Enabling Environments: Sustainability - Far afield

Monday, June 13, 2011

A Devon sustainability project has inspired children at Newton Poppleford Primary School to become stewards of their environment

Newton Poppleford Primary School, in Devon, has transformed a neglected ‘field’ in its efforts to educate children about ecology and give them a sense of stewardship of their environment. Though part of the school site, Far Field, as it is called, had been largely redundant until staff became involved in a Forest Schools programme and joined in Devon’s Education for Sustainability project (see below).

Through the project, staff aimed to help children:

  • find out about and appreciate their environment and living things
  • show care and concern for others, for living things and the environment
  • express their views about the environment, and
  • come to feel a sense of belonging to their community and place.

‘Developing the area has given the children a sense of ownership and heightened their awareness of the environment and their impact on it. They now feel they have a voice as they have influenced and had input into the changes and can see the results   and will for a long time to come as they go through the school,’ says reception class teacher Amanda Thomas.


The children were involved from the earliest stages in redeveloping Far Field. For example, they helped marked out a pond area, then asked for the excavated soil to be left as an uneven mound   now known affectionately as the mud pile.
The next phase was to familiarise the children with the layout of the area through a series of activities. The most popular included:

  • Matching the leaf to the tree
  • Spotting a location from a photograph
  • Following and laying trails
  • ‘Mirror walks’ – using small mirrors to view living things and other features of Far Field from unusual perspectives
  • Pond dipping
  • Identifying leaves, trees and flowers
  •  Making a frame through which to view Far Field from different perspectives
  • Creating a book mark from natural materials
  • Placing a flag where a living creature is found.


Captions A particularly successful activity was asking the children to find an area that matched a caption. Captions included:

  • A good place for listening
  • Somewhere with a lovely smell
  • Wonderful views
  • You can find a creature here
  • You will like touching this

The children went on to explain their choices and compose captions of their own for other places.

Visual maps The children used photographs that they had taken themselves for the maps. One child suggested that the photographs be placed beneath a transparent grid and then used a programmable robot to visit locations. Other children chose to draw out a map for themselves. This led to discussions about what they liked (blue flowers, sitting around the open fire) and disliked (brambles, bees and rubbish) about Far Field. They then recorded interviews of each other to find out how to improve the site. Responses included:
‘I’d like there to be more to eat’
‘We could get flowers that are different colours’
‘Some different trees, then there would be different leaves’
‘I want there to be more places to search for animals’
‘There could be more places to sit and look at how lovely it is’
‘We could make a path to go around the trees’


Orchard Far Field’s small orchard has pear, apple, plum and damson trees. The children selected which fruit trees to grow through fruit tasting sessions, decided where to position them and helped prepare the ground for them.
‘Edible’ hedge Similar tasting sessions were used to select which fruit bushes to use in an ‘edible’ hedge of blackberry, blackcurrant, raspberry and loganberry. All the fruit will be used in recipes or at snack time.
Wildflower bank The children helped prepare the area and tend the seedlings for the bank.
Planting trees Using tree and leaf guides, the children identified which varieties of tree were in already in Far Field, then helped plant some rowan, silver birch and hornbeam saplings donated by The Woodland Trust. They are also caring for some donated holly tree saplings.
Animal habitats The children developed an awareness of where to find creatures while on their bug hunts, then built bug habitats using logs, branches, stones, leaf litter, moss and dried grass and bark. A donated frog/toad house inspired them to build some ‘hedgehog hotels’ and ‘ladybird lodges’.
Seating After some professional felling, the logs were used as seating in places that children had previously identified as ‘a good place for listening’ and offering ‘wonderful views’.
Butterflies The children identified (on the internet) then planted wildflowers that attract butterflies. They also found out how nettles and thistles are valuable sources of food for caterpillars and identified areas where these could be left to grow.
Play tunnel Willow harvested with the help of the children has been used to create a willow tunnel in the garden outside their classroom.
Throughout, the children were very ‘hands on’, even cutting back brambles, under supervsion.


Pre-school children The project provided an ideal opportunity to work with the adjacent pre-school. The reception children showed the pre-school children their map of Far Field, guided them round the area and prepared a container for them to grow carrots. One activity they shared was making wildflower seed ‘bombs’ – pressing donated cornflower, poppy and corn marigold seeds into balls of compost and earth   then throwing them onto the wildflower bank.
Older children Various year groups helped the Foundation Stage children with their project. For example, Year 5 children helped to lay trails and ‘treasures’ for the younger children to find – the treasures became prized possessions – while Year 4 children made tree identification discs to share with the Foundation Stage class. Year 6 children helped the younger ones with the heavier ground work and went on to create an audio guide to Far Field and an orienteering course for other classes.


‘The children learned to appreciate and care for things, which was one of our aims,’ says Ms Thomas. ‘They also learned to co-operate as they did a lot of practical activities where they needed each other’s help.’
The children now pay ever greater attention to the care of the site and expect the same of others. Their confidence grew as the project developed, as did their willingness to express themselves.
The project resulted in far stronger links with the local community. Local people were willing to participate, which has prompted the school to set up regular ‘Dig Days’. The school has also built raised beds closer to the classrooms to enable each class to tend to a growing area for themselves. Donations have also poured in, from bamboo canes and plant containers to trees, wildflowers and herbs.


Far Field continues to evolve and the school is planning to:

  • •   continue its focus on the interdependence within the natural world and will be turning its attention to the plight of bees (see the Bees poster in this week’s issue of Nursery World, 14 June, 2011)
  • •   grow more produce for the school kitchen
  • •   work the Devon Wildlife Trust to create more habitats, including a small heath land


Devon’s Sustainability for Education 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’. It was funded jointly by the Devon Learning and Development Partnership (LDP) and Early Years and Childcare Service.
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, priced £9.50, plus £2.00 p&p, copy, priced £9.50, plus £2.00 p&p, send a cheque, made payable to Devon County Council, to Great Moor House, Bittern Road, Sowton, Exeter, EX2 7NL.

See how Sidmouth All Saints C of E Infant School used Seashore School to teach children about sustainability.

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