Developing a sense of place through Key Stage 1 & 2 Geography Teaching
This paper looks at a particular aspect of teaching and learning geography that is particularly significant: developing a sense of place, as defined under the programme of study Knowledge and Understanding of Places of Key Stage 1 & 2 of the Primary School National Curriculum. The idea of developing ‘sense of place’ is first discussed in detail and then children’s learning is considered, in terms of what children will actually learn from undertaking this activity, and why this is a valuable part of the curriculum. In terms of what children will actually learn, the paper will consider such things as developing a ‘sense of place’ using an enquiring approach, enhancing children’s perceptions of their locality and their concept of nested hierarchies, developing a vocabulary for geography, enhancing their observation skills and recording skills, during fieldwork, for example.
Under the National Curriculum for the UK – Geography, the stated aims and purposes of teaching geography are to stimulate children’s interest in their surroundings and in the variety of human and physical conditions on Earth, to foster a sense of wonder at the beauty of the world, to help children develop a sense of concern about the protection of the Earth’s natural resources and to enhance children’s sense of responsibility for the care of the Earth and it’s peoples (The Standards Site, 2007). The aim of key stage 1 is to develop knowledge, skills and understanding relating to the children’s own immediate environment, in terms of the physical environment and the people who live there, with the focus on developing thinking in a geographical way i.e., utilising questions such as ‘What/where is it?’ (aimed at developing observational skills), ‘What is it like?’ (aimed at developing reporting skills), and ‘How did it get like this?’ (aimed at developing analytical skills) (The Standards Site, 2007). Key stage 2 geography teaching aims to further develop knowledge of place and peoples, but further afield from the immediate locality, so that children begin to learn about different scales and how they relate to each other and to other places on Earth (The Standards Site, 2007).
In terms of the current paper, implicit within these stated aims of Key Stage 1 & 2 geography teaching, is the development of a child’s perception of ‘a sense of place’, in terms of children being able to firstly recognise where they are, then to be able to describe the features of their immediate environment, and to undertake investigations which would allow them to further explore and understand their immediate environment (The Standards Site, 2007). With these aims in mind, in terms of developing a ‘sense of place’, one of the first recommended units within Key Stage 1 curriculum is entitled ‘Around our school – the local area’ which uses investigative methods to encourage children to look at their immediate, i.e., local, area.
The investigative methods include funding out where other children in their class live, in comparison to where they themselves live, for example, locating the school in comparison to other local landmarks they know about, identifying what else can be seen in the streets immediately surrounding the school (for example, traffic lights, car parks etc), describing what the immediate environment is like, investigating what jobs people do in the local area, for example by asking other children what jobs their parents undertake, looking at how people spend their leisure time, for example by asking if other children’s parents have hobbies, or what the other children do in the evenings and at weekends, looking at the local area to see if any building work is taking place, and then discussing how this might change the local area, for better or for worse (The Standards Site, 2007). All of these points can be amplified upon by the teacher, and can be discussed in much greater detail with the individual children, and between groups of children, so that the children really begin to develop some sense of their own ‘sense of place’, in terms of understanding and analysing their own local environments (i.e., their school, their home, their routes between school and home etc.).
As can be seen, therefore, the National Curriculum gives a very clear set of guidelines as to how geography should be taught to Key Stage 1 & 2 aged children, with these guidelines broken down in to easy to manage modules, with each module incorporating new skills (such as investigative skills, reporting skills or analytical skills), beginning with investigations and discussions of the children’s local environment and with each subsequent module designed to take the children a little further afield than their local environment. This, it is aimed, will clearly develop a child’s ‘sense of place’ in terms of first orientating them with regards to their local environment, and then, slowly, introducing them to environments that are further afield, for example, through a progression of scales, of nested hierarchies, i.e., studies of, first, the local town, and then subsequently of the local city, the county, the country, Europe, the world and it’s people. It is aimed that through this sequential and progressive approach to teaching about geography, aside from the skills that the children will acquire, the children will also, as we have seen, develop a strong ‘sense of place’.
We have seen that the National Curriculum provides quite explicit guidelines as to how to teach geography to primary school children, but what, on the ground, as it were, can teachers do to ensure that the lessons that need to be taught to children are taught in the best way possible, and are taught in an entertaining and effective manner? To this end, there are all sorts of study aids that teachers can use to teach geography to primary school children. Some of these teacher aids will be discussed in the following sections.
One set of teacher aids, designed specifically for teaching Key Stage 1 & 2 geography curriculum to primary school children is the Super Schemes series, developed by the Geographical Association, in particular Unit 1, which is entitled Around our School: The Seagulls Busy Day and Unit 2, which is entitled Making Our Area Safer: The Twins Holiday. These books use an almost story book-like approach to teach children about geography through the eyes of characters that the children can relate to. It is intended that the children read of the characters, and what they do within the books, and that, through this, the children learn about the aims of the geography curriculum. The explicit aim of this series of books is to enhance and improve the vocabulary of children, in terms of the vocabulary that is necessary for an understanding of geography, to enable their own understanding of a ‘sense of place’. The Around our School: The Seagulls Busy Day title, for example, aims to help children realise that maps can be useful in the location, recording and visualizing of information. The Making Our Area Safer: The Twins Holiday title has similar aims, but also aims to encourage understanding of issues of sustainability of community, through looking at safety issues within the community, in particular the issue of how young children deal with traffic and how young children (i.e., the twins in the story) can manage to overcome the problems that traffic poses to them.
These two books in the Super Schemes series are interesting in that they present a particular, traditional, way of teaching a particular idea to children, using a different ‘take’ on a tried and tested formula, which many teachers may find useful, and easy to implement. For teachers, however, who prefer a more ‘hands-on’ approach in their attempt to develop a child’s ‘sense of place’, there are other, more ‘hands-on’ teacher aids that can be incorporated in to Key Stage 1 & 2 geography teaching, for example, the Earthwalks kit, designed by Hekkle and Van Matre (1980), which is designed to educate users about nature, by making the users ‘get in touch’ with nature, through reawakening the senses of the user, and sharpening their perceptions of their sense of place, for example, and of the beauty of their immediate environment.
The idea of the Earthwalks kit is to provide activities, based around hour-long walks, including relevant activities, which can be used to heighten the users perception of their environment. The activities are written in a child-friendly manner, and the kit is presented in a card/binder format, so that, for example, children can add in their own paper to make notes, or to draw something they have seen along the walk that they found particularly interesting. The approach presented in the Earthwalks kit is entirely ‘hands-on’ and attempts to encourage the development of a sense of wonder about the child’s environment, in terms of encouraging heightened observations and, as such, to encourage heightened appreciation of their environment, developing, very practically, a heightened ‘sense of place’ in the users.
The idea of developing ‘sense of place’ is therefore crucial in teaching geography to primary school children, in terms of encouraging a connection with their environment, encouraging responsibility to the local environment, and laying a foundation on which children can build, in terms of taking this understanding, appreciation and responsibility for their local environment further, when children begin to learn about areas that are further afield, or other cultures, for example. A child that has a well developed ‘sense of place’ from an early age will be much more tolerant, responsible, appreciative and responsive to the ‘other’ than a child that has not developed a coherent ‘sense of place’ from an early age.
As we have seen, children’s learning about geography at Key Stages 1 & 2 is very well structured, and the aims of these Key Stages are very well defined, in terms of leading children gently through the progression of understanding their local environment, and from this later understanding environments that are further afield, or other cultures, for example. In terms of what children will actually learn from undertaking the activities suggested throughout the Key Stages 1 & 2 Geography Curriculum, as we have seen, it is aimed that children will first learn about, and learn to understand their local environment, and then, through Key Stage 2 that they will begin to take these learning tools and move on to learning about environments that are further afield, and about other peoples and cultures. This is a valuable part of the curriculum, obviously, as children need to, as we have seen, first develop a strong understanding of their immediate environment, through developing a ‘sense of place’ and then, from this, take this appreciation, understanding and responsibility to environments that are further afield. This approach to learning about their surroundings encourages thinking in a responsible and sustainable manner, such that children are encouraged to appreciate, and thus to care for, their surroundings, whether these be their immediate surroundings, or whether they be further afield.
In terms of what children will actually learn, as we have seen, the aim of Key Stages 1 & 2 Geography teaching is, essentially, to develop a ‘sense of place’ using an enquiring approach, enhancing children’s perceptions of their locality and their concept of nested hierarchies, developing a vocabulary for geography, enhancing their observation skills and recording skills, during fieldwork, for example. As we have seen, the various teaching aids that are available can help in these aims, especially if the two types of teaching aids, ‘traditional’ versus ‘hands-on’ are used in conjunction with each other in the classroom, in order to encourage children’s learning and acquisition of knowledge.
In conclusion, I feel that developing a child’s ‘sense of place’ is an implicit aim of the Key Stages 1 & 2 Geography Curriculum, and that, as such, encouraging a child to develop a strong ‘sense of place’ is a fundamental part of teaching geography to children at this stage of their development. As we have seen, at the beginning of this paper, teachers have been given a very strong conceptual framework for developing their geography teaching, in the form of the National Curriculum specifications, which provides them a basis on which to teach children about geography. Within this, however, as we have seen, teachers are free to decide how they teach their pupils about geography. We have looked at two ‘types’ of teaching aids, one traditional, using the characters in books to develop children’s vocabulary and sense of responsibility, the other more ‘hands-on’ using walks to encourage a sense of wonder about ‘place’ and to encourage an appreciation of the natural beauty of ‘places’. It is, of course, the decision of the individual teacher as to which type of study aids are chosen in order for the teacher to encourage thinking about ‘sense of place’ within their pupils. In some sense, the way in which geography is taught is not important: what is important is that this ‘sense of place’, this appreciation of a child’s environment is fostered, so that children act responsibly towards their immediate environment, and further afield, in terms of caring for the natural environment as a whole. If this ‘sense of place’ is fostered in the classroom environment by the teacher, the teacher can be said to have done their job, and done their job well.
Bridge C., 2005. Super Schemes Unit 1, Around our School: The Seagulls busy day, Sheffield, Geographical Association.
Bridge C., 2005. Super Schemes Unit 2, Making our area safer: The twins holiday, Sheffield, Geographical Association.
Hekkle, K. & Van Matre, S., 1980. Earthwalks, Greenville, USA, IEEMills, D. (1992)
Scoffham, S., 2004. Primary Geography Handbook. Sheffield, Geographical Association.
The National Curriculum of the UK – Geography
The Standards Site (2007). Geography at key stages 1 and 2: teaching geography at key stages 1 and 2. Available from http://www.standards.dfes.gov.uk/schemes2/geography/teaching?view=get. Accessed on 17th April 2007.
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