Elli Prestage became a farmer for a week as a child in the 1980s and now brings children from Alfred Salter Primary School in Southwark as a headteacher. She shared with us her memories of muck and magic as both a child and a teacher, and her views on the benefits of outdoor education.

As a child, what did you think when you first arrived?

“I was so excited. Nethercott was an established tradition at my Primary school and so I had been looking forward to being old enough to go. The long journey really helps with the sense of being somewhere so different and adds to the magic of arriving.”

Forest school, outdoor education

What had the biggest impact on you?

“I remember walking the fields with Michael Morpurgo and him pointing out Ted Hughes farm; I remember watching a calf being born in what felt like the middle of the night; I remember sitting in the dairy watching the cows being milked; I remember jumping off the straw bales at David’s farm and practising our parachute rolls; I remember the food!”

What about longer-term impact?

“I met up with many of my classmates from primary school for a 20 year reunion. One of the things we all spent a lot of time talking about fondly was our trips to Nethercott and the things that happened while we were there. The time I spent at Nethercott had such a positive effect on me, that when I later went into teaching and had a position where I could organise a residential, it was Nethercott that I wanted to take the children to. I was so delighted that the children going now have a very similar experience (less jumping off of straw bales and a lot more handwashing but still the same benefits).”

And now, as a teacher, what impact do you see?

“I remember one visit with a group of children with particularly challenging behaviour and on the walk to check the cows and sheep in the fields we came to a field of sheep who were pregnant. The Farm Manager explained how we should move through the field and one of the children voiced a concern that they might get kicked or bitten by the animals. The Farm Manager replied that the animals really only do that if they are scared – just like people do. There was a quiet moment after that – that really resonated with the children. Making the link between their emotional state and their behaviour via a sheep was so much more accessible to them than the sessions in school that had focused on them and their behaviour.”

Two girls grooming a donkey, outdoor education

Are there any children in particular who have benefited from their week as a farmer?

“[One] child who went found things he was good at and discovered what it felt like to have the support of his classmates. At school he was quiet and shy and found social interactions difficult. He struggled with learning and so the effect of finding he was good at doing the jobs on the farm was transformational. When we went back to school he was suddenly putting his hand up to answer questions and volunteering for drama. Things he had always avoided previously. The effect on him was so significant we were looking for agricultural linked secondary schools for him so that he could fulfil his new dream to be a farmer.”

We would like to thank Elli for sharing such wonderful memories and experiences.

If you would like to share your memories of muck and magic with us or your views on outdoor education, please get in touch by emailing fundraising@farmsforcitychildren.org.