Fourways Farm, Channel 4 Tuesdays 10am, repeated Fridays 10am until June 21 Teacher's guide Pounds 3.95. Activity book Pounds 4.95. Video Pounds 19. 95 Educational Television Company:01926 433333 Age range 4 to 6 years
Fourways Farm, the animated science series, is back for a third season with five new tales. In case you missed the previous episodes, it's a charming and funny soap opera with, as its memorable theme song tells, "a duck, a dog, a lazy cat and a cow and a pig who is much too fat".
If you like the idea of starting your science from stories that children will really like, these are guaranteed to entertain. For example, "Wind and Air" deals with the idea of air as a material, as well as examining concepts such as forces, flight and the weather. So on a windy day at the farm, three rats, played as a trio of enterprising East Enders, decide to offer cruises across the pond using a raft and a kite.
But then, calamity. The wind proves so strong that one of the rascals finds himself flying and stuck on a roof. They then hatch a rescue plan where the rats use the kite as a hang-glider to get back to earth. As night, and this 10-minute programme closes, you're thrown the teaching cue, as the animals speculate on whether there are places without wind or air.
In "Changes", meaning chemical change, the "rat pack" set up a pizza business when they discover a bag of flour and learn to cook. The pig orders a turnip pizza, while the duck has a pond-weed and bread-bits pizza. Later they speculate on whether you can turn cooked pizza back into flour.
In "Sickness and Health", the dog is unwell and the rats try to con him with their bottled elixir. The cat, as often, scuppers their ruse with some of her proper medicine. There are points about using the right medicine in the right amount and questions about how illnesses arise, and why some people get them and not others.
So this is good stimulus material, what is left is how you use it. A well-above-average teacher's guide lists ideas for discussion before and after the programme. There are also activities, such as making a kite or a wind vane, colouring a pizza, or investigating if soap makes your hands clean. Add to that background information, an outline of each programme and pointers to other resources, and altogether this teacher's guide is certainly worth having.
But it would be even better to have more than this. Isn't it an educational folly to spend so much on television programmes and so much less on the paper support?
Fourways Farm is a series around which you can build a lot or a little work, depending on what you choose. With a reasonable amount of preparation, the series opens up many science ideas.
I'd be wary about opening up too many though. These farmyard tales deal with difficult ideas, such as air, bacteria, and permanent change, which take some explaining at this level.
A programme on "Colour" deals with mixing paints, but it's easy to get confused with colour addition and mixing light. This is not only tricky stuff to explain, you can also note that it's been left out of the curriculum book.
But that caveat aside, Fourways Farm works. There's no commitment necessary to the whole series, letting you pick and choose from the programmes according to your own classroom needs.