Enabling Environments: Sustainability - By the shore

School and nursery children took the principles of Forest School to the water, with an added environmental message, in ecological sustainability activities beside the seaside.

A sustainability project has provided Sidmouth All Saints C of E Infant School with the ideal opportunity to take advantage of its location, minutes away from a beach.

Devon's Education for Sustainability scheme (see box) was a logical extension of the school's environmental education programme, which focused on food production, healthy eating and the 3Rs Project (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle), supported by Global Action Plan. Taking water as its theme for the project, the school aimed to teach children about the importance of water to all living things and related subjects, such as water pollution and its impact on wildlife. It also saw the scheme as a way to involve the on-site pre-school and educate the wider community about ecology.

A key part of the development work was to establish All Saints as a Seashore School, which is modelled on Forest Schools principles. An initial session with the pre-school and reception class children was used to decide on areas to explore, and these formed the basis for a six-week plan for Seashore School.

Eight pre-school and ten reception children attended a weekly morning session. Year 1 children attended in the afternoon. After each session, the school children planned interactive assemblies in which they used games to communicate what they had learned to the rest of the school.

'The children were so very, very excited by the project,' says reception and Year 1 teacher Lisa Rosam, who developed the programme and led the sessions. 'Using an experiential approach, it was very much about letting the children take the lead and giving them a voice about their environment and how to improve it.'



The children followed the River Sid down to the seashore. En route, staff drew their attention to the sound, colour and flow of the river. On crossing a bridge over a weir, the children recalled the story of the Three Billy Goats Gruff, and staff talked about the purpose of the weir. As they approached the sea, they turned their attention to the cliffs, erosion and signs warning of falling rocks.

On the beach, each child:

  • collected and sorted stones by criterion such as shape, colour, smoothness and size
  • chose a pebble from their collection to make Ooglies, as featured on CBBC
  • photographed their favourite and least favourite aspects of the beach
  • made towers of pebbles - a valuable problem-solving activity with the children experimenting with various designs, shapes and sizes of stones to gain maximum stability.


The children looked at groynes and rock armour and as a group, they discussed the concept of sea defences. Next, they were given gloves, litter pickers and hessian sacks, and collected items from the strandline. After identifying the most common finds, they talked about rubbish, its origins and its potential threat to wildlife.

The children also collected and sorted shells and talked about them being homes for small sea creatures. The subject of much excitement was a seagull carcass, which prompted a discussion about lifecycles and the food chain.

To round off the session, the children played a 'limpet game', with the teacher playing the seagull and the children limpets. If the seagull reached the limpet's rock before them, then they became a seagull and helped catch the remaining limpets.

The children also did paintings about Seashore School and went on to make a collage of the beach and displayed their pictures taken on the beach and the words to describe them.


The first stop was Sidmouth Museum, where the children did fossil rubbings and word searches, made model dinosaurs and engaged in other activities linked to the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site. A specially prepared quiz directed the children to themes that had already been identified in earlier Seashore School sessions - for example, using a computer programme to find out what the local cliffs were made of and why landslips had occurred.


This session aimed to teach children about local fish, fishing techniques, the nutritious benefits of fish and the consequences of over-fishing. It was hoped that the children would gain some insight into sustainable fishing techniques and what types of fish we should buy.

The morning began with a fishing game. The adults created a circle to indicate the sea and a fisherman (a child) was given one minute in which to catch as many fish (the other children) as possible. All the fish that had been caught then became fishermen and the remaining fish were counted at the end. This led on to a discussion about how some fish stocks were endangered due to over-fishing.

After the game, the children met a local fish shop owner, who took them first to a yard to see fishing equipment made from recycled plastic drums, and then to her shop to see the morning's catch. The recycling message was reinforced as she told the children that any fish waste was used as bait.

Back on the beach, the Marine Stewardship Council symbol - a special blue sign used on food packaging to indicate that the fish has been fished in a sustainable way - provided the basis for another game. Staff hid pictures of local and endangered fish on the beach, and the challenge was to find the pictures and, particularly, the one with the blue symbol on it. The next games involved labelling parts of a fish, with adults supporting the youngest children.


After finding rubbish on the beach on an earlier session, the children were keen to collect some of the litter. They were organised into small groups, given a sack, gloves and litter pickers. When they found some rubbish, they helped the adults complete the Marine Conservation Beach Watch volunteer survey sheet by identifying the rubbish, suggesting what it was made of and where it might have come from.

In discussions after the activity, the children concluded that most rubbish was sweet wrappers and that generally the beach was relatively clean. When asked how to combat litter, they suggested making posters and signs for display on the beach.


James Chubb, countryside ranger at East Devon District Council, helped the children explore the rock pools He showed them how to use nets and containers filled with sea water in which to put any creatures they caught. The children had opportunities to ask questions about the marine life and were excited to find shrimps, crabs, starfish and a sand fish. This led to a conversation about camouflage.

On the sandy area of the beach the children made sand art - castles, volcanoes, princess rooms and flower pictures. They told stories as they played and described their creations to each other and the adults.



Of the breadth of learning opportunities within the project, Ms Rosam says, 'You felt you could cover all the key areas of the early years curriculum in a couple of sessions!'

Among the core skills that the children developed were problem-solving, collaboration and co-operation. Ms Rosam adds, 'It definitely built up their confidence and leadership skills.'

One way of achieving this was by giving the first and last child in the group a leader stick. With the stick came responsibility for keeping the group together, setting the pace and deciding when to cross the road.

'There were comments about the project being too ambitious and that the children might not be able to understand the concepts,' says Ms Rosam. 'But the learning was achieved through hands-on activities and games at the children's level, and we found that they did take on board these high-level concepts, such as erosion, sustainable fishing, how the landscaped has changed over time and how the moon controlled the tides.

'The school asked parents to complete a questionnaire about the project with their children, and 100 per cent were returned. We found the children could answer all the questions, and there were only one or two misunderstandings about what they had learned.'

The school is now cascading the Seashore School programme up the school.


Devon's Education for Sustainability project aimed to alert children to the links between themselves and the wider natural and social environment and show how they can 'contribute to creating a more just, equitable and environmentally sustainable world'.

Funded jointly by the Devon Learning and Development Partnership (LDP) and Early Years and Childcare Service, the project was a collaboration between the Early Years and Subject Adviser teams.

'Education for Sustainability so often sits within the domain of year 6/KS2 and many people had not realised the quality of what younger children can bring to this area,' says Sheena Wright, Devon's lead early years quality and inclusion adviser. 'It was this collaboration that made the project such a well-received and unique example.'

Education for Sustainability - Developing good practice in Early Years Foundation Stage settings is a timely and thought-provoking guide to the project, outlining both the importance of environmental education for young children and the inspiring case studies involved in the scheme.

To order a copy of the book, priced £9.50, plus £2 p&p, send a cheque made payable to Devon County Council, to Great Moor House, Bittern Road, Sowton, Exeter EX2 7NL.

Extra case study

See how Newton Poppleford Primary School embraced the sustainability project.

© MA Education 2020. Published by MA Education Limited, St Jude's Church, Dulwich Road, Herne Hill, London SE24 0PB, a company registered in England and Wales no. 04002826. MA Education is part of the Mark Allen Group. – All Rights Reserved