Could you take care of a bear?

14th March 2008 at 00:00
Using a furry friend can help younger pupils understand maps. Emily Richardson explains how

Most primary teachers are familiar with Barnaby Bear, the toy produced by the Geographical Association that is taken on various travels by school staff and pupils as part of the Qualification and Curriculum Authority's Unit 5, "Where in the world is Barnaby Bear?" It is so popular that even Gillian Gibbons, the teacher imprisoned in Sudan last year for calling a bear "Muhammad", was conducting a similar scheme with pupils at the time of her arrest.

Barnaby can provide a stimulus for many different areas of geography. And if you don't have a Barnaby - any other soft toy, such as Little Bear Arthur (right) can work as well.

This lesson fulfils the national curriculum requirement that children should study the locality of their school. It is aimed at key stage 1, but can be adapted for KS2.

If Barnaby Bear had just arrived in your school, I'm sure he would like to get to know his way around. Could pupils help him find his way? They could follow a pre-prepared route, taking Barnaby with them and locating important features as they go. Older pupils could create their own route for Barnaby and consider why it might be a suitable or unsuitable path to follow. For young children, simple maps, drawn by the teacher, can be effective.

Barnaby might want to be shown photographs and pictures of his new home. He might want to know what his new friends like about it, what they would like to keep the same and what they would like to change and why. All of these tasks fulfil national curriculum objectives, such as observing and recording, and expressing views about places and environments.

As a link to citizenship education, pupils could discuss how they could welcome Barnaby and other new friends to their school. Similar activities could be carried out with work on the local area, using its distinguishing features. Barnaby may want to know where he is, what it is like, and why it is like that.

In developing geographical skills, a fun activity might be to tell the class that Barnaby has been getting ready to go on holiday, but he has lost some luggage around the school. Can they help him find it? There are several ways this could be explored. It may be more exciting and worthwhile to choose "lost" items that relate to Barnaby's trip - clothing for hot or cold weather, equipment for a skiing trip or an expedition, a relevant travel guide or map. At a later stage these items could then be considered by the pupils to work out where Barnaby is going and how he will be getting there.

Once a selection of items have been chosen by the teacher, you need to decide where Barnaby has lost them. This can be dependent on the ability of the children. The items could all be placed in one room, such as the classroom, around the building or within the school grounds. Using a map, pupils could then try to find them and record where they are using words or pictures. Alternatively, the teacher could mark the locations on a map, and the children could identify which item was found in which place.

Barnaby is also excellent for cross-curricular work. For example, as part of design and technology, pupils could design a new home for Barnaby. And if you are doing any work on habitats, you could include discussions on what bear homes are like, perhaps comparing those you find in stories to those in real life, providing links with literacy.

Emily Richardson is a former deputy headteacher and a senior lecturer in primary geography at the University of Roehampton, London.

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