Perspectives on educational visits to farms: a report on research with farmers, teachers, children and parents

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The many recent developments encouraging more visits by school children to farms have highlighted the need for research on the interaction between farmers, schools, teachers and school children, and the effect of these visits for both farms and the schools. This research aims to
1. To identify how farmers responded to the challenge to engage the public in farming
2. To identify how teachers integrate farm visits with teaching the national curriculum in the classroom.
3. To record children’s reactions to farm visits.
Research was carried out in three regions: the South East, the North East and the West Country.
Interviews with 46 farmers hosting visits from primary schools showed that farmers are motivated to host visits as they are keen to teach children about where food comes from. They are also pleased to be able to provide an alternative to learning through books and computers, and instead allow children to explore their environment and the real world around them. Farmers want to share the countryside that they own or manage with a wider group of people. This allows them also to justify the finding which the farming industry receives, counteract some of the bad press with which farmers are associated, and promote the industry in which they work. Farmers also said they found hosting visits enjoyable and that it was rewarding seeing school children enjoying themselves. Hosting school visits also provides a welcome addition to the routine farming activities, and for some, a form of diversification.
In order to host visits, many farmers need to adapt their farm to provide key facilities such as toilets, a classroom, and even convert trailers to enable them to transport children. Increasing numbers of farmers are taking the CEVAS course which provides training in all aspects of hosting farm visits. This includes training in public speaking and specifically talking to a young audience. Overall, farmers were not very familiar with the content of the national curriculum and how to link the visit with classroom activities, although the CEVAS course helps with this. Most speak from the heart about what they do on a day-to-day basis.
Establishing links with primary schools can be difficult. Regular and repeated visits were usually arranged once a rapport had been established between the farmer and a particular teacher. If teachers moved, the link with the farm was often lost.
Interviews with teachers indicated that those who had been on visits were very happy with the experience, and found the visits linked into many aspects of the curriculum. The hands-on learning approach worked well with young learners. However there were concerns over health and safety, the weather, and the added burden of paperwork associated with an off-site visit. Teachers used very little of the teaching materials tailor made for farm visit which are available on the web.
Farm visits stimulated learning in many ways, including literacy, numeracy, science, art, design and technology, ICT, history, geography, PSHE, citizenship and RE. Farm visits were the inspiration for many different activities and discussions in the classroom. However, some teachers saw the visits as a nice “day out” and did not make the most of the learning possibilities related to the event. Embedding the experience of a farm visit in classroom learning was best achieved when it was planned well in advance, to coincide with specific curriculum topics.
F. Harris Perspectives on educational visits to farms Kingston University
Many organisations in the farming and conservation industry have developed websites and educational materials linking land-based activities to the national curriculum: few teachers mentioned using them. Time was the limiting factor.
Feedback from parents of school children indicated that children thoroughly enjoyed the farm visits. They enjoyed seeing new things, learning about farming and where their food came from, and being outdoors. They enjoyed the “hands on” nature of learning on farm visits. They remembered many details, which they told their parents. Farm visits also allowed children to learn about their local environment (if the farm was near the school).
Although farm visits target school children, many adults are involved, either as teachers, teaching assistants, or as parent helpers. Therefore the visits reach a wider and more varied audience than initially perceived.
However, there is limited ability for parents and helpers to send their responses back to farmers. Farmers repeatedly host visits from schools, with little feedback from teaches and children about the perceived success of the visit.
The new LOTC badge is another qualification farmers should obtain if they are to host school visits. At a time when farms are faced with a lot of paperwork, an added kite mark is another burden. Most farmers host between 4 and 25 visits per year, earning a maximum of £3,000 if funded under the HLS scheme. Farms receiving few visits will not find it worth their while, but it would be unfortunate if children are unable to visit local farms. There needs to be a balance between ensuring children’s safety and curriculum links through the badging scheme, and making the regulatory framework so demanding that farmers decide not to bother to host visits.
Farm visits provide a venue for children to focus on many environmental awareness raising campaigns which promote awareness and understanding of the environment, increasing physical activity and healthy eating. There is potential for synergies between farm visits and many campaigns which target school children, including Change 4 Life, 5-a-day, and eat well and initiatives.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages34
Publication statusUnpublished - 2009


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