Since growing up on the North Norfolk coast and experiencing the beauty and academic enhancement that going to the beach can bring, I have been an advocate of systematically recieving the ‘salt- injection’ periodically to keep up the levels of coastal Vitamin N.
Today I was lucky to be invited to the beach with two schools and staff who were coming to the end of their Beach Schools training. We piled into the minibus borrowed from the comprehensive school and set off from the South Wales ex-mining valley primary and headed to where their predecessors used to convalesce beside the sea, Rest Bay at Porthcawl.
Suitably dressed in their fluorescent jackets so that they would stand out as a group against the dull Autumn colours of the beach picture. The children had no problem with wearing these bright additions to their warm jackets as they were too excited to notice. As they skipped out of the bus the salt air hit them smack in the face from that onshore autumn wind, which set them off into rhythmic dance routines as they headed towards the high tide mark.
The beach school is another brand of Forest school but with sand, sea and pebbles. Not all schools have the managerial support to be able to do this kind of visit, let alone as regular as these two schools have had the fortune to have experienced. The day was planned out with a number of activities but open enough, like any good learning experience should be, to follow an opportunity that has been ‘plucked from the beach’. An example was that at one one moment a young girl came to me with a shell, ‘ but it’s different to all the others, is it a fossil?’ Yes, it was a ‘Gryphea’ a trace fossil from the limestone. But more interesting to the year 4 children was the Victorian fossil hunters name ‘Devils Toe Nail’.
Like any child that has not been in an outdoor environment for a long time or even not at all, the excitement in the first few minutes can be too much to cope with. As we approached the beach from the car park the lure of the sea pulled the group faster and faster. Unfortunately between us and the sea was the beach road, however previous knowledge of the location meant that systems and control methods were already in place. A grounding in Forest School rules and behaviours did make the class management easier. The same rules were applied, work within the marked area (use of orange flags), ‘keep within the boundaries and explore with care and curiosity’ and a few extra put in – no throwing rocks, public and pets.
Below are a few of the activities that were done on the day.
Beach Bingo – A prepared sheet set out like a bingo sheet. When each item has been found it is placed on the relevant box and ‘Bingo’ is achieved when all the items are found. This helped as the first activity as it allowed free spirits to run around getting some of the initial energy out of their system, whilst contributing to their team activity challenge as well.
Pebble Discovery – walk around the beach using powers of observation and creativity. Pick a pebble that, when you look at it makes you think ‘that looks like a …….’. When you are satisfied that this rock / pebble has been selected, then it can be turned into that particular animal, bird or even sea creature. I used cheap pens from Wilkinsons for this activity only £1 a packet for 8 coloured pens on tight school budgets this is a winner compared to sharpies. They worked a treat, obviously making sure the pebble is dry before using them.
Beach Bowls – I had taken a few old tennis balls in a recycled potato cloth bag, in fact the balls had all been found floating down the River Severn last summer when I was assessing a Duke of Edinburgh Gold canoe expedition. The game is simple and uses mental maths skills to play. Draw 3 circles on the sand and label them, I used 1,2,3. A rolling line marked on the sand and the game starts – see how many you can score. It takes a judgement of coordination of throw, accuracy, understanding of forces and needed and mental maths to add up the score. Differentiation could be subtracting numbers from a given starting number using the scoring circles. Having a larger circle surrounding the others so that the outer score 1 point every time, this gives success every throw and promotes continuous maths. I ended this game with the all rolling a single ball,towards a driftwood stick similar to ‘boule’ the string from the bag was used as a measure when it was close to call.
A literacy variation of this game I have used before has been to draw some circles in a connected line, maybe using pebble footprints to connect to each, and these are the parts of a story. Simply move from one circle to the next making up the next part of the story. This can be also done with objects found from the beach and placed in each circle which gives the starting point of the story part, or even a connecting word written on the sand to help ‘ when’ ‘ then’ ‘ and finally’.
This idea was taken from an activity I use with chalk on the school yard, the beach surface is just and variation and adapted to the new environment.
The day ended with a quick exploration of the rock pools and reflection of the days activities before the drive back to school. The sea air had waved its wand as we travelled back and the beach dust sprinkled as they dozed giving a much quieter return journey. But lots of stories to tell their friends and family.