What better location for an outdoor literacy lesson than Elvaston Castle Country Park. What a place it is for sparking imagination and encouraging narrative. It has everything from woodland walks and rambling streams, to hidden caves and grassy nooks. Adventure beckons and collecting bags are a must! It is without a doubt one of my favourite places in England, and I am lucky enough to live on its glorious doorstep.
If you take the path along the side of the showground, you can head towards the nature reserve where there are large reed bed areas, wildflower meadows, wet woodlands, a lake and little islands bursting with possibility. You may even spot a basking grass snake lazing around on a rock in his swimming trunks in the warmer weather. The site can get muddy in wet weather, which just adds to the fun.
If you choose to enter past the little play park straight into the woodland, you will come across a craggy looking tree stump, housing fairies. Aside from it looking exactly like somewhere a fairy might choose to reside, it has a little wooden door at the bottom which I can never resist knocking on…just in case. From there you can either carry straight on towards the caves over a little bridge, or veer left, following the stream where I have seen voles on two occasions, to another little bridge; beware of that one though, as there was a troll under it last time we went.
If you head towards the walled garden this summer, enter with caution! It is an assault to your senses. Blousy blooms, tantalising textures and scintillating smells will envelope you and transport you to another land. Flowers jostle to greet you, as bees practise ballet over the buddleias, and trees whisper tales of long ago. I could quite easily spend an entire morning basking in the gloriousness of these gardens.
A favourite with children is the large stoney hill that looms temptingly up as you make your way along the woodland path. Tucked round the bottom are several little caves, perfect for hiding from whatever imaginary beast or baddy is coming your way. The hill itself is quite steep and rocky in places, but even so, is achievable even for little legs, giving a confidence boost to whoever reaches the top. The stories that the children tell on and around that hill, and the adventures that are sought are different with every visit, but always rich with imagination and language.
As children dash about, turning over stones, wading across streams and creating all manner of imaginative scenarios, they are unknowingly developing their oral language skills, which underpin the vast majority of literacy development in children. Children who are regularly given the freedom to explore these kind of places, soon demonstrate an increased enthusiasm for descriptive language and the confidence to use it. These experiences are what memories are made of, and in the classroom, these memories and the language and emotions associated with them, serve as a valuable springboard to learning.
You’d think that somewhere offering such rich experiences would be costly to enter. It isn’t. Entry to the park itself is free. To use the car park (at the time of writing this), the charges are £1.30 for two hours, £2.60 for four hours, or if you want a whole day’s worth of loveliness it’s only £4.
Once a month there is a nature watch club for children, with activities such as pond dipping, fungi identification and bug hunting. During the summer holidays there are often weekly activities for families to take part in. Last year it was every Wednesday, but check out their website for more information.
I will soon be delivering training, based in a courtyard classroom in this beautiful setting. Keep an eye on the events/training area of the website for more information, or ‘like’ Literacy in the Leaves on Facebook, and I will post on there when dates are confirmed.