At the beginning of July, Final Straw Foundation ran the first two sessions of its new wild beach school programme. Chief Operating Officer, Lissie Pollard, reflects on the success of the sessions and what the charity learnt.
We firmly believe that education is key to help protect our precious coastlines and wildlife, including to combat littering and plastic pollution in our environment, by fostering a love of the natural world. With this in mind we decided to start up a wild beach schools program for primary-aged children, where the students could learn to understand and appreciate our coastline and wildlife, and feel more empowered to take care of our precious marine environment.
With some nervousness – but mostly excitement – we set off on the 4th of July 2022 to run our first beach school session with a class of children from a local school in Portsmouth. The sun shone, there was a light breeze and all the kit was loaded up. We arrived, scouted the area to make sure that it was safe for the children and set up the equipment we needed for the day. The children were coming from a city school and they bounced off the bus with whoops and screeches of excitement.
While our experienced and dedicated Outreach Officer Georgie had created the lesson plans and prepped us for the session, we were still uncertain quite how it would go. Would the children engage? Would they listen? Would it be like herding cats? With 30 five and six-year-olds, quite frankly it was a bit of an unknown. However, we shouldn’t have worried. The effect of being in the fresh air and relatively free to explore and learn in the wild outdoor environment had an immediate positive effect on the children.
Within an hour, the accompanying teacher commented on how well the children were engaging and how amazing it was to see them outside, exploring and asking insightful questions about the diverse environment around them. ‘This is the best school trip that we have been on. No clipboards to be seen, the children are engaged and free, enjoying themselves and exploring!’ added the teaching assistant. Learning through play about the sea, tides, wind, rocks and minerals, local wildlife and beach safety, the children picked up so much information without really realising that they were learning.
On the second day, another 30 children turned up ready for a fun day at the beach. The children were instantly engaged, listening carefully to instructions (we try to keep these minimal) and putting their hands up politely to ask questions. Our first activity of a scavenger hunt was a huge success, with the children finding hundreds of shore crabs, whelk shells, winkles, different types of seaweed, sea lice, oysters and clams. Their enthusiasm was infectious. They learnt about the Beaufort scale, tides, how wildlife use different mechanisms for feeding and much more.
As I walked back up the beach with a group of children, I asked one of the little boys if he had enjoyed his day. “I have had the best day ever! I want to come back and do this every day for the rest of my life!“ He said. My heart swelled slightly as I realised how incredible it is for these young children to experience outdoor learning and get out of the classroom even if it’s just for a short period. Even though many of the children at the school live within a couple of miles of the sea – when we asked around in the group, only eight of them (nearly 1/3 of the class), said they had ever actually been to the beach and got their toes in the sea.
“I have had the best day ever! I want to come back and do this every day for the rest of my life!“Buddy, Age 5
The biggest lessons that we learned from these first two beach school sessions are these; firstly, less is more. We had plenty of activities planned but actually found that the children just really enjoyed being free to explore, to take time to investigate rocks, peer at flora and fauna with magnifying glasses and not to have the constraints of a strict timetable and a formal, structured plan. Secondly, that variety is key. Our days included a mix of science, art, exercise, problem-solving, and English – all in a loose and relaxed format that the children would not really recognise as lessons.
We simply cannot wait to roll our beach schools program out to more schools and are very excited about the opportunities for learning, relaxation and positive mental health that the sessions can provide. We have several more schools booked in for the end of this term and are taking bookings for the next academic year. If your school would be interested in attending, please fill out our enquiry form here: https://finalstrawfoundation.org/get-involved/schools-and-resources/wild-beach-school/
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