Recording radio shows, looking after chickens or creating ‘green screen’ movies don’t feature in many primary school lesson plans. But for Hannah O’Neill, a newly qualified teacher in a pioneering forest school, finding new ways to teach and learn is part of everyday school life.
“I did a placement at a forest school in my first year at Edge Hill, and it really opened my eyes to a different way of doing things. After completing a module on outdoor learning as part of my course, which I really enjoyed, I knew that was an area I wanted to explore further.
I secured a job at Sacred Heart RC Primary School in Westhoughton straight after graduation. They have a very innovative curriculum that uses the whole school, both inside and outside, as a learning environment. The children love using stones, twigs and leaves for numeracy and writing in mud! We recently had an Eco Day during which the children built campfires and cooked their own food. They also burnt willow to make charcoal and used it for an art project.
As well as growing our own fruit and vegetables, the school has a city farm with animals that the children have to care for, and that we use to teach aspects of the curriculum. The school also has its own radio station, run by the children, movie-making equipment and there’s even a small recording studio in my classroom. Being able to write and broadcast a radio show, for example, gives the children’s writing a sense of purpose and audience, enhances their learning and develops their skills and confidence.
Sacred Heart is one of the top performing schools in the region so this kind of learning obviously has a positive effect on academic outcomes. I love using natural resources to bring the lessons to life for the children and seeing them have fun and make progress.
I think my degree, in which I achieved first class honours, prepared me very well for life in the classroom and I’m able to use lots of the practical tools I learnt at Edge Hill on a daily basis. I’m very excited about starting a Masters programme in Early Years Education at Edge Hill in September. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to further develop my understanding and apply that knowledge to my teaching, but mostly, I’m just pleased to be going back to Edge Hill. I’ve really missed it!”