Children of the woods gather magic memories

9th July 2004 at 01:00
Quernmore Church of England primary is set in a magical world. One classroom display, "from sheep to shawl", features fleece and yarn and small pieces of hand-dyed cloth made by the children. The sheep can be seen through the window, dotted on the nearby fields and hills. The school's nature garden has tall grasses that a small child can hardly see over, a new pond, a bird-hide so children can watch the wildfowl and a nesting box which enables pupils to observe chicks from egg to first flight.

There are two woods with hidden paths and an adventure playground. Children count and measure trees - rowan, beech, oak, silver birch. They build three-dimensional maps out of earth and sculptures from leaves, ferns and feathers with a visiting artist.

The splendid grounds make a much-used outdoor classroom. "We bring them out in all weather," says Year 34 teacher Joanna Colledge.

"We don't have a rigid timetable," adds deputy head Sarah Baines. "We can go out in the snow."

Quernmore is only half an hour from Lancaster, and half its 108 pupils come from the city. Its Year 6 Sats target is 50 per cent reaching level 5 (well above average), but children are not crammed for the tests. There is no literacy hour, as the school prefers to rely on the national curriculum.

The curriculum is structured around skills and activities. "They're getting a rich and varied experience of language," says Mrs Baines. "We expect a lot of them and they rise to meet expectations."

Along paths in the wood are little dens where children set up stalls, trading shells for branches and sparkly "gems". Y6 has a secret den, where even teachers are not allowed to venture. Wood time has been part of the school for years, and the children have drawn up their own rules.

Childhood can pass you by so quickly, and it's so easy not to notice the wonders around you, says Mrs Colledge. "Primary school is all about creating memories."

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