My 7 year old came, quite literally, bouncing into our bedroom this morning, with excitement at the prospect of going on her school trip today. They're both off to a farm for some end of term fun, and it got me thinking about the learning that takes place outside the classroom.
We often think that these trips are just a fun day out to treat the kids at the end of a long and busy school year. They'll get to feed the goats and lambs, hold the chicks and stroke the guinea pigs, and hopefully have a play in the park if the rain holds off. When I stopped to consider it though, I realised there's a lot more to a school trip than just fun and games. I bet there's plenty of children there today who've never held a chick and stopped to consider where it comes from, and heard about the life cycle of a hen. Seeing a lamb up close and feeding it from a bottle raises questions about mammals and how they feed their young, and why sheep can't always feed more than one lamb themselves. The adventure playground and climbing frame is great exercise and can be a confidence builder for the less adventurous as they strive to keep up with their peers.
So let's continue these experiences in the school holidays. Days out, holidays, even playing in the garden are all opportunities to teach our kids something new. On a walk in the woods point out the variety of plants and see how many you can identify. (Or find out later, as we often do, as I'm useless at plant identification and have been known to take a photograph and bring it home to show my husband.) Listen to hear the sounds of different birds, and spot insects. Search in rockpools on the beach for creatures and seaweed, or talk about how fishing towns and villages along the coast have changed. The Newbiggin Maritime Museum is one of my recent discoveries - as well as being right on one of my favourite beaches in the northeast it also offers craft activities for children, a lovely cafe and interactive displays which teach about the history of Newbiggin-by-the-sea. This is just one of many great places like this around the coast.
If you're going away on holiday this year take the opportunity to sample different local foods. And not just abroad too. Here in the northeast we have stotties and pease pudding. In the midlands pork pies and stilton cheese both hail from Melton Mowbray, and yummy traditional bakewell tarts can be found in Bakewell in Derbyshire. And if you go down to Cornwall this summer don't forget to try the Cornish pasty and talk to your children about the history of mining and how the pasty was a complete meal that could be taken down the mine and eaten easily without cutlery and that stayed warm for hours.
Learning doesn't end with the school term, and while reading and practising academics in the holidays are useful, we must never underestimate the learning that takes place when we're just playing out and having fun.