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.
"But, I don't want my child to be a farmer!" Yes, we have heard this many times and understand that parents may have other aspirations for their children. However, when at the farm children come into contact with so many professionals who work alongside the farming industry, for example, the vet, the farrier, the feed merchant, the agronomist...the list goes on! Real and relevant learning in action!
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.
All children in school (and Little Dragons) 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. We also sell our produce - look out for boxes of eggs at the school gate - currently £1 for 1/2 dozen delicious free range eggs. We also sell pork products about three times each. year and have had wonderful feedback about the tastiness of our meat!
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 other 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.
October 2021 update.
Life at the farm is very busy at the moment. Six new white piglets and two rare breed black piglets have arrived at Willow Farm. They are joined by Mia, a grey Welsh Section A pony. We have some baby rabbits looking for new homes. It will soon be time to bring our Pygmy goats inside for the winter.
November 2021 update.
There is lots of building work taking place at the farm; the brick stables have been finished and are being painted and the foundations for the new office have been laid. The children have been tidying branches which fell from an ash tree during a recent storm.
Mrs Hodgson (our science lead) has produced an informative booklet for parents. It explains the school's intent and the educational, social and emotional benefits of the children attending Farm School. In addition, it provides information about how the children will use and engage with the school curriculum during their time at the farm. Read the booklet here.
Plans for autumn 2021 include the planting of approximately 600 trees to celebrate St George's Preparatory School's 10th birthday. We will sow a wildflower meadow and excavate a large pond. The children will be involved at every stage of the development and will understand why the creation of these areas is so important in responsible farming.
December 2021 update.
This month started in a sad way. On Saturday night we received a call telling us that Lottie, one of our Pygmy goats could not stand up. We called the vet who diagnosed a broken leg - this must have happened whilst she was in the field. Unfortunately, this was unrepairable and left with no other option, the decision to have Lottie put to sleep was made. Although her time with us was short, she made such an impact with her funny antics and amazing gymnastic ability. She will be sadly missed.
Ethel, a rare breed black piglet has joined Mabel and Miriam. She is currently in 21 days' quarantine and will then join the other two black pigs. In time, they will be used as breeding pigs to ensure the continued survival of this wonderful rare breed.
We have been busy transforming a 4 acre patch of land into a wildlife haven. Read about our progress here.
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.