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Learning in the wild

Date Posted: 11/08/2014

Subject: Science
Venue: Paignton Zoo, Devon
Key Stages: 1-4

From CREST Award workshops to the Forest School initiative, Paignton Zoo shows students how science works in a zoo.

The Devon environmental park boasts 80 acres of zoological park and botanical gardens filled with plants and animals from across the world.

There’s also a large, purpose-built education centre, on-site nature reserves and a large range of teaching resources. It’s an immersive learning environment that is used by almost 40,000 students each year, according to the zoo’s education team.

Speaking of the team, they have a range of environmental degrees, teaching qualifications and career experiences in everything from sustainability and environmental conservation to animal management and teaching.

Programmes and resources are National Curriculum and qualification linked and are designed to support cross-curricular delivery.

All age ranges are catered for, from KS1 to 4, with provision for Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) including gifted and talented requirements.

Both Primary and Secondary teachers can choose from a menu of taught sessions, workshops, bespoke structured learning days and residentials at the zoo, or lead their own teaching with support from trails and activity packs. Booking is required for all workshops.


The national CREST Awards recognise quality Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) project work and are gaining in profile.

Paignton Zoo was the first place in the south west to offer CREST Discovery Award Science activities to schools, accredited by the British Science Association.

The Zoo provides CREST Award workshops on animal behaviour and environmental enrichment at the moment and this is set to grow.

The awards focus on fun, teamwork and transferable skills. Creativity, decision-making, problem-solving and communication are all key, as is putting projects in a real-world context.

Discovery Award Science activities

The Zoo’s Discovery Award - concentrating on animal behaviour - can be completed in a single visit, while the Bronze Award (about environmental enrichment for zoo animals) is completed both at school and in the zoo.

Jo from Paignton Zoo’s education department commented: “We want to encourage students into Science. By providing these projects we can demonstrate how science works in a zoo.

“The students can apply what they learn in lessons at school to interesting real-life situations. The CREST Award is a good benchmark for quality project work in science and engineering. It’s a bit like the Duke of Edinburgh Award for science.”

Forest School

Today, many children have little contact with the natural environment and rarely play outdoors. As a result they are less likely to have an affinity with nature and can lack confidence in a natural setting.

Forest School was developed in Scandinavia to teach children about their natural environment.

The approach was brought to the UK by Bridgwater College, which has a base at Paignton Zoo, and is spreading across the country.

The Forest School principle is that if children have great experiences outdoors, then this will encourage care and understanding of the natural environment in later life.

Research has shown that Forest School has huge benefits for both children and adults, showing positive changes in behaviour, health and physical development. Paignton Zoo hosts BTEC Level 3 Advanced Forest School Leader Award training led by Bridgwater College.

For more information and to book sessions contact:

0844-474 2224

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