Countryside Classroom - Connecting schools with food, farming and the natural environment

Growing Schools has been re-launched as Countryside Classroom, the largest ever partnership of organisations who are committed to helping children learn about food, farming and/or the natural environment.

It is the vision of Countryside Classroom that schools and teachers across the UK will embrace food, farming and the natural environment as essential components of a broad and balanced curriculum, incorporating them into day-to-day learning. As a result of this, every child will have the opportunity to learn about and experience these topics in diverse ways that are increasingly supported by experiences outside the classroom.

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Green Beacon Shines Bright at St John’s

The green beacon of outdoor learning continues to shine strongly at Totnes St John’s Primary School as a group of Year 6 children recently claimed their John Muir Award for the second year running after a week of hard graft on the school’s nature trail.

Inspired by the work of eminent nineteenth century ecological pioneer, The John Muir Award encourages youngsters to engage with the natural environment and to ‘discover, explore, conserve and share'.

St John’s first took part in the award scheme last year when Forest School leader and St John’s teacher Janet Raby applied to the John Muir Trust to run the scheme to enhance the children’s learning using the school’s unique natural landscape. Children spent a week making bird feeders and boxes, mending steps and boardwalks, clearing the pond and stream to encourage wildlife, cutting back brambles and building dens.

‘My group made bird feeders and by the end our hands were disgusting but it’s been my favourite part of Year 6 so far,’ commented 10 year old Kurt Ritter.

A team of nine student teachers from Plymouth University also joined the youngsters in all weathers, supervising and working alongside pupils, and earning their own John Muir Award in the process.

‘We’d all like to thank the children and staff of St John’s for supporting and welcoming us. We were so impressed that the children didn’t shy away from any of the tasks and persevered until the job was finished,’ explained Plymouth University student Sophie Ward.

The week culminated in an awards evening where children and students alike shared their experiences with an audience of parents and staff before each receiving a certificate presented by Dr Rowena Passy, Natural Connections Project Manager and Research Fellow at Plymouth University.

‘It was wonderful to see how much the children were doing outside and how well they worked together as a team,’ added Dr Passy. ‘It’s such a fantastic scheme that teaches children new skills, as well as how to care about the natural environment. They were a brilliant, hard-working class and they clearly had a lot of fun.’

The evening also saw Totnes St John's welcomed as a Beacon School to the Natural Connections Project, the largest outdoor learning programme in the UK. The Natural Connections Project is funded by DEFRA, Natural England and English Heritage, and contracted to Plymouth University – its aims is to significantly increase the number of school-aged children experiencing the range of benefits that come from learning in natural environments. St John’s, because of its outstanding outdoor learning provision, will now be working with a cluster of schools locally to help others teachers see how local green spaces can support all aspects of the curriculum.

 Local garden centre Fermoys also kindly donated a barrowful of gardening materials which will be used to further develop the St. John’s growing area where children can learn about plants, wildlife and growing food, all linked to the science curriculum. 

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