A simple group walk can trigger an awareness of surroundings as well as stimulate group activity and learning, as Elizabeth Jurd found out
It never rains on Tuesday mornings. I know, because I took my top junior class from North Primary School and Nursery in Colchester out on an educational visit every Tuesday last year. Behaviour and speaking and listening were issues for this class. Local walks proved an excellent incentive to think, listen, speak and behave.
The benefits were immediately obvious. Children became aware of the environment, were motivated to learn and made an effort to co-operate with each other - no one was excluded from a trip but they were well aware that the sanction would be used if their behaviour was dangerous in any way.
Everyone knew what was expected of them: adults and children alike. I even found it easier to produce risk assessment forms as I had a realistic view of the risks involved.
Money loomed large at the beginning as there were no funds available to subsidise any trips. I decided to ask the parents for a pound;10 voluntary donation to finance each term. Most parents managed this happily when they recognised the educational benefits for their child.
We started modestly. Walking along the road making a sketch map teaches odd and even numbers. On another walk we recorded and classified the different types of shops. Discussions, sketches, maps, written accounts and data recorded on the computer were among the outcomes. We did traffic surveys of all kinds both outside the school and on the busier road nearby.
Photographs were used to record the experiences and as a basis for discussion later. Much of this was guided by the learning assistant, but children would spontaneously pick up the albums and recall events with their friends.
In the spring term I asked the children for suggestions of places to visit.
They wrote real letters to the mayor, theatre, hospital and fire station to arrange visits. Later their "thank you" letters and pictures were posted, making a real contribution to learning.
We are exceptionally lucky to be on the edge of an historic town. This means that we can walk to all these places, as well as museums and the town's art gallery. However, buses are remarkably cheap as are group railway tickets.
I let it be known that I was interested in any "out of school" learning experiences. Several charities found money to help us out. We were provided with transport to go and plant trees, and to go to the local football ground for a health promotion day. An artist, who already had funding, provided workshops in school and then exhibited our work alongside hers at the library. The county council had an excellent scheme to encourage children to consider a career in traditional building crafts (including wattle and daub).
An annual or termly outing has become the norm nowadays. For many schools, everything about it, from writing letters and getting permission to collecting money, tends to be a chore. Try going out more often and everything becomes easier. The best thing is the improvement in behaviour and motivation in the most difficult class. I know, I've been there.
Elizabeth Jurd has taught at North Primary School and Nursery in Colchester for more that 15 years. She was Simms Schoolmistress Fellow at Lucy Cavendish College in 2000 and since then has completed an MEd at Cambridge ("Are children in my class thinking while carrying out science experiments?" Primary Science Review 82 MarchApril 2004)