Outings that don't fit the bureaucratic bill

4th July 1997 at 01:00
Schools have just enjoyed the season of summer outings. Imagine the scenario. Teachers examine the information booklet from a location like the Safari Park and match it with the strands, attainment outcomes and targets of the 5-14 guidelines. A day out nowadays is not just a day out of school and away from the daily curriculum.

The problem is not that venues lack educational content. Far from it; in Scotland there is a plethora of suitable places. What is concerning is that the traditional summer outing, once focusing on fun and frolic is in danger of being replaced by a trip that must have an acceptable amount of educational content. Must schools have a targeted specific educational purpose for every outing? What is even more concerning is that teachers' perceptions of what children will learn from class outings, is markedly different from what children actually learn.

As the bus turns round the corner, leaving the parents and school behind, infants ask meaningfully, "Are we nearly there?" Clearly they have little sense of distance and time.

Next the children have to learn to be responsible for their own rubbish. This only involves putting wrappers in a plastic bag which is passed round, but does not come naturally to most children.

One thing that children are very good at, is standing in a queue waiting to buy gifts at the shop. One wet year, the shop was everyone's favourite place as it was under cover. Unfortunately three or four other schools were sharing its shelter and consumer opportunities. As a result, there was as big a queue outside the shop, as there was inside! The children, unlike the teachers, easily accepted this and waited patiently.

When I was a P7 pupil, my summer outing was a visit to Edinburgh Zoo. No doubt, according to today's curriculum guidelines, this would provide environmental studies opportunities in "observing living things, organising them according to a hierarchy of classification" and contribute to a child's study of the characteristic feature of particular groups of animals. The reality was that I simply had a great time being with my pal and exploring the zoo.

None the less it was educational. When we got lost we used the zoo's map to find our bearings. In the shop, I carefully calculated which souvenirs I could buy with the money in my purse that would leave me with enough left over for an ice-cream. I remember how we put our loose change together to buy an extra drink which we shared, despite the fact that in the blistering heat we would have sold our grannies for the lot. We organised our time to ensure that we saw all the animals that we wanted in the given time; and arrived at our designated meeting places at the set times. It is unlikely that the educational content of this trip was painstakingly considered by my teacher to suit the curriculum of that time. Her ethos would probably have been "providing everyone behaves, let's have fun".

Similarly, before the days of form-filling, my colleague and I took our P7s on a trip to the bowling alley. It would be contrived to describe this visit as educational. We had already visited factories and museums during the school session which coincided with our respective topic studies. We wanted this final trip to simply be an enjoyable, end of the year, social experience. Is such an outing permitted today?

In contrast when we decided to take infants to the film The Lion King for a Christmas outing, for days we talked about Africa; its colours, sounds and animals. Using our flexible time allocation, we completed relevant worksheets, drew appropriate pictures, and distinguished carnivores from herbivores to enhance their understanding of what they were soon to see.

The learning experience did not go entirely as planned. On arrival at the cinema, it was clear that most of the children had never been to a cinema before. Fortunately we had arrived with enough time to instruct the children how to sit on the chairs without falling down the middle. When an usher walked down the front aisle looking for spare seats, a child sitting next to me, pointed to the aisle and asked: "Is that where the lion comes on?" I had made the mistake in class, of comparing the film they were about to see with something within their experience - a video. Hence, they were surprised when the lights went down, to discover that they had to view the film in darkness. Furthermore, it took the children about halfway into the film before they realised that, unlike at home, they could not talk through it. They were in the habit of talking over videos at home, and then playing back what they missed. Watching this film thus involved more concentration from them than I had anticipated. (Perhaps this is why older children are delighted to see a film over and over again.) By being preoccupied with achieving educational aims, I had totally missed vital teaching points. However, had I planned to teach these, they would have looked ridiculous on the official form.

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