Monday, 30 January 2012

Rewarding work in the Shropshire hills

Each year, 24 hardy volunteers help the Shropshire Hills team get 4,500 children connected with nature and the outdoors.

A rewarding exercise

It’s an incredibly rewarding exercise. You can hear comments such as 'Cor it ain’t ‘alf beautiful innit? I’m gonna build me ‘ouse ‘ere when I’m older' (15yr old girl from inner city Birmingham) or 'Wow this has been the best day out ever.  I’m going to ask if I can come back for my birthday treat' (8yr old boy).

Although most schools are bringing students to conduct Geography fieldwork the team ensure they do an awful lot more. 

Peace despite the crowds

They manage some pretty big groups. Sometimes nearly 200 students can arrive at once, but, as Chris Stratton, learning officer for the area, says 'within 2 mins of getting off their coaches we are leading our own little group of 15 up into the hills and far away!'

'It’s not difficult to find peace here despite the numbers and one.of the activities that many young people comment upon is the peace. We get everyone to stand absolutely still and quiet, shut their eyes if they want and just listen.  They might hear the mew of a buzzard, the bleat of a sheep or the stream babbling over the rocks – it really makes an impression.'

Making an impression

As does getting your feet wet when splashing about in a stream, taking a variety of measurements for use back in class. Other activities include using the field labs. Children catch water invertebrates to bring indoors and put under a microscope. Through the teaching and the activities the team engenders a real connection with nature and how to conserve it. 

Stories and experiences to take away

Every group is taken on a walk up the hillside. The walk may include scrambling over rocks, getting prickled by gorse, hunting for wimberries or smelling watermint and lemon scented fern. They get to feel the wind in their hair - something almost as good as the views.

For many it’s the first time to have been up so high. The anxiety of walking along a narrow hillside path with a valley falling steeply away below you is soon translated into a raised self-esteem and sometimes the promise to bring back Dad & Mum and tell them too about 'interlocking spurs' or 'erosion' or one of the team's amazing stories.

Most schools recognise their students are learning so much more than they are required to in a syllabus.  Hence the return visits.  The idea of enabling students to gain an affinity with nature, to become risk-savvy in streams, over rocks and down hill slopes is seen to be giving youngsters both a day to remember and some important set ups for life.
If you're interested in volunteering, then contact Emily Knight at the Chalet Pavillion, Carding Mill Valley or ring
01694 725001.

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