Whether it’s drizzling, a little chilly or a balmy Summer’s day, our education leaders, Fiona and Nina, are always out in the field, passing on their valuable knowledge and skills to the next generation of naturalists.
Have you ever wondered what educational activities are offered at the Field Studies Centre (FSC) at Gilbert White’s House & Gardens? Well, look no further, because we have the full story below!
The primary purpose of the FSC is to provide educational activities to schools and the public, using the example of the naturalist Gilbert White to encourage the next generation to have that same fascination with nature. There is mounting research from scholars such as Miles Richardson (University of Derby), showing the importance of reconnecting people with nature through hands-on engagement. It is by providing hands-on nature-based activities that we can inspire young people and families to become stewards of the environment.
The FSC holds the Learning Outside the Classroom Award and schools are offered a range of workshops, some of which are all day programmes such as the Explorer Days, while others are short in-depth single topic learning activities:
- Antarctic Explorers: One of our most popular workshops with children getting the opportunity to pull a sledge, try on explorer clothing and handle genuine artefacts from Captain Scott’s expedition.
- World Explorers: Pupils are given the chance to travel around the world in a day, meeting creatures from Africa, Central America and Antarctica, before heading outside to explore the wildlife closer to home.
- Nature Explorers: Children are encouraged to follow in the footsteps of Gilbert White, by observing and appreciating the creatures and plants around them through a variety of hands-on activities, including bird watching and insect hunts among log piles.
- Single topic workshops: Offer the chance for deeper level investigation, with clear curriculum links to such areas as plant lifecycles, habitats, food webs, classification, evolution and inheritance.
- River Studies: Another very hands-on workshop, where children are guided in how to take measurements to create a cross section, test the speed of the water (using rubber ducks!), and sample a river for invertebrate life. The children love to get stuck in, and the FSC can provide wellies so they can wade into the shallow stream.
Explorer Days are the newest addition to the programmes offered by the FSC and they are excellent for primary school children. For each Explorer Day teachers can choose four curriculum-linked activities from a list of options, allowing teachers to plan a day relevant to the needs of their group. Explorer Days offer opportunities to develop ‘explorer skills’ such as map reading, orienteering and team challenges, as well as options for story-telling, art and craft activities. The programmes are designed so that children learn by doing; they will be kept busy all day long with plenty of time spent outside exploring our beautiful 30-acre site.
Outdoor Learning For All
Despite the pandemic, the FSC team has worked hard to ensure that schools are still able to make their visits. By the end of the 2022-2023 financial year, it is projected that 3,500 pupils will have visited the site. Next year the FSC aims to reach 4,000 pupils!
The FSC makes a particular effort to encourage schools and communities from low income and urban areas onto its programmes. Children from these areas often have less access to the outdoors and the physical and mental health benefits it provides. The FSC receives the ‘Reaching Out’ grant, provided by the Arts Council England and the Department for Education, which aims to increase visits from schools in areas where there is low engagement with arts and heritage venues.
Using money from the grant, the FSC has invested in outdoor learning clothing and equipment for the children to use at the centre. The grant also funds bursaries for coach travel directly to the FSC centre.
Recent projects funded by ‘Reaching Out’ include the development of resources that enable children to reflect on issues around colonialism. This is particularly in regards to Frank Oates and his exploration of Africa in the mid-19th century, which forms the focus of our World Explorer workshop. The education team are also working alongside Southampton University to better understand the Frank Oates collection in the context of its time and looking at how to develop its use with schools.
Holiday Time & Family Engagement
While the majority of the work done by the FSC involves schools, the FSC leaders are keenly aware that during school holidays it is important to continue to develop a child’s engagement with the natural world. As a result, the FSC provides a range of explorer themed activities for families throughout the year, from pond dipping to learning semaphore, and orienteering.There is also a Forest School on site, run by The Forest School Company which offers a range of outdoor learning workshops.
Finally, the FSC also offers families the opportunity to take part in the John Muir Award scheme, which involves discovering, exploring, and conserving a wild place and sharing the experience of this with others. The award is completed through a range of environmental volunteering and outdoor exploration activities, as well as creative nature-based art activities, helping to develop family connection to the natural world.
With the FSC no longer a mystery, we hope to welcome many more schools and families down to the centre to join the community of outdoor learners and nature lovers!
Find out more from the FSC webpage: https://gilbertwhiteshouse.org.uk/education/
(Photos: 1 - children on location at Church Meadow, Selborne, 2 - children at the FSC, 3 - a class walking down to Oakhanger Stream at Church Meadow, Selborne)