22nd June 2001 at 01:00
RSPB Elemental Suitcase. pound;25 (inc pamp;p) The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, The Lodge, Sandy, Bedfordshire SG19 2DL.

Tel: 01767 681577, pound;25 inc pamp;p. Website: www.rspb.org.uk. Email: Jenny.Riley@RSPB.org.uk.

Open up the RSPB Elemental Suitcase and, once you get over the initial surprise that there is no mention of birds, this box of goodies provides sufficient materials to accommodate a group of up to 40 primary-age children.

Although it is intended for after-school or holiday clubs, there is plenty that could be used in the primary classroom. The project uses Aristotle's four elements - earth, water, air and fire - to introduce environmental conservation. Each of the 16 sessions follows a similar pattern, with activities based on a chapter of the specially written story, though there is enough choice for a degree of flexibility.

The materials include the colourful storybook, passports and colour-coded attendance stickers, a plentiful supply of reward stickers and an A4 folder brimming with indoor and outdoor games and activity ideas. Four large scrolls are supplied for displaying children's work and the sturdy cardboard suitcase itself serves both as storage space and as a prop for the story and follow-on activities.

Kate Shepphard's excellent illustrations give the materials a good themed feeling and a familiarity with the story's main characters, Max, olly and their grandfather. A character poster for each chapter reminds children of the key message. But the intention is not to preach. The ideas are introduced and discussed in a way that encourages children to make up their own minds.

In the classroom, the Elemental Suitcase could be used as a mini "getting-to-know-you" project for the start of a new school year. It could also be used as an "in-between SATs" filler offering light, but educational, relief. It has plenty of activity ideas that would enhance many curriculum areas, such as science, geography and citizenship; I'm planning to use the material as part of an RE topic on custodianship, interdepen-dence and responsibility towards the earth's resources, addressing elements of the "learning from" objectives of the RE curriculum.

The Elemental Suitcase builds on children's imagination, and appeals to their inherent sense of justice and fairness in global issues. It gives children a chance to consider the environment and sustainability, and I like the emphasis on practical activities to present evidence for children to consider. The children will have experienced the four elements at first hand, and they are a good starting point for considering the building blocks of nature. The only question for club leaders is "how do you follow that?"

Gillian Blatherwick is ICT co-ordinator at Rushey Mead primary school, Leicester

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