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Wild but not wasteful

Sarah Openshaw recommends wildlife trusts and field study centres for active experience of citizenship issues.

We all hope our children will grow up to become good citizens, which is why the Government is making citizenship part of the national curriculum. This sounds an excellent plan, resulting in all school leavers being well qualified to take responsibility for the world in which they live. But how do we teach it?

It is worth looking beyond the classroom for help and tapping into some expert advice. The good citizen must, according to Government guidelines, "learn to respect the environment and know about sustainable development at personal, national and global level". Where better for young people to get to grips with this rather nebulous requirement than with organisations dedicated to demonstrating how the countryside can be preserved for the enjoyment of future generations?

Do not assume that field study centres and wildlife trusts are limited to pond-dipping and mini-beast hunts. Courses in citizenship are probably the fastest growing area of their work. And citizenship is not just about the environment, it is also about the development of inter-personal skills. These too can be taught in an outdoor setting. Whatever course you choose, most environmental organisations adopt "green" lifestyles, encouraging visitors to follow their good example and turn off lights and taps, re-cycle paper, use compost bins and purchase cleaning materials wisely, and so on.

Thornham Field Centre in Suffolk has identified two areas where they can help teachers with citizenship requirements. For pupils at key stages 1 and 2 they concentrate on waste minimisation with their Waste Not Want Not course. Pupils at key stage 2 can learn about team-building.

Teaching citizenship to very young children may appear a daunting prospect, but when you are talking "rubbish" this age group are often the best ambassadors for the recycling lobby. Thornham's message is sent out even before visitors arrive: bring a "low-impact" packed lunch. That is, one that leaves behind as little non-recyclable rubbish as possible. Guidelines are given for parents on how a low-impact lunch should be prepared. Teachers are advised to talk to pupils about the rubbish we all generate. On the day, non-recyclable rubbish left after lunch is weighed and the results are presented to the school as a bar chart, alongside data from the efforts of other schools for comparison.

The Waste Not Want Not course is made up of games, trails through the woods and activities which demonstrate the impact we have on our environment and changes which can be made to protect and preserve it. A shopping game points out the benefits of buying local produce, which reduces "food miles" - the distance the food has to travel. Shopping for food in season is promoted to further reduce these food miles. The children learn how paper is recycled by making it for themselves from scrap. They race to sort bags of "rubbish" into recycling bins or the centre's own mini "landfill" site. Compost is inspected at varying stages of decay and the worms in the wormery admired for the industrious way they turn old tea bags and banana skins into sweet-smelling compost for the garden and produce a potent liquid fertiliser. A shadow-puppet show illustrates a family's shopping and how they could reduce the rubbish they generate.

Team building includes an overnight stay in Thornham's cabins. Pupils learn to work together, plan and co-operate, deal with failure, solve problems, follow instructions and boost self-esteem. This is achieved through a variety of challenges, including conservation work, map-reading and orienteering exercise and following a trail blindfolded, to develop the senses and build trust. The course ends with shelter-building in the woods. Teachers can find local field study centres and wildlife trusts in the Yellow Pages. Many will have been given funding to promote waste minimisation through the Land Fill Tax Credit Scheme, which means that some courses may be free or subsidised.

* Thornham Field Centre Trust is at Thornham Magna, Eye, Suffolk IP23 8HH. Tel: 01379 788153


Discussion points

* How will the lunch be carried?

* What is the "greenest" packed lunch box?

* Could you make your own packed lunch box?

* Should sandwiches be packed in plastic bags, cling film or greaseproof paper?

* How should drinks be carried?

* Will fruit be included? What can be done with apple cores?

* What would be the "greenest" way to transport yoghurt?

* Should throw-away plastic spoons be used?

* Could you plan a packed lunch that left behind no non-recyclable rubbish?

* What should you not put in a compost bin?

* What should be done with cans?

* Can silver paper be recycled?

* Why should we bother to pack a low-impact lunch?

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