At Loch Lomond, Anna Douglas takes a look at Scotland's biggest classroom without walls - and is impressed
Stunning views, lots of activities, and excellent educational resources make Loch Lomond Shores a wonderful setting for learning about the environment.
Situated among protected woodland in Trossachs National Park at the southern tip of of the loch, the centre has been dubbed "Scotland's Biggest Classroom Without Walls". Its education workshops have been tailored to fit the curriculum, initially for environmental studies. It will soon be offering other programmes on other areas of science and the expressive arts.
The 21 primary 6 and 7 pupils from Ladyton primary school in Bonhill, Alexandria, were treated to a day out that combined education and fun. They learned about the changes in local land use over the centuries, and observed some of the most recent developments, including the loch's modern seven-storey castle.
The pupils were given two maps, one from 1891 and another from 1968, and were asked to discuss them. They revealed important changes, such as the decline in factories and the increase in houses around the loch. This prompted debate about the importance of Loch Lomond and the national park as part of the regeneration of the area.
"The national park is fundamentally important as a regeneration centre.
Most local schools do a project on Loch Lomond at some time, and most will do Scotland as a topic, so looking at the decline in industry is relevant.
It helps to show the importance of Scotland as a tourist destination," says education manager, Claire Richmond.
After lunch, the children were taken on a tour of the forest with a park ranger. On their return to the National Park Gateway Centre, they were asked to complete activity worksheets which are designed to highlight the conservation aims of the park.
The education programme has been developed by local teachers through short-term secondments from funding partners West Dunbartonshire and Glasgow City Councils to ensure quality and content relevant to the curriculum.
Existing courses, aimed at enhancing the five to 14-year-old environmental studies curriculum examine the development of the loch's landscape, the function of castles, mountains and lowlands.
Five new programmes will be launched this autumn, dealing with changes and conflicts in land-use, tourism, the changing industrial landscape, and quayside developments.
"We are priced very competitively for the workshop packages we do," Miss Richmond explains. "The difference is, we don't do them - the teachers do, so you can be assured that it is an excellent education product."
"The programme seems to be pitched at the right level, not too difficult but still challenging work. Previous trips here have been more fun-based, but this time they were told that this was an educational trip. I think they have found it a stimulating environment, and it makes a nice break from the classroom," says Lorraine Smith, teacher of the Ladyton P67composite class.
A day at Loch Lomond Shores, which includes workshop, films and the gateway centre will cost pound;2.50 per pupil. Additional activities such as loch cruises and canoeing can be arranged, but the price per person increases to pound;6 and pound;7.50 respectively. Contact Claire Richmond on 01389 722 440; email: email@example.com