In our new unit on Rural Settlements in Year 5, we face a dilemma that I am sure is shared by teachers and pupils in many urban schools: the children have no conception or experience of what rural English life is like.
We began with a discussion of children’s experience of village life. As expected, they do have some knowledge of village life, but not within the UK context. It was enriching to hear from three of my pupils who could share their first hand experience of village life outside of Lahore. in the rural areas around Lagos in Nigeria and in the ancestral village of one of my pupils whose family come from a village 5 hours drive from Mumbai in India.
From this, we began to discuss features of rural life, focusing on village life. It was interesting to consider that whilst there are wide differences between rural life in England and in India, Nigeria and Pakistan, there are also similarities. In terms of differences, it is not the case that rurality means low access to education (as it does in remote parts of India and Pakistan) and it does not also mean mudhuts. However, when we thought more about comparison with urban settlements, we drew many links – a relatively small population, a small physical area, familiarity with other members of the community, an affinity/dependency on nature and agriculture.
The children could not imagine the rural communities of England – it is simply out of their experience. As such, we watched the video below to fill our minds with imagery.
This led to better quality discussion, as they could at least relate their own experience to those they had perhaps seen on TV, or at events such as Countryside Live – hosted on Leyton Marshes – which we try to get our kids to every year.
The final point I wanted to make was that it feels different to live in close tight-knit communities as opposed to sprawling urban ones. This is a really hard teaching point for 9 year olds to take in. I wanted them to appreciate that the society affects the individual, and to recognise that our own behaviours are – to some degree – a product of our specific geographical environment.
The way we behave on buses was an idea that jumped out at me, largely as a consequence of having visited family up in Doncaster over the weekend. Doncaster is, of course, urban, but it has a peculiarly rural feel to it in many ways. I know from my own childhood experience on buses that it is like a mobile community centre, with everyone knowing each other and chatting away, especially the elderly. Having then gone this weekend into the Peak District, it became even more clear that the chattiness is something that stands out, particularly in contrast to the norms of public transport silence which I experience each day in London.
As a bit of a risk, I decided we would try to hammer home this point about social norms being a product of rural/urban communities, and we approached it through a role play exercise in which groups would become an urban bus and a rural bus.
They took well to urban buses. Look straight ahead or into a newspaper or an iPhone. Not knowing anyone else, being on a bus full of strangers.
Then when they became rural buses, it became clear that they had picked out the key learning point that smaller communities tend to be more familair. It amused me to hear my London babbies segue into the use of rural accents, which came out more like Trinidadian. The learning point, which we are about to go and discuss now in a reflective write up. is that rural and urban communities engender different types of relation between people.