Learning at The Yorkshire Arboretum

Rachel Bailey spoke to The Yorkshire Arboretum’s education officer Kathryn Hardaker, who organises school visits for Primary school children at the outdoor attraction.

Located at the Castle Howard site in York, the arboretum boasts a setting of 120 acres of woodland and lakes, and offers learning experiences linking to Science, Art, PE, Literacy, Numeracy and Geography.

The education department at The Yorkshire Arboretum has been running for eight years. Kathryn, who has been the education officer for three years, said “The Yorkshire Arboretum is a good destination for an educational visit because it is safe, and activities are organised with children in mind. We are an outdoor provider, and teachers like the fact that the setting gives the children something completely different to school and home life.”

Trips to the arboretum cater for three to 11 year olds. Pre-school and nurseries are welcomed with open arms, although most visits are from Primary school children.

School trip resources

A series of resources are available to both students and teachers during a school visit.

Kathryn said “We provide specific resources for each activity. Children are prepared to pond dip because we supply nets and bowls, while for mini beast hunting we provide pots and magnifying lenses, and identification charts for the teachers.

“If the activity is shelter building then the students are given ropes and tarpaulin, plus they’ll use the trees and branches in the area.”

All activities are designed with the National Curriculum in mind, and there are activities for Art, Literacy, Numeracy, Geography and Science.

Kathryn gave me an example. “From Acorn to Oak is a Science-based activity and is a walk through the arboretum to identify, name and classify different plants. Students engaging with this particular activity will also discuss growth and name plant parts in relation to changes across the seasons.

“The children will have a slightly different activity depending upon which year group they are in.”

Pond dipping

Plenty of educational options

Teachers are supported from the start to the end of a school trip to The Yorkshire Arboretum, beginning with a visit prior to the trip to help with questions and queries. Teachers are able to self-lead during a visit, but most will choose from the attraction’s collection of workshops, of which there are 14.

These include Pond Dipping, Shelter Building, Outdoor Music, Meet a Tree, and Seed Dispersal. A new workshop for 2016 is currently in its infancy, linking directly to Maths. It will be specifically designed for different aged school groups and will include counting, numbers and calculations based on trees, leaves and birds.

Teachers will also be able to tie a visit to The Yorkshire Arboretum into what they do in a classroom afterwards. They can do this through using websites to show how seed dispersal works, or by presenting identification charts of the creatures found in the lake or under logs in the mini beast zone.

Kathryn also told me that often children will write letters to thank her for their school trip, and these often take the form of acrostic poems.

These poems are based on Literacy words which are part of an on-site activity. Students will have found the words hanging on branches of trees whilst trying to beat the other teams in their class during a visit.

Mini beast hunt

Visiting information

So how long does a trip to the arboretum last? Kathryn said “Trips are a full or half day. Typically schools will arrive at 10am and leave at 2.30pm, but this can be shortened or extended to accommodate specific requirements.

“Activities last one hour in a morning and one hour in the afternoon, but three activities throughout the day is possible.”

Further reasons to visit The Yorkshire Arboretum?

I asked Kathryn what she thinks a main highlight of a school visit to the arboretum is, to which she replied with several ideas.

“Usually lunch in the woodland sitting on little logs and afterwards a trip to the playground. But pond dipping in our lake and finding a water scorpion is also pretty exciting.

“Students will go home tired but happy after finding tadpoles in the pond or making a shelter which the class voted the best as it kept their peers dry in a storm.”

Kathryn concluded: “A memorable school trip is one where children will have learnt a lot but also experienced something which they haven’t done or seen before. This could be finding an unusual species in the pond or a ladybird in the mini beast zone, or even climbing in the forest playground.”

The Yorkshire Arboretum has plans to branch out into Secondary school educational activities in the near future; so keep your eyes peeled and your wellies at the ready.