Autumn is one of the busiest times of year for Harcourt Arboretum. A walk around the grounds will reveal shades of yellow, orange, red, purple and blue (yes, even blue!). This spectacular display of the season is great not only for general visitors, but for schools as well. By the end of the previous school year teachers have already booked next years class to come to the Arboretum to learn about Amazing Autumn.
Amazing Autumn is broken up into two sections. One is going on a treasure hunt to find arboretum treasure. On this leg of the session we have demonstrations with seeds and use leaves to learn about colours, size, shapes, and numeracy. The second part is learning more about autumn than just lovely leaves. Children learn about hibernation from building houses for hedgehogs to give them a place to sleep during the winter.
Although we want to cover the same topics with each school group we hardly ever take the same route around and many times each group sees something the other hasn’t. They both still learn about shapes and sizes and so on, but from different trees. This happens because once the group splits into two, we take the first one aside and ask them what they might want to see. That could be colours, certain trees and sometimes animals. What they tell us they want to see is how we plan the route. A list of 5-8 things and we quickly plan how to get all of that into 30 minutes. The whole group then reconvenes and we switch. Different group means different answers; therefore a different route is needed.
Running the sessions this way is fantastic for me because it gives variety instead of doing the same route upwards of 8 times a week. There is still repetition therefore my confidence in knowledge of the session increases. Having to plan a route on the spot has also increased my confidence because I know that no matter what the kids say they want to see I can create a route to show it to them. That is unless they shout out something along the lines of, ‘Hippo’ because surprisingly the Arboretum is lacking in hippos on site!
Amazing Autumn has definitely helped strengthen my delivery and management skills. It has also increased my understanding of how to tailor a session to the age group. For instance, with nursery kids I would ask them to find two leaves smaller than their hand, but for key stage 2 I would ask them to find five leaves double the size of their hand. I love these sessions and the kids seem to really enjoy their time with us whilst learning more about the season.