Sites and the environment

Please note: this guide was written before the 2014 National Curriculum and some of the advice may no longer be relevant.

Visits outside school open up new worlds. Historic sites are stimulating, real, three-dimensional; they give a sense of scale and texture. Whether you are visiting an archaeological site, a stately home, museum, castle, abbey, local street or church, the principles are the same for all.


The temptation is to plan too ambitiously, to try to cram in too much; but this will only exhaust both the children and yourself. You could try some of the following.

  • Choose a specific focus or theme, such as 'When we arrive at the castle, we'll be the attacking army - we're going to work out how to breach its defences'.
  • Split up the planned on-site tasks. You could appoint 'expert' groups who will be reporting on an aspect of the site: one room each, or a group each for furniture, paintings, and clothing; or give each child a previously-taken photograph of one feature for them to identify, examine and report back on during the visit.
  • Tell a story in class beforehand. This is a powerful way of bringing imaginatively to life an old building or ruined site. A story engages children emotionally, and provides a visualisation, a mental model, which will help them to see the site as vibrant with past life.


The visit

The most important principle here is to resist the urge to do all the talking, to tell the children what you want them to see. It is they who must do the looking, and your role is to find ways to help them. Send them off to find, to observe, then gather them together to tell you what they have seen. This generates valuable discussion which helps the children develop their thoughts.



Set tasks to make the children stop, question, investigate, ponder and reconstruct. For instance, in an art collection: 'Who is the owner's favourite artist?' For a particular painting: 'What were the artist's favourite four colours?'


Close looking is difficult for children, so ask them to sketch particular items, partly as a record, but mainly to make them look hard ('looking through the end of a pencil'). So, in a cathedral, send them to find and sketch the most interesting carving they can find, either face, animal, plant or figure. Explicitly develop the five senses: encourage the children to look, touch, smell, feel and even taste.



Leave the worksheets behind. Instead give the children torches for dark corners, magnifying glasses for detailed looking, pencils and sketch pads and cameras to record key features - ration the number of shots - this will make the children focus on what is important.


Short lesson exemplars


Cross-curricular topics
* Urban spaces: making use of your local area

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