South West Education Conference 2015

This year was the 19th year of this annual meeting was held at Stourhead, Wiltshire, and eight counties from across the south west were represented. Wiltshire Gardens Trust hosted and arranged the day and Cynthia Troup, our Education Co-ordinator, attended.

Juliet Wilmot welcomed the visitors and introduced the first speaker who was Martin Clements of the Visitor and Volunteer section at Stourhead. He gave a fascinating talk covering the 300 years of the estate, the history of the Hoare family and the art collection there. He continued by out-lining the way efforts are made to make visitors feel related to the estate whatever their age and interest including the introduction of Forest Fridays which aims to re-connect children to the countryside with such activities as learning how to climb trees safely, build dens, learning about the flora and fauna and the laying of trails.

The next speaker was Dean Sherwin from the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust whose talk was on Creating stimulating outdoor learning and nature-based play experiences for children. He explained the good work that Wildlife Trusts do advising and helping schools create just such outdoor areas. As Garden Trusts also promote the importance of outdoor learning through the giving of grants for the development of gardens in primary schools, it makes sense to establish contact with local Wildlife Trusts and possibly working together.

The third talk was given by Ian and Ruth Homer, trustees of the British Beekeepers Association. Their talk, entitled The pleasure and advantages of keeping bees, was accompanied by some remarkable photographs. Much has been written recently about the vital role that bees play in all aspects of gardening and growing. Ian and Ruth gave an enlivening look at bees as pollinators, gardeners and educators. Their information was fascinating and everyone learned some new fact about these amazing creatures and how they affect us all.

The final speaker was Dr Sue Johnson who is involved in the work being carried out on Charles Darwin and she had many thoughts on how his thinking is relevant to teaching today. A major idea is that children learn most effectively when they learn things by doing and experiencing for themselves and thus learn to think for themselves. She talked of the work Darwin undertook at Downe House where he investigated soil, seed dispersal and germination, the interaction of plants and animals as well as plant breeding and adaptation. She emphasised the vital need to observe and also how children need to be encouraged and trained to watch and note what is actually seen and thereby find out for themselves.

After lunch, there was a general discussion about the experiences encountered by the Trusts in working with schools. This is always a most valuable part of the day and everyone participated fully in this. The meeting was closed by Steffie Shields, Chairman of the Association of Gardens Trusts.

Thanks to Juliet Wilmot