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Why winter is great for school trips to historic places

We might avoid winter school trips because of the weather – but they can deliver enhanced learning opportunities

Winter school trips can be a great way to create memorable learning experiences, says Don't let the thought of bad weather and darkness put you off going on a school trip - in fact, there are numerous benefits to winter days out, writes teacher Dan Hartley

The commute to school during winter is one of darkness, low temperatures and a battle to keep the sniffles away.

It’s perhaps no surprise that teachers often avoid winter as a time for school trips and visits to outdoor locations with their pupils.

However, there are numerous benefits of trips at this time of year – from the logistical to the academic – that schools should consider when planning visits to boost educational outcomes, and perhaps stretch budgets a bit further, too.

School trips: Avoid the crowds

On a purely logistical level, winter is an excellent time for booking trips. Many locations, such as castles and historic palaces, are fully functioning at this time of year, but you get the benefit of not having the same numbers of visitors so your pupils have a better opportunity to see more of an attraction in their own time without the hustle and bustle of crowds.

Moreover, rates are frequently reduced during the winter so the cost for schools and parents will be significantly diminished, and you will often find that booking coaches and transport is a much easier task as there is greater availability due to lower demand over this period. 

Fire up pupils' imaginations

The cold weather can also help children to empathise with our ancestors, in terms of how they lived.

A roaring fire in a Tudor or Victorian house or the cold, damp walls of a medieval castle, for example, can bring out the uniqueness of an attraction that a summer trip often can’t provide. Teachers could lead discussions around the differences in the living conditions of lower and upper classes when exploring an English country house with regards to the comforts, or lack thereof, they had during the winter time.

Pupils could be split into two groups with each completing a "senses" chart exploring what they see, feel, touch and smell in different parts of a location. Later, the teacher could bring the children together and explore their findings and make connections between the environment and the pressures, or pleasures, experienced by the people who lived there.

Picture the scene

The opportunity to engage children’s imaginations during winter visits is even greater when outside. Visits to battle sites and castles, for example, can be a great way to discuss the difficulties that soldiers and their military leaders faced.

A trip to a battlefield such as Hastings during winter can be fantastic for developing children’s inference skills when linked to the difficulties that the weather can cause in battle.

Standing in the cold for a period of time allows the children to imagine the harshness of the wait endured by soldiers before their blades or axes clashed with the enemy. Also, the muddy or frozen earth can allow for discussions around tactics and the problems a medieval soldier faced when either attacking or defending.

Similarly, standing on the wall of a castle in a cold, blustery wind is a great way of immersing pupils in the tough conditions that soldiers would have endured – and it is likely be more memorable when back in the classroom.

Preparing for academic progress

And winter school trips are also ideal for planning pupils' next developmental stage of writing during the academic year. For example, we have taken primary children to Stonehenge in Wiltshire during the winter period and used the visit to inspire them for their history topic on Stone Age Britain.

Given that most pupils will have worked through the basics of life in Stone Age Britain, including settlements, the winter term is an excellent time for school trips as the visit acts as a further stimulus to help pupils write their summative piece of work in the unit.

We also get the children to film the location on their phones and they can use this to build the atmosphere in their writing about the environment: the dark skies and chilly gusts of wind swirling around the giant stones can make for truly evocative writing prompts. 

Debate and discussion

A visit to a location around the Christmas period also has a number of other benefits for pupils.

Exploring a historic site such as Kensington Palace or Osborne House allows pupils to discover the lavish decorations that would have adorned the rooms during the time of Queen Victoria. The pupils can also learn about the variety of foods eaten during this period at banquets.

A visit in the festive season enables this to happen much more clearly as the children are able to visualise the Victorian Christmas due to their own excitement and the magic about the time. 

Teachers can help the children to make links between food in the different time periods they have studied, such as the Roman era.

This could lead to some interesting discussions about what they would class as healthy, and how far celebrations are about pomp and splendour, rather than diet. References to modern-day festivities that the pupuils are engaging in at the time could help to fuel their opinions and make for some interesting pieces of writing.

All in all, teachers should not be put off by the idea of a winter school trip. Yes, there may be some adverse weather and reduced hours of sunlight, but if you utilise the uniqueness of this period there are numerous ways to enrich the learning of the pupils in your school.

Daniel Hartley is headteacher of a secondary school in the south-west of England

Find out more about the learning opportunities available at English Heritage sites here.

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