You’ve heard of forest school. Well, now there’s beach school and it’s taking off, big time.
By Kate Hilpern
Britain’s schoolchildren are getting increasing opportunities to have their lessons on the beach and the benefits are huge.
Growing numbers of the schools we review teach on the beach. You can imagine the reaction teachers get when they tell the youngsters it’s a beach learning day, and schools report that this enthusiasm doesn’t wane even on cold days with bitter winds. Far from it, this captivated audience practically bursts with enthusiasm as they do activities such as competitions to see who can collect the most rubbish, paint pebbles or make sand patterns in certain themes and collect the likes of seaweed, shells and driftwood to learn about what they are and where they come from. Other tasks including using the natural resources of the beach to create homes for sea creatures and learning about pollution to our oceans and what we can do to help.
Just this week, the Guardian reported on the success of Beach Schools South West, which works with local schools across the south-west. ‘As well as studying the impact of plastic pollution and the beauty of coastal flora and fauna, the children also learn about tidal forecasts, lunar cycles, ecology and geomorphology,’ wrote education correspondent Sally Weale. ‘They get fresh air, physical exercise, make friends and learn about teamwork.’
Even children who live near a beach may have never visited one – according to a Keep Britain Tidy survey last year, one in five children across Britain have never been to a beach. But everyone – including those who are seasoned young surfers or who go beach walking with their families every day – finds beach school a valuable experience.
Pretty much every part of the curriculum can be taken to the beach. Learning in a different environment is reported to renew interest and can make learning both fun and tangible. And back at school, the work can continue, with children doing activities such as doing creative writing about the beach, writing up experiments and making murals out of shells, all of which can be displayed on the walls. Schools tell us that bringing children’s senses alive at the coast has an impact on practically every subject – science, writing and art, among them. Crucially, teachers are trained as beach school practitioners so they maximise the natural environment as a resource for teaching.
The Wave Project is among a growing number of organisations that are taking beach school one step further. This six-week educational intervention programme is aimed at year 5 to 9 pupils who find engaging with school challenging. The young people, who have become disengaged with learning and are not reaching their potential, work with skilled practitioners in various Cornish coastal locations, where surfing and other water-based activities are incorporated into daily learning. The results are impressive – 88 per cent report improved self-esteem or confidence; 92 per cent report improvements to emotional wellbeing, reduced anxiety and feeling calmer; while 89 per cent developed positive relationships, feel less isolated and developed support networks.
Special schools are getting in on the act too. At Red Rose School in Lytham St Annes, Lancashire, children regularly visit the beach, while Springhead School in Scarborough hires its own beach hut and children go weekly.
With the UK surrounded by more than 11,000 miles of coastline, there is certainly no shortage of these outdoor classrooms. And with endless success stories such as children with troubled behaviour coming into their own on the beach and kids speaking in front of their classmates for the first time ever after a beach trip, there’s really nothing not to like about the concept. Long may it continue.