Exploring Together at Portway Junior School

At Portway Juniors they have their own small woodland, planted with the Andover Trees United Director, Wendy Davis, and a woodland trail that runs through it, along the edge of the school field. The wood is fairly young and consists of a mix of native species. Today’s group of children were a Year 3 class, with their teacher Alex Walker, and after a similar start to the other four introductory sessions, we moved outside to explore this area.

The children seemed keen to identify or name different tree species and to talk about whether or not they were healthy. The introduction given by Becky in the classroom to Ash Die Back Disease, and the offering of stethoscopes and magnifying glasses to look and listen more closely, gave the children an opportunity to consider the trees as living beings, ones on whom our own health and well-being depends.

‘Before today I just thought trees were wood, with leaves…’

We found a few young Ash Trees amongst the Sweet Chestnuts, Oaks, Beech and others, and helped the children to use their senses to notice the bark and buds, the fallen leaves, and the wildlife that uses the woodland as their home.

‘I loved spending time in nature… ‘ ‘I’ve learnt different types of trees.’

On our way out of the classroom we heard a Peregrine Falcon squabbling with a mobbing crow, and looked up to watch them pass, then talked together about the pair that next on St Mary’s Church in the centre of Andover. On exploring the wooded area we found a cluster of pigeon feathers too and tried to work out who had eaten the pigeon – a fox? the Peregrine?

On our next session we will be walking to Charlton Lakes and documenting our experiences of the Ash Trees that grow there. Children have suggested that we collect different objects and materials on our way, that we could make artwork from found materials. They also suggested that we revisit the ways of working that we introduced them to today, using rubbings, writing, drawing and printing into their project sketchbooks.

Becky and I noticed the children’s interest in the health of the trees, and the fact that we rely on them for our needs too. We wondered if following this up and looking into the science a little more, and the interrelationship of tree and human health might be a good way to go with this group.

‘If all the trees go, there won’t be any oxygen, and we won’t be able to survive.’

It’s these glimpses of emerging ideas and concerns, that give us the starting point we need for planning a session which grabs the children’s imagination and holds their interest.

Today was the final introductory session with the five partner schools. Next comes our shared Inset (teacher CPD) for all the teachers involved, at the end of January in the CAS Chapel in St Mary’s Churchyard, central Andover. The Inset will give everyone a chance to meet, discuss how the first session went, and explore the value of art in outdoor learning, focusing particularly on child-centred ways of working. It will also give the teaching staff a chance to see our exhibition venue, ahead of our shared exhibition there in July 2020.

I’ll also start taking more time now to document my own experiences of Ash Trees, both in Andover, and where I live in Wiltshire. With the school sessions underway, I’m developing a clearer picture of where we will be visiting next, and the kind of themes we will be exploring with each group, so I can respond through my own artwork, and continue with my research into the cultural and ecological role of Ash Trees.

One thing I’m keen to do is identify places around Andover that are linked with Ash Trees, and visit them. I’ve found Ash Tree Road on Google Maps, and today the children pointed out that one part of the school lies on Ashfield Road. If you know of any other place names in and around Andover that are Ash Tree related, or have a favourite Ash Tree you’d like to share, please do get in touch.

Published by James Aldridge

Visual Artist and Consultant, working and playing with people and places. Based in Wiltshire, UK

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