St George's Preparatory School prides itself on its holistic approach to education. In layman's terms, this means that we don't just educate the mind, we educate the whole body, the heart, the limbs and right down to the very ends of the fingertips. The mental health of our pupils is also of great importance. Our children learn how to care, to be kind and thoughtful, to use their common sense and to know what is right and wrong and why. It simply becomes second nature.
Our Farm School ethos forms a central part of the curriculum - its aim is to ensure children develop emotionally as well as intellectually. We all know intelligent people who haven't got an inkling of common sense or a sense of humour. At St George's we believe that for a child to succeed in life, intellect isn't enough and other factors such as sociability, problem solving, resilience, team work, self confidence and self belief are just as important. This is where the Farm School approach helps to develop children in ways that conventional educational approaches cannot - you cannot teach resilience or self belief in a conventional lesson - these qualities have to be developed through experiences. Many situations on the farm encourage so called 'soft skills' - taking water to the ponies across the fields, filling the sheep feeder with hay, herding lambs from the barn to the paddock and building an obstacle course for our rabbits as enrichment.
Forest School Meets Farm School
In April 2021, after 10 years of continuous use for Forest School sessions, we took the decision to let our woodland at school have a rest and re-wild. We had been secretly been working on a project which would bring about a very exciting alternative form of outdoor education and one which would compliment and extend the learning that the Forest School sessions had afforded our children. In June, 2021, the children were able to use their Forest School skills to construct shelters for the animals when we enjoyed a rare spell of good weather! Forest School hasn't disappeared completely, though there are many similarities and the benefits transcend both approaches.
Following the Easter holidays, all children began to visit Willow Farm ( a 20 minute minibus ride from school) for a full day once a fortnight. Our junior farmers manage the farm under the guidance of our farm manager, Mrs Annelies Bourne who previously led the Forest School sessions. Mrs Bourne has a wealth of experience with farm animals, having spent five years at agricultural college.
Currently, we have pigs, sheep and lambs, ponies, Pygmy goats, chickens, rabbits and guinea pigs. As Willow Farm is a working farm, there is a breeding programme in place, so children are able to witness life cycles and the miracle of new life. They also understand that our pigs and sheep are bred to enter the food chain. The children ensure that the animals are well cared for whilst they are with us.
When the children arrive at the farm, they feed, water, muck out, collect eggs and turn the animals out into their paddocks. During the day, children may receive the opportunity to work alongside the vet, farrier, shepherdess or one of the many professionals who visit the farm.
In the afternoon, children receive a focused lesson which helps to consolidate and extend the work they have done in school. This may be using their knowledge of scientific classification and extending it to farm animals or they may use their knowledge of ratio and proportion to calculate how much feed the pigs need according to their weight. Children who have focused on measurement in maths have weighed farm animals and measured the ponies.
It's not 'all work and no play' as the children enjoy jumping from our giant straw bales into a deep straw pit and using the waterslide in sunny weather.
You can find out more about Farm School here.
FARM SCHOOL HELPS TO DEVELOP:
- resilience & tenacity
- self confidence & self esteem
- teamwork & leadership
- understanding of one's self
- compassion and empathy
- gross and fine motor skills through the use of tools
- physical skills - core strength, dexterity, hand to eye co-ordination
- promotes mental health and wellbeing
- understanding of conservation and countryside management
Typically a year 6 pupil will have spent 1/10 of every week at Forest or Farm School during their time at SGPS - over 500 hours during their time at school! It is the cumulative effect of the sessions which brings about the changes in attitudes, behaviours and learning.