Learning adventures unearth wealth of knowledge

7th August 2009 at 01:00
Schools are finding innovative ways to teach pupils about the environment

The secluded island of Flat Holm has a colourful history as a smugglers' den and hermits' retreat, but it is now playing host to fun educational events for schools.

Last term, a group of primary teachers visited the island, which lies in the Bristol Channel close to Cardiff, to study the environment and learn survival skills.

Helen Price, Year 5 teacher from Peterston-Super-Ely Primary in the Vale of Glamorgan, took her pupils to the island just a few days after her first visit. "They found the whole experience exciting, even getting on the boat and sailing through Cardiff barrage," she said.

Once on the island, pupils imagined they were shipwrecked and had to work out how to survive. They learned to build a shelter, devised a signal to attract passing ships and discussed how to catch food.

Ms Price said: "There were little clues here and there, like a blackberry bush and a note saying `what could you use this for?' They then talked about eating the blackberries when they're ripe and using the thorns to catch fish."

Even the prospect of broody seagulls which nest on the island in early summer did not dampen pupils' spirits. "We were well prepared," she said. "We told our pupils to bring hats and not to chase the chicks. I thought some children would be worried but they were absolutely fine with it. They found it fascinating walking between the chicks and seeing them first hand."

Every school must teach education for sustainable development and global citizenship (ESDGC) as part of personal and social education. However, there is no set curriculum.

As a result, teachers are becoming more creative in responding to the demands of children who want to know more about the world around them.

Jane Laydon, Years 3 and 4 teacher at St Mary's Catholic School in Cardiff, said the activities, such as searching for treasure and surviving on a desert island, fit perfectly with ESDGC.

"Children have got an awful lot to say about the world. Before they go to secondary school and get distracted they like to speak up about the things that will affect their future lives. Our pupils are all very interested in sustainability and the island is geared up for that."

She said the trip involved a lot of planning as getting to Flat Holm is dependent on ship times, tides and the weather. "You can even stay there overnight - it makes it feel like an adventure."

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