End of July. Most schools will just have started their summer holidays. After another year of hard work, early mornings, tests, inspections, and everything else, children and staff will feel the pressures lift from their shoulders. Everyone deserves a holiday!
For many of us, a holiday means going to the coast. Being a nation of islands – over 6000 make up the British Isles – no one is too far from the sea. The farthest place is 70 miles, identified by the Ordnance Survey as a small farm in Derbyshire. Meaning, that if you have a car, you could make it in a few hours.
But even though we are never ‘too far’, lots of people will only be able to visit rarely. It is one of the reasons why it feels like such an adventure. And I have a hunch that going to the beach/coast is everyone’s first adventure. (Or to put it another way, everyone’s first trip to the beach/coast is an adventure. I think the distinction is important because not every child is fortunate enough to have such life-enhancing experiences at a young age, if at all.)
Perhaps that’s why the majority of books about these locations are aimed at younger readers (4-7). Acting as guides, or mirroring the excitement and anticipation that we feel. I recommend reading the poem First to See the Sea by Nicola Davies from A First Book of the Sea (Walker), which sums this moment up perfectly.
But can we use books to bring the adventure of the seaside into the classroom? Especially to those who have never been.
Look What I Found at the Seaside by Moira Butterfield and Jessica Verona is a collaboration between Nosy Crow and the National Trust. It shows us a group of adventurous children, between the age 5 or 6, exploring the beach, rock pools, and cliffs. The narration is in rhyme by the children, but there are nonfiction pages too. The use of simple, but not boring, descriptions focuses on what things look like, or how they feel when you touch them. Even the nonfiction parts are stripped back and concentrate on shape, colour, and size. The excitement summed up that everything they’ve found is “Treasure”.
There is no adult figure, which adds to the independent exploration. However, I got the impression the reader is looking through the eyes of the adult, who is offering their wisdom on the way while keeping them safe. When it comes to these experiences, is the adult’s role to teach, guide, lead, or follow? How much freedom we allow children is of course a balance. But if children are not having experiences like the children in this book, we should be trying to replicate it as best as we can in the classroom.
This book could be used as a jumping-off point for finding shells and pebbles in sand or water and then describing them.
Adventure can be about discovery but also play. A Day for Sandcastles (JonArno Lawson) is a ‘wordless’, or ‘silent’, picture book. Even though a sandcastle can be built anywhere there is sand, it is only at the beach where you get the frustration of the incoming tide. Three siblings bolt from the coach to the shoreline and spend the whole day building sandcastles together. Plural, because, as you’ve probably guessed, the tide keeps washing them away. The second best thing is breaking for lunch, even though seagulls group, and however careful you are, your sandwich will be gritty.
Again, this story shows children being independent; the adults are present, but never intrude on the castle building. Schools with sandpits and sandboxes will already be building sandcastles, but perhaps only in EYFS. I wonder if other year groups could benefit too, from the teamwork, fine motor skills, and the feeling of sand between their fingers and toes. I will leave it up to your imagination how you can recreate a tide.
Learning about the seaside… hang on, is ‘learning about’ the right phrase? Children are learning, but should it be more about ‘experiencing the seaside’? We want our children to have as many experiences as they can. I’m going to come back to poetry. It is something I tend to end up visiting on these blogs. Not because I feel I need to ‘tick that box’, but because it just so happens to be incredibly versatile.
The first section of A First Book of the Sea (Nicola Davies) is ‘Down By The Shore’, and is packed with experiences that every child should be having. Paddling is such a simple, but exciting, experience. The paddle panic of not knowing how high a wave might be, or watching your feet when the water draws back and it looks like you are moving. Nicola’s poem wonders at the water we step in is also shared by “shipwrecks, sharks and sunken mountains.” It is a lovely image to show how all the oceans and seas are connected without borders or checkpoints.
A paddling pool and sand may not be exactly the same, but there will be children that have never experienced taking off their shoes and socks, rolling up their trousers, and feeling the wet sand beneath their toes. Maybe the poem and a paddle could inspire their own piece of writing.
There are many of Nicola’s poems I could write about. For example, the two about surfing brought together by one fantastic spread by Emily Sutton. A comprehension activity when comparing poems could work in a similar way. Can you connect two poems with one image?
I also have to mention “I Love Harbours”, because I love harbours too. The seaside is not just about holidays and tourists. It is a place with other industries and locals who depend on the sea for their livelihoods. This poem shows us the sounds and smells and “promise of adventure”. You may not be the most popular person in the school if you did this, but I would love to hear this poem read in the classroom with the smells mentioned: seaweed, engine oil, and fish. What an experience!
I hope lots and lots of children get to experience the seaside this summer. There will be some though that will come back in September not having had any adventures or new experiences. I came across too many excellent books to mention while researching. Many of which will make fantastic guidebooks to take to the coast. But the three mentioned here I feel could be of extra benefit to our classroom adventurers as well.