Teachers from all over Europe gathered at a Falkirk school to share ideas and find new ways to educate youngsters using natural resources.
Kinnaird Primary hosted 14 teachers from Slovenia, Romania, Turkey and Cyprus earlier this month as part of a project funded by the British Council and European Union.
The Comenius Programme is a European Union initiative that offers grants for education programmes. The Larbert school received funding to look how nature can be used in the classroom and compare methods with schools from other European countries.
The funding was specifically for nursery, early primary and additional support needs children and saw the school team up with urban schools in four other countries.
In addition to hosting the teachers from Europe, the staff at Kinnaird travelled to Romania and Slovenia, with a visit to Empa, near Paphos in Cyprus scheduled for June. The Foreign Office advised the group not to travel to Turkey for the arranged visit as there was unrest near the school, but the teachers from Turkey have benefited from going to the partnered schools and shared their experiences.
Primary one teacher at Kinnaird Julie Paterson helped to organise the exchange. She said: “The idea for this Comenius Project came from our head teacher, Pamela Adamson, who met the Slovenian teacher Tina Mercnik at a conference.
“Tina then put us in touch with the other countries and we set up the trips.”
Keen to show the group the best of Scotland, the visitors were taken to landmarks including The Kelpies and a whisky distillery and with a few ‘Braveheart’ fans, they also visited Wallace Monument in Stirling. The school kitchen baked traditional Scottish treats including shortbread and scones during their visits and children sang Gaelic songs, recited Burns’ work and performed a ceilidh.
In addition, the children were learning about the other countries prior to the visit and had lots of questions prepared.
Julie said: “The children were interested in Cyprus and Turkey in particular as many had been on holiday there and keen to learn more about the culture.”
In November 2013, Julie, kindergarten teacher Caroline Patterson and Lesley Moffat, a teacher at The Thistle Wing for children with additional support needs, travelled to Ljubljana in Slovenia to the Hans Christian Anderson Kindergarten and a year later went to a Romania early years school.
Julie said: “We found the visits very useful, for example in Slovenia a lot of the teaching is done outdoors. The school is near a rural area and they liaise with farmers to use in season produce in their teaching. While Sainsbury’s in Kinnaird Village is very good to us, supplying produce if we ask for it, seeing the cross over with industry and education was interesting.”
Lesley added: “As an additional support teacher, I found the kindergarten in Romania fascinating. The children there are all together, regardless if they have additional support needs or not, and the teachers adapt the learning to be appropriate for all abilities.
“The teachers from Cyprus told us their additional support needs schools are all private and the parents have to pay for their child’s education and they are then reimbursed from the government.”
Feedback from the European teachers was very positive, with the teachers commenting on the dedication staff have for their pupils and the emphasis on teamwork at Kinnaird.
Organiser Tina, from Slovenia, said: “Kinnaird is a wonderful school, I am impressed at the way the school included their additional support needs children with things like sharing assembly but the children still have their needs met.
“In Slovenia children are at school for nine hours a day and we provide all their meals for them, so I have been interested to see the differences and benefits in children from having a shorter school day.”
“It’s a lovely school and the staff and children have went to a lot of effort to make us all feel welcome and to share the Scottish culture with us.
“I’m looking forward to going home and telling my children all about it – particularly all about Wallace Monument as I’m a big William Wallace fan.”
Headteacher Pamela Adamson said: “I was involved with a project between Norway and Sweden a few years ago and met Tina then. We kept in touch and she helped to arrange this project.
“Our staff get a lot from working with international teachers to share ideas. After each trip they have returned motivated and excited to share what they have learned.
“And our children love having international visitors in the school.
“We tie in the visits with learning about the country and the pupils find out about a country they perhaps wouldn’t visit on holiday or know a lot about. The visits also promote global citizenship and learning about other cultures. I think learning about the world outwith your community is essential. You are never too young to learn about the world.”
Teachers from Kinnaird will return to Slovenia in April and will go to Cyprus in May.
Julie added: “The project wouldn’t be possible without the help of our head teacher and other staff who step in to cover classes when needed to allow us to go on the trips.
“I think I can speak for all of us when I say the project has been professionally and personally beneficial and we’ve all learned new teaching skills from working with other countries.”