Children in their Environment

1978 , Dereham (Norfolk)

A teacher describes and illustrates school activities and visits designed to encourage children's awareness of their surroundings, the natural environment and local history.

A few seconds of music precede the title of this amateur film which was originally edited as two reels. The film maker, head teacher Dorothy Maxey, provides the commentary to her film in which she describes and illustrates opportunities for child development through attention to their surroundings and by providing activities and visits to expand their awareness and interests. These activities aim to develop language and communication skills and provide every child with things to talk about in the classroom and to inspire their creative work. The film opens with a diagram of concentric circles illustrating the opportunities to provide children with an expanding environment moving out from home and school to explore the local town or village, places around the county, other parts of the country and places abroad. A small boy wearing a police helmet and armed with a toy sword and shield plays with a blow-up rabbit. The commentary discussed the importance of parents' attitude in enabling children to have experiences and talk about them, and on occasion be allowed to make a mess. Scenes of local streets and houses, and the Dereham Church School. Inside a classroom, small children are gathered around the teacher as she shows them a picture book, Mr Gumpy's Outing by John Burningham. The commentary mentions the teacher's role in helping children develop language skills. Outdoors in autumn, children collect conkers and talk to one another. A group collect leaves of different sizes for a discussion about area. The commentary talks about encouraging children to be aware of their senses. On a listening walk, children pay attention to the sounds around them. On a sports field marked out for races, children crawl under a groundsheet stretched across the track for an obstacle race. Over shots of birds on a bird feeder and cloud formations, the commentary mentions study of birds and weather as year-round topics offering opportunities with various levels of interest. Around the town, children are encouraged to look closely at the buildings. A group are shown studying the bricks of an old wall, and a door is used to inspire imaginative writing. Children are introduced to the origin of local street names and draw the exterior of the church as they sit in the churchyard. Two boys make a rubbing of the gravestone of a French soldier who died at Dereham when being moved as a prisoner to Norman Cross. Wild daffodils are shown in the churchyard at Hethel. A school class is taken to visit a dairy farm where they children are introduced to the farmyard, the feeding of the cows, and the potential hazards of farm machinery. On a visit to the Dereham fire station, the children are shown the equipment used by the fire brigade and allowed to explore the fire engines not on standby. At a bridge over a small stream, children play Poohsticks. Each visit offers the children things to talk about. At a frozen pond, bread is thrown to ducks and geese. A Dereham milestone illustrates a town quiz for children, designed to develop their powers of observation and curiosity to find out about things around them. In the second part of the film, Dorothy Maxey develops the idea of visits to locations around Norfolk for older pupils, and specific aims for different kinds of visit. Children are seen alighting from a coach, and on a winter visit to Wells Field Study Centre before it was affected by floods in 1978. The children are accompanied by warden Paul Banham and assistant warden Eleanor Banham and shown the different environments around the Centre, and the importance of sand dunes and sea banks. Children explore the large beach while the tide is out. Indoors at the Centre, they sit at tables and examine the things they have found. On a summer visit, children paddle in the sea and a whelk boat passes by. Bird and animal tracks on the beach are captured and preserved as plaster casts. Scenes record visits to Santon Downham for the plant a tree campaign and a nature trail to observe items noted on a worksheet. Children are introduced to different kinds of defensive features at historic sites. At Cockley Cley iron age village children cross the drawbridge, and at Warham Camp iron age hill fort they clamber up the steep slope. Children are given a ride around Dereham on a vintage double decker bus being used to promote Baxters the butchers. At Castle Rising, children are encouraged to explore the various castle defences of outer bailey, moat, drawbridge, gate, portcullis and keep, where they act out an invasion scene on the steps. In the kitchen area they peer through the grille over the deep well, then walk around the ramparts. The visit included the Norman church of Castle Rising, and at Sandringham the gates and nature trail. For a study of South American, a class visits Kilverstone Wildlife Park to see how animals are adapted to their environment. Creatures seen include a deer, sheep with curly horns, and seals swimming along a waterway. A study of birds' beaks and feet includes parrot, toucan, flamingo, stork, geese, barnacle goose, pink footed goose and peacock. Children sleep on the coach on the journey home. Examples are shown of worksheets designed by the teachers to encourage observation or collecting on these visits, with a scene of arctic foxes playing with a worksheet which blew away. In the classroom, children study leaves they have collected to learn about size and area. Conkers are arranged in order of size. Examples are shown of displays of objects and children's work to mark the completion of projects and celebrate the children's achievements. Children perform in a play 'The Rain Puddle' perhaps based on the book by Adelaide Holl, and act out a scene of Viking invasion with swords and shields. The film ends with the commentary voicing the hope that the activities will encourage greater respect for, and appreciation of, the children's environment and a desire to express their feelings for it. The sound quality for the first reel is variable, and there is a scratch down much of the picture. The second reel is in better condition.

Additional Description

Dorothy Maud Maxey (1919-2003) was headmistress of Dereham Church School. Her films include school children at Dereham Church First School and Bilney Junior School.


Children in their Environment

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