Children’s learning has to be built from what they know and understand already,” says Nidderdale teacher and educational consultant Julia Sharpley. “What better way for them to learn than to ask questions about the environment around them?”
She’s talking about an inspiring new educational collaboration between the Upper Nidderdale Landscape Partnership and local teachers. Over the past year, we’ve been working with Julia to create a set of free web-based resources to help schools bring Upper Nidderdale, with its fascinating history, heritage and geology, into the classroom.
When local kids go back to school this month, they and their teachers will be able to use the Landscape Partnership website to access a package of specially designed educational materials aimed at upper primary and lower secondary students. They feature smartboard and PowerPoint presentations with accompanying activities and other downloadable resources. All are designed to link areas of the curriculum with key periods and events in Nidderdale’s history.
Students will use the resources to go on an imaginary journey through time, from Nidderdale’s origins in the distant geological past, via the Stone Age and the Iron Age, and on to the bustling world of the medieval monasteries. They will experience the heyday of the industrial revolution in the 19th century and the coming of the reservoirs to Nidderdale in the 20th. Finally they will arrive at the present day to focus on the dale’s wildlife and habitats.
The idea, as Julia emphasises, is to use the children’s familiar surroundings to get them asking broader questions. Julia’s professional background made her the ideal candidate for developing the new educational resources. She’s an experienced primary school teacher, but has also lectured in countryside recreation and worked in rural community development. “This project has been a fantastic opportunity to combine my interests and experience,” she says.
She’s also a Nidderdale native and has a strong sense that the sort of local knowledge the project promotes was her own gateway to the wider world. “I grew up in Birstwith,” she says. “The stories of the adults in the village and their pride in the local landscape made every walk through the dale an adventure into the past. It’s what gave me my life-long love of the countryside.”
The web-based resources are not the only educational project that the Landscape Partnership is launching this autumn. During the summer holidays, our discovery and learning project officer, Liz Milner, has been busy setting up Nidd-Ology – a new after-school club for Nidderdale primary school children. The aim of Nidd-Ology is simple: for children to have fun learning about their local area by discovering its old buildings, creepy-crawlies, caves, trees, flowers, ancient crafts, and everything in between.
Whereas the new educational resources were conceived as a way to bring Nidderdale into the classroom, Nidd-Ology brings the classroom out into Nidderdale. Children will get their hands dirty exploring the school grounds and finding out what plants and animals live there. They will learn how drystone walls are built, plant acorns, go birdwatching and discover why bees and flowers like each other so much.
Liz hopes that Nidd-Ology will help young people develop an abiding concern for their local environment. “Basically,’ she says, “we’re trying to educate and empower these young people to be custodians of the landscape and to really appreciate where they live – to be our little ambassadors for Nidderdale.”
If all this sounds like great fun but your school days are a hazy memory, fear not. One of the Landscape Partnership’s major aims is to get volunteers of all ages involved in our work. We’ve recently wrapped up our excavations at Lodge, the deserted village beside Scar House reservoir that featured in our June column. Over two weeks in July, a band of forty volunteers from all walks of life decended on the countryside, trowels at the ready, and got stuck in. If you’d like to know what they found, you are warmly invited to our latest Heritage Forum, The Lost Village of Lodge, to be held at Lofthouse Memorial Hall on Saturday, October 8. A morning of talks about the excavations will be followed after lunch by a chance to visit the remains of the abandoned settlement.
This year’s Big Dig might be over, but it’s never too late to get involved in one of our projects. We’re always eager to hear from you. Keep an eye on this column and on our website. We hope you get the chance to enjoy some autumn sunshine – there’s no lovelier time of year for a visit to Upper Nidderdale.