How Beach School is turning the tide for thousands of children

You’ve heard of Forest School, but what about Beach School? Find out how taking teaching to the beach is reconnecting children to the coast, no matter their background.

Do you have fond memories of running barefoot across sandy beaches, combing through rockpools with your family and eating salty chips by the sea? It’s an idyllic picture of the British seaside and an enduring part of many of our childhoods, but an increasing number of children are missing out on the exciting sights, sounds and smells of the beach. In fact, 11 per cent of children under the age of 14 have never visited a British beach.

11% of under 14s have never visited a British beach

The reasons for this are myriad and complicated. Inner-city children don’t always have easy access to the coast, an issue that can be compounded by a disadvantaged background. In fact, even children who do live close to the coast don’t always have the opportunity to spend time there. The 2015 ‘Index of Deprivation’ ranked Blackpool as the most deprived local authority area of 326 in England. There are large amounts of low income families along this area of the coast, with research from Blackpool Better Start confirming that they rarely, if ever, visit the beach.

Fylde Sand Dunes Project Officer, Amy Pennington, teaching a Beach School class

Our Beach School vision

According to recent research, 75 per cent of UK children now spend less time outdoors than prison inmates. We believe that every child should experience the wonders of our beautiful British coastline, so our Living Seas team partnered with Park View 4U and launched Beach School in 2015, to help as many children as possible get out into the fresh sea air.

Beach School follows the same ethos as our pioneering Forest School project: giving children the opportunity to explore their natural surroundings and learn through play. It’s a whole new learning experience, helping young people who may never have even set foot on their nearest beach to fall head over heels in love with it.

With just five minutes of ‘green’ exercise improving mental wellbeing, Beach School can be a lifeline for very urbanised children who might not have easy access to the outdoors.

Teachers have said that children who are normally very reserved in the classroom feel more at ease and come out of their shell
Amy Pennington - Fylde Sand Dunes Project Community Engagement Officer

“By providing a hands-on inspirational and different learning environment, we are noticing some incredibly positive effects on children,” says Amy Pennington, our Fylde Sand Dunes Project Community Engagement Officer. “Teachers have said that children who are normally very reserved in the classroom feel more at ease and come out of their shell (excuse the pun!) to join in more. Teachers have also told us that children are retaining the information better after learning about it in a fun and stimulating way”.

Teachers from St John’s School in Swinton, Manchester, agree:

“The hands-on learning experiences have not only deepened [the children’s] learning but also widened their horizons in terms of the world around them,” they told us.

Sand art created by children at Beach School on the Lancashire coast

Nurturing the next generation of wildlife champions

A typical Beach School session involves all kinds of fun-filled games and exciting activities encompassing everything from mud dipping, environmental art and egg case hunts to beach cleans, survival skills and lessons on the threats to our precious marine habitats. Children even get the opportunity to carry out practical conservation work with our marine experts – playing such an important role in the protection of their local coasts gives the children a wonderful sense of ownership and responsibility.

As well as nurturing a passion for nature and wildlife, these activities also help children develop primary skills such as team-working, improve their emotional intelligence and social skills, and give them confidence in an outdoor setting that, for many young people, can feel overwhelming and alien.

“Delivering Beach School is one of my favourite aspects of my job,” says Amy. “I have been extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to grow up visiting the coastline regularly and it has played such an important role in my life. I think those early and sustained experiences influenced my decision to want to work in marine conservation. However, I think sometimes we can take these experiences for granted. Sometimes, we forget that not everyone is as fortunate to visit the beach on regular occasions, or even at all. All too often at our Beach School sessions we chat to children who have never actually been to the beach before, and re-living the enthusiasm and excitement of visiting the beach for the first time through their eyes is an overwhelming yet joyful experience that I will never tire of.”

Looking to the future

By offering children a golden opportunity to immerse themselves in hands-on, inspirational learning in the great outdoors, we are seeing them blossom into passionate guardians of our coasts. Seeing the faces of children light up as they reach the beach, feel the sand on their skin and get to see cool coastal critters is the most amazing thing.

“We believe that every child should experience the wonders of our beautiful British coastlines,” says Amy. “Sir David Attenborough once said: “No one will protect what they don’t care about; and no one will care about what they have never experienced.” Our Beach School aims to unlock this potential barrier and provide children with the opportunity to visit, learn and fall in love with the beach. We think that if a child has not had the opportunity to play and learn at the beach, they will not grow-up feeling a connection to their local coastline, and if the next generation grows up with a disconnection from the coast, they will not feel passionately enough to want to protect it”

Since we began delivering Beach School in 2015 we have worked with 22 different schools, and delivered 72 sessions to 2,779 students, but this is just the beginning. The project has been hugely successful and we hope it continues to grow.

Our Living Seas North West team currently runs Beach School in Fylde alongside Park View 4U. If you’d like more information or would like to get involved, click the button below.

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