reviewers said she was fine: a typical mum and probably a teacher as well!
The background notes are rather sparse and teachers unused to handling and caring for small organisms may need to seek further guidance. However, the emphasis in the videos on care for organisms and their environment by encouraging observation, careful collection and returning the animals to their original habitat is to be commended.
Christine Harrison is a lecturer in science education at King's College, London.