From the 18th to the 20th of July 2019, Lower Sharpham Farm welcomed a cohort of pupils from five to eight years old from Dartington CofE primary school. Coming with their teachers and parents to discover the farm, they got the opportunity to participate into a wide range of activities around nature for the morning. Some of the activities included sculpture, sewing, drawing but also catching butterflies in a field, or working with sheep’s wool. That sounds pretty cool right? But how did we make it possible?
BEHIND THE CURTAIN
First, let’s talk about team preparation. An important task was to set all the activities up before the kids got there and organize ourselves to ensure they had a great time in a safe environment. To do so, Lower Sharpham Farm’s Knights of the Round Table got to meet in their outdoor office: the grass space in front of the bunkhouse. This happened on a a sunny Wednesday afternoon, when the time came to discuss plans, propose ideas, think about the constraints, the alternatives in case of rain, and the safety rules. Moreover, we practiced and got familiar with the activities we were about to carry out with the children. Aware of the different spaces available at the farm, we chose the most convenient places to welcome thirty children each morning, and have all the resources we need to hand. Four areas were dedicated to different activities : the Barn, the Earth Ship at the garden, Middle River Field, and the top of Badger Field. Then we split into three groups and finally started to set up the different places for the activities.
LET THE GAMES BEGIN
The day started at 10 am. From afar, we hear the children approaching. Naturally they are later than we expected, as toilet breaks, roll calls and drink breaks take their time. The tension is growing, but it is a good stress, the one before they get here. We are ready. The first day, everyone meets at the garden. It is funny to see how the teachers found different techniques to get the children’s attention, and it works.
« Are you listening ?
– Yes we’re listening ! »
Then they eat ! Snack time is important to keep kids energy levels up. Finally we get started, but of course we are later than we had planned for. A quick meeting and the decision is made to keep the 3 activities rolling simultanously but for each child to only do 2. Jack introduces the farm and the schedule of the day before we present ourselves to the kids. Then the children are split in three groups (the river, the field and the forest group) who will switch around after fourty five minutes of activity, so that they all have the chance to practice 2 of the 3 activities :
- The activity in the garden consists of making little cloth pouches with white cloth, rope, string threads and pigments from flowers and leaves picked up in the garden and that we hammer on the white tissue. Even though this activity is noisy, it mobilizes creativity, precision and it lets off steam ! After that, they use their little pouche to put some blackcurrants they picked from the garden. They dont last long, and are soon eaten !
- Next stop is at the Barn, where they could make a necklace with wool that they felt into ball shape. Here the volunteers in charge, explained to them the importance of wool and how we use it at the farm. Sheep are in the barn for added effect and raise enquiry and connection amongst the kids. In the barn we also have a nature make workshop where they create sculptures with branches, leaves, and wood. They make amazing sheep, dragonflies or more abstract arts…
- In the field, they sweep nets through the long grass and draw the insects they catch on paper. Still creative but also physical activity. They find beautiful butterflies, bees, or bugs.
As we are a big team of trainees and volunteers there is lots of help at each of the stations, and so they run pretty smoothly. We all have to learn the activity too, and then do it with the kids, sot they all take time. But by the end we are experts. Finally, the pupils eat their lunch at twelve am. After lunch, they could play some fun farm games we set at the Badger field, like splat the rat and coconut shy. In addition, we have a nature portraits workshop inspired by the famous italian pinter Arcimboldo. With the flowers and leaves we didn’t bash, or stick, they could fill in a face or a butterfly and color their drawing as they wish.
In a nutshell, the Lower Sharpham Farm’s Knights of the Round Table and the little budding farmers had a really good time. These three mornings were intense and quite exhausting. But at the end of the day, it was also rewarding and pleasant for both the children and the trainees and volunteers. The team got to develop new skills. Pedagogy is key, especially for nature conservation. Lower Sharpham Farm plans to organize more of these events in the future. The feedback from the teachers and the children was very positive so we hope to do more and maybe refine the theoretical background behind each activity for the next time. In fact one of the current group of trainees will take this on as her project over the next 6 weeks, developing the offer, the risk assessments and to create a training resource for future students. People are like nature, it is a cycle, we get what we give. So we should all remember how precious our environment is, from the young to old. It relies on us to make this type of event possible by protecting biodiversity.