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Teach to Inspire!

Written by Anna Hare - Education Officer, Countryside Learning

I write this on a rare quiet day. The summer term has been wonderfully busy for countryside education, and as one of Countryside Learning’s Education Officers, we have been all over the UK- from Hertfordshire to Staffordshire to Yorkshire and Lancashire, supporting and delivering Countryside Days on estates and farms to over 6000 children.

I am always struck by the teamwork and collaborative spirit at these events and the way that different organisations come together for a common goal. This goal can be summarised; ‘to educate, inform and inspire children, parents and teachers, so that they can appreciate the countryside and have a better understanding of the issues surrounding it’. By no coincidence this is the mission of Countryside Learning but also, I believe, what all of us involved in countryside education are aiming to do.

The most important verb for me is ‘to inspire’- as without the spark being lit, the information and education is dry. All the wonderful organisations I have worked with this summer have inspired. The National Gamekeepers Educational Trust staff have led buzzing nature walks, and dissected owl pellets, BASC have organised tracking trails, and ‘spot the poo’ games, LEAF have engaged children on farming matters, the NFU have got classes considering the big questions of food miles. Alongside these (and other organisations) inspiring individuals have planned, resourced, and delivered engaging activities such as how to make a cow happy, what footprints match which animals, cooking popcorn on open fires, river haikus, how to stay safe in the countryside and natural sculpture.

The starting point for any education must be the inspiration and this comes from the enthusiasm of the people delivering and the enthusiasm of the schools taking part. We rely on teachers who appreciate the importance of learning outside and learning about ‘The Outside’- once we have the teachers on board the rest is easier.

This brings me to consider how we engage teachers (and subsequently the pupils) when the teachers are not enthusiastic, when taking a class out to the countryside fills them with horror and when they don’t see the benefits of being in the natural world. I am not sure what the answer to reaching the traditionally unreachable is, but I think that if all of us involved in countryside education keep on doing what we do the word will spread in a softly creeping way. Certainly, each year we do this we have more and more demand, and we never have any problems filling our days. A general wider interest in the nature, and programmes such as The Blue Planet is good to see, but we also need to inspire children to know the nature on their doorstep and to notice the simplest things around them. I love to hear the people delivering activities on the days we are involved in stop and suddenly say to 30 children, ‘did you hear that cuckoo?’ or ‘did you just see that butterfly?’. It is by showing our enjoyment in the simplest things that we may be able to inspire others.

When it’s raining (again) and the gazebo (if you are lucky enough to have one) blows away (again)- we need to remind ourselves that the simplest things can trigger a lifelong love or interest in our natural world. You could be the teacher who inspires that next David Attenborough. It’s a hugely rewarding job and hugely important.

As one teacher remarked to me earlier this year as her class of year 1’s (age 6) described the environment they were in using all their senses ‘all lessons should be like this’

- I couldn’t agree more.

Anna Hare

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