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    Fun on the Farm

    I had a really interesting chat with a local farmer the other day. He was telling me that, back in the day, farms were a much more integral part of their local communities and they worked very closely with schools in a range of capacities. It made me wonder whether this is still the case - and if not, what's gone wrong and what can we do to rebuild strong connections between farms and their local schools?

    Next November, my local primary school, which is a rural village school, is taking a group of children on a residential to an outdoor learning/field studies centre that happens to be located on a farm. Believe it or not, one parent has decided not to allow her child to go on the residential, simply because it's on a farm and she feels that children do not need to spend time on a farm if they have grown up in a rural area. I disagree, and this is why: farming isn't just about livestock and crops. Farms are diverse and dynamic habitats, thriving businesses, varied landscapes and showcases for mechanical marvels!

    So how can farms enrich the school curriculum? The obvious subject links are geography (land use, physical/human geography, environmental education), science (biodiversity, habitats, food chains) and history (changes in farming methods and equipment, land use). However, farm landscapes can offer opportunities for wonderful art work and creative writing, animal care links to PSHE and citizenship, and farm machinery could support work in DT and science by focusing on levers, pulleys, motors, and construction. Farmers could teach pupils about financial education and running a business and harvest time could enhance pupils learning in RE.

    So farms offer plentiful learning opportunities, and yet so few are used by local schools. Could it be that teachers are concerned about health and safety? This is, of course, an issue, but it could be easily solved if farmers and teachers worked together to produce thorough risk assessments. Surely a key objective for a farm visit must be to make children aware of dangers and the need to be respectful of the farm environment and be safe? A word of warning though: make sure there are adequate facilities on a farm for a large group of children. Where will the children go to the toilet and wash their hands? Where will they eat their lunch? What happens if it's pouring with rain - are there activities that can be done under cover? These are all important considerations if a farm visit is to run smoothly, and both teachers and farmers need to be aware of them.

    It would be wonderful to see more working farms 'opening their doors' to their local schools so that children get to see real-life fun on the farm, not the sanitised version available in many children's farms (which are, of course, of great value to schools too). Local farms, including city farms, are often right on a school's doorstep which means that travel costs are minimal. More importantly, farmers will sometimes offer free school visits to local schools. So not only do farm visits support the curriculum and create great community links, they are also really good value.

    My advice to teachers would be to approach local farms and start establishing good relationships with them. Ask whether they would be happy to host a farm visit and explain your expectations and requirements. If a visit isn't possible, perhaps the farmer would visit the school instead to do a talk or workshop. 

    And my advice to farmers? Your local school needs you! Join the School Visits Network here to connect quickly and easily to schools in your area. And if you fancy starting a more formal school visits programme, start looking at your farm through a teacher's eyes, think about what learning opportunities your farm has to offer, click here for access to our expert guidance on school visits. We'd love to help.

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    School Visits Network provides resources, training, news and support to organisations, businesses and individuals who offer learning opportunities, helping them to collaborate, network, share good practice and keep up to date to ensure high quality learning experiences.

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