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In the autumn of 2009 the Holly Lodge Centre embarked on an ambitious project with a Surrey school for children with learning difficulties, also with specialist status in science.
In June 2009 Dr Pat Ealey (Project Director of the Holly Lodge Centre) and Stewart Perkes (volunteer) had met with Sarah, the science teacher who would lead the school end of the project. Sarah explained how the year 7 class were following a science course that required them to take measurements using scientific equipment.
Sarah and Stewart worked together to devise a programme that required the class to visit the Holly Lodge Centre for one day in each season, with a wide range of practical tasks. Three more Holly Lodge Centre volunteers were enlisted to help and agreed to commit to all four sessions so that we could establish strong relationships with the group and be consistent with the tasks each time. Their contributions were crucial from day one. The volunteer team met in the week before every session to be sure we were prepared, arrived very early on the day of each visit to set everything up, then stayed after the children had gone to review the day and agree which aspects could be further improved.
The main tasks undertaken each time were:
The written work (data collection) planned originally was quickly dropped from the visits as Sarah preferred to do this as a follow up activity back at school. Data was therefore recorded by an adult as the results were collected, the children then produced their own data sheets during subsequent science lessons. This was a real bonus, as we were able to spend every minute of the visits outside actually doing the tasks.
At the Holly Lodge Centre we were impressed by the way the school embedded this project into the curriculum. Year 7 teachers decided that, in the week following each visit to the Holly Lodge Centre, all year 7 teachers would focus on the current season. In this way the year 7s achieved a real understanding of how the seasons change and how they affect our lives. In Food Technology the group planned their packed lunches for each visit, taking account of the weather forecast and the seasonal conditions. In geography they studied the physical effects of the seasons and their impact on human behaviour. In English they collected poems that conveyed the characteristics of the seasons and then wrote their own poetry. In music they composed pieces that expressed feelings and emotions about the seasons.
To round off the project the children would collect all the photos taken on each visit, along with the data they had collected, and build their own PowerPoint presentations in ICT lessons. The project would culminate in a final presentation at the Holly Lodge Centre at the end of the summer term when the class could show off their work and receive due recognition for what they had achieved.
Looking back, it’s fascinating to recall how the group developed through the year. When they came for their first autumn visit they were new to the school and had not yet established friendships. By the time of the winter visit they had clearly moved on a long way, their developing collaborative skills clearly allowing them to be more focused on the activities. They did really well that day, as the weather was just about as bad as it gets this side of Antarctica and at least there it doesn’t rain like it did on us that day!!
By the time of their final visit in the summer the children were familiar with all the tasks so were able to add a few extras to the visit, most notably a lovely session with the Richmond Park shire horses Billie and Massey, to learn how horses adapt to the seasons. On this visit we were struck by how well the children had formed into a really lovely group of young people.
This testifies to Sarah’s great work with them, helping them develop the skills of learning and cooperation. A great achievement and we could see how much they were benefitting from being so focused.
The presentation in July was a memorable event. The group were all in their school uniform (which we at the Holly Lodge Centre hadn’t seen before) and Sarah brought a wonderful display of poems and art work produced at school through the year.
We had the artist David Dalley on hand to judge the art work and present prizes, with the poet Nigel Lawrence doing the same for the poems. Pat Ealey judged and awarded prizes for the PowerPoint presentations and Simon Richards, Richmond Park Manager, rounded it all off by awarding each child a project certificate and some Royal Park souvenirs. Toni Assirati was also with us in her capacity as Head of Education and Community Engagement, the Royal Parks
The project was a great success and as always the children gained a huge amount from being at the Holly Lodge Centre. It was a real pleasure to work with them.