This is an account of the visit in December by a Year 6 group from St Matthew’s C of E Primary School to Birmingham Botanical Gardens & Glasshouses as part of NAEE’s Hugh Kenrick Days bursary scheme.  It’s written by Foundation Subjects Leader Mr T. Etheridge.

As part of their Geography work, Year 6 at St Matthew’s CofE Primary School, Nechells, Birmingham, have been learning about the Amazon Rainforest. There is much that can be studied in the classroom; however, with the climate and general environment being so markedly different from that of central Birmingham, we were keen to provide the children with a more grounded, concrete experience of a rainforest biome. We were therefore extremely grateful to receive a Hugh Kenrick Days bursary, which allowed us to make this a reality.

The main focus of the day was the ‘Rainforest Fun’ session, led by a member of staff at the Botanical Gardens. This provided the children with the opportunity to review their geographical understanding of rainforests, as well as to deepen and broaden their knowledge of the wildlife typically found in such an environment. The children found the session extremely interesting, the practical elements offering a much richer experience than can be achieved through book study alone: one child commented on his excitement at being “picked to hold the artefacts from the rainforest”, and the way in which this had brought the topic to life for him.

The rest of the day was spent exploring the Tropical and Subtropical Glasshouses. The children were astounded by the diversity of life on display: again, although they had received some notion of this in class, seeing it for themselves really helped them to gain a deeper appreciation of – and respect for – the rainforest. As one pupil said, “It was amazing to find all of the plants that really come from the rainforest.”The humidity of the Tropical Glasshouse was a particular revelation, leading to some very interesting discussions about geographical similarity and difference. Although the trip had primarily been geared towards our geography unit, it was fantastic to see how these observations undoubtedly also served to enrich the children’s understanding of many areas of science (especially ecosystems and adaptation).

On returning to school, the children were tasked with writing an essay to wrap up their geography unit. As we had hoped, the sections on the Amazon Rainforest were particularly successful, enhanced by the practical experiences they had gained at the Botanical Gardens. It was wonderful to see how even those children who ordinarily struggle with their writing felt more confident, having a rich bank of knowledge on which to draw. The visit also fed into a subsequent exploration of global warming: having seen the environment for themselves, the children were far better placed to appreciate the devastating impact of deforestation on local ecosystems and its implications for global climate patterns. Several members of the class have subsequently expressed an interest in fundraising for tree-planting projects, and in extending the work the school does to care for our local environment: it will be exciting to see how this develops in the months ahead!

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Details of NAEE’s Hugh Kenrick Days bursary scheme can be found here.