Teaching Rural England to City Kids

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.

Rural Settlements L2 TWO for you to explore how we attempted to approach this tricky topic, with an accompanying L2 PPT thrown in for good measure.

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.

Lovely.

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6 thoughts on “Teaching Rural England to City Kids

  1. Enjoyed this, Jonny. I have to say that the ‘bus thing’ isn’t just strictly rural/urban, though. I’m from South Yorkshire, and grew up in a culture where complete strangers engaged you in conversation all the time. I thought that was the norm. It happens in Sheffield, as well as in the more rural communities across the county.

    When I was 18 I went to Manchester as an undergraduate and was struck how, in the city centre, the only strangers to engage you in conversation appeared to be those with mental problems. Generally people didn’t make eye contact, let alone chat.

    And then after graduating I worked in Liverpool for a while. Suddenly, I was back in a culture where people on buses struck up conversations, including travelling in and out of the city centre.

    Sorry if I’ve offended any Mancunians who may read this…

    It is perhaps something to do with some larger towns and even cities having a village culture. Thanks for making me think about this!

    1. and I’ve just had another thought! I’m in London today and travelling on the tube it always seems that people are particularly distant/detached from each other. But I remember being in London when the Olympics was on, and it felt quite different. Did you think that?

      1. (Jill, there were more northerners in London then. That would explain it.)

        The bus analogy is a good one, though. I hope the children got some understanding from it of the advantages and disadvantages of rural life. It works both ways. In the village where I live, population 300?, we have one little park. It’s about the size of half a football pitch. During the day, mums and toddlers, and the local childminder, make use of the place. By 3.00pm, as the village school finishes, waves of parents, carers and grandparents bring the 4-8 year olds for a bit of pre teatime play. Between 5 and 7pm, the 8-12 year olds play…football, basketball, chasing games, making a den…we’ve been here, in a house overlooking the park for over 12 years now and ‘the den’ has still to be completed! After 7pm, the park hosts the teenagers. Town friends of ours couldn’t accept that our teenagers weren’t up to no good, but honestly, they play football, play cards at the picnic table,generally chat and mooch around together. But the high point of the week at our park is Sunday afternoon- all ages play together. Parents push toddlers on swings and supervise swooshing down the slides, and an all-age football tournament takes place. Anyone and everyone between the ages of 3 and 20+ play together. The old ones are very gentle with, and support, the little ones. There’s only one set of goals, so they all take turns to shoot or defend. My son was 5 when we first moved here, one of the little boys delighted with life when a big boy passed to him. Now he’s 18, and in turn, he now helps to look after the toddlers who are the children of the bigger kids he adored when he was little!

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